You are attracted by its low-fat content and seduced by its high protein. But what really seals the deal is its thick, creamy taste.
You are in a full-blown relationship with Greek yogurt. And if you're not, chances are you will be soon, as consumption of the trendiest fermented milk product continues to skyrocket.
Why is a growing portion of the dairy aisle being taken up by Greek yogurt? The biggest draw is its protein content. Because it is more concentrated, most types of Greek yogurt contain twice the protein of regular. Let's not forget its small amount of carbohydrates and decadent taste.
But do consumers really know what they're getting when they buy Greek yogurt?
What is Greek yogurt?
Greek yogurt is, quite simply, yogurt that has been strained to remove the liquid whey. It's as easy as filtering yogurt you'd buy at the grocery store through cheesecloth.
It's a process that leaves behind a product that is denser than the typical styles of yogurt you'll find in Canada. Greek-style varieties also have fewer carbohydrates because most of them are removed along with the liquid whey. However, it often contains less calcium, which consumers should be aware of if they're counting on yogurt to meet their daily allowance.
But is it real?
There is no standard definition for Greek yogurt. That means there's no telling whether yogurt that's labelled as "Greek" is the authentic, strained-the-old-fashioned-way product.
Actually, many types of Greek yogurts being sold aren't strained the traditional way. It's difficult given the sheer volume, said Mario Proulx, director of research and development with Ultima Foods, which manufactures Yoplait brand yogurt and has just introduced iögo, a new yogurt line that includes a Greek product.
The alternate methods some large companies use to make Greek yogurt include removing weight from the yogurt after fermentation to concentrate the protein, adding protein powder, or putting the milk through an ultrafiltration process before fermentation.
Not everyone is happy about these commercial twists. This is particularly true for the practice of adding milk-protein concentrate to thicken their products. In Canada, Greek yogurt brands such as Liberté, use milk-protein concentrate.
The outrage over this issue even sparked a class-action lawsuit in the United States against Yoplait for labelling yogurt as "Greek" even though it contains milk-protein concentrate, a substance the suit says is unregulated and overly processed.
"It might look like Greek because you can add thickeners to a regular unstrained yogurt," said John Casey, senior director of grocery and natural channel sales for Chobani, which strains its yogurt and doesn't use artificial ingredients. The company is expanding into Canada and currently testing its products in the Greater Toronto Area. "It's a little buyer beware."
The other downside to Greek yogurt with added milk-protein concentrate is that it can have a grainy or chalky taste.
Does technique really have an impact on the health benefits of the product?
Gerry Doutre, president and CEO of Ultima Foods, a Quebec-based company that sells the new iögo line, says the answer is no, as long as fillers and thickeners aren't used. The company's new Greek yogurt and many others on the market contain only the necessary ingredients (milk, cultures and, in some instances, cream).
"We let our products do the talking and we let our label do the talking," Mr. Doutre said.
Watch the fat, and the sugar
Sure, Greek yogurt has plenty of protein. But if you're not careful, you could be consuming more than you bargained for.
Yogurt naturally has a tart taste, which is why many companies add sugar or fruit. They may also boost flavour by increasing the fat content.
The result is a product that may taste delicious, but won't do you many favours, health-wise. Of course, an occasional indulgence is fine, but if you're choosing yogurt for its health benefits, it should probably contain fewer calories than full-fat ice cream, right? All it takes is a little label-reading to figure out if what you're buying has too much fat or sugar for your taste.
Many varieties of Greek yogurt are made with skim milk, so they have no fat. While plain varieties are available, many types have fruit concentrates added (which can also contain ingredients such as corn starch and carrageenan, a seaweed extract). Rates vary, but many fat-free Greek yogurts with added fruit or sugar contain about 13 grams of sugar, or about three teaspoons, per 100 grams.
Higher-fat yogurt, such as two per cent yogurt, often has cream added to it, which boosts the number of calories. But it also increases the amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and other health problems.
The bottom line
Lisa Cain, founder of the website Snack Girl, where she writes about healthy eating, has a handy rule of thumb when she's choosing Greek yogurt: Is it a snack, or a treat?
"I think many times, these [Greek yogurt products] fall into the treat category," said Ms. Cain.
Plain fat-free Greek yogurt may satisfy you, but if you're looking for added flavour, don't be surprised to learn your healthy snack has turned into dessert.