By Emily Ballard
I am a proud American. I love the innovative and individualist spirit of this great nation, but one thing about American culture really makes me cringe. In efforts to make healthy foods palatable, we cram all kinds of sweet tasting, unhealthy junk into them. Greek-style yogurt is the biggest offender today.
When it comes to Greek-style yogurt, Americans need to cut the fluff.
I had just finished a glorious mid-morning run through the unforgiving Texas Hill Country terrain. After an hour of high-intensity cardio, I was starving. I was on a mission: find food fast.
Entering the house of four physically fit Army guys, I assumed I would easily find a quick fix for my post-run energy low. Sensing my fatigue and creeping grumpiness, my boyfriend handed me a carton of Greek yogurt from their refrigerator. He knows my love for the protein-packed snack.
By habit, I read the nutritional information but was horrified by what I learned. One cup of this Greek Gods Honey and Strawberry Greek yogurt had a whopping 310 calories with 34 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association suggests we intake no more than 24 grams of added sugar a day. As scrumptious as it sounded, I knew I would be asking for trouble if I ate this particular creamy treat.
I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia — low blood sugar — when I was in middle school. Growing up, I never experienced the sugar high after eating a donut and chocolate milk at sleepovers like my friends did. I just got sleepy.
After my diagnosis, I was advised to stay away from added sugars as much as possible and to maintain a protein-packed diet to combat sugar lows that leave me feeling tired.
My condition requires me to be particularly cautious of sugar consumption, even from seemingly healthy foods. The Greek yogurt I mentioned above has nearly as much sugar as a can of soda. Not so healthy.
Of course the Greek-style yogurts with the most sugar are the most delicious. But it may be our brain telling us we want the sweeter one because we have become addicted to sugar. This is not a phony addiction.
Physician and New York Times bestselling author Sara Gottfried explains that consuming large amounts of sugar spikes blood glucose levels (unless you’re hypoglycemic and thus want to crawl back in bed). Blood glucose levels plummet dramatically soon after and your body begs you to feed it more sugar to continue the vicious cycle.
I had to retrain my taste buds to enjoy foods that were not packed with extra sugars that help foods like cereal, flavored oatmeal and Greek yogurt taste better. At this time, Greek-style yogurt was not a hot commodity like it is now. According to a report from Packaged Facts, Greek yogurt constituted only one percent of the yogurt market in 2007. This past year, the percentage rose to 35.
In the middle of the rise of the Greek yogurt empire, I trekked along the Turkish and Greek coasts during a study abroad program and had the pleasure of experiencing authentic Greek yogurt. As expected, their Greek yogurt was quite different from the American take on Greek yogurt.
Theirs was simple. It was always white in color, served in a large glass bowl at breakfast buffets and sat beside a small dish of fresh honey — the real deal. This was my breakfast almost every day that June.
I was skeptical of the flavor of the yogurt at first. It tasted bland to me. I was used to eating Chobani Greek-style yogurt in America that was flavored with Vanilla or some kind of fruit jelly at the bottom of the cup. But as the month progressed, the plain Greek yogurt pleased my palate more and more. The amount of honey I needed to add to make it yummy lessened with time. This was the start of my journey eating Greek yogurt au natural.
Well, almost au naturel. I still like to top my plain Greek yogurt with a splash of Agave nectar or cinnamon and fresh berries — all additions with little or no added sugar.
Boring can be delicious. I had to travel across the world to realize this simple truth. You don’t have to. Next time you go to the grocery store, pick up the most plain, unexciting Greek-style yogurt you can find. Sprinkle in your favorite spice or fruit and your taste buds and your body will thank you. But give it some time.
Emily Ballard is a senior journalism major from Kingwood. She is a reporter for The Lariat.