Yoplait: High-Fructose Corn Syrup-Free and Still Not Healthy

Despite its cute, organic-looking ad blitz, the yogurt company still needs to work to make its products ‘so good’ for our bodies.

Is Yoplait Yogurt Healthy?
Yoplait and other major companies bill their yogurts as health foods, but one hard look at the label tells a different story. (Photo: Screen Shot/Yoplait.com)
Steve Holt writes about food for 'Edible Boston,' 'Boston Magazine,' 'The Boston Globe,' and other publications.

Last summer Yoplait made a splash in the food world when it cut high-fructose corn syrup from its yogurts, apparently in response to customer outcry. If you’ve turned on the TV at all this summer, surely you’ve seen the company’s self-aggrandizing commercials:

Yoplait’s removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its yogurts was a good move, for sure. The cheap sugar substitute is laden with genetically modified corn and has been linked to a higher prevalence of diabetes. The move followed a commitment in 2009 that its milk would come from cows not treated with rbGH (or recombinant bovine growth hormone), which has been linked to increased rates of infections in dairy cows, elevated antibiotic use, and unresolved questions about its links to serious human health risks, including cancer.

Hearing Lisa Kudrow’s adorable voice telling you how great Yoplait is for you now may cause some to want to run out and buy a case. Not so fast.

For one thing, it still has tons of added sugar. Yoplait Original has 27 grams of sugar—more than five teaspoons! And at 170 calories, 108 of which come from sugar, Fooducate put it perfectly: “Sounds more like a snack or treat than a health food.”

You might be tempted to buy the Light version, which contains only 14 grams of sugar (still a high number). Yoplait’s Light version replaces some of the sugar with aspartame, of which many nutritionists are extremely wary.

“Aspartame is not really any better than high-fructose corn syrup,” says Lisa R. Young, author of The Portion Teller. “I have never been a fan of artificial sweeteners, mostly because they don’t really help people lose weight and they are full of chemicals. While I am really not a fan of sugar or corn syrup, it really is a quantity issue—as both are still sugar!”

Additionally, Young says the long-term effects of aspartame are not known, though studies have connected it loosely with conditions like cancer, diabetes, difficulty losing weight, and birth defects. Yikes.

Michael Pollan famously said that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients list, it isn’t food. Pollan’s rubric would appear to be especially tough on Yoplait, whose yogurts contain no fewer than 14 multisyllabic ingredients—several of them actually made with corn, most likely of the genetically modified variety.

“Why ruin a healthy yogurt by adding in artificial stuff?” Young asks.

Yoplait has even been in some trouble of late for its claims. General Mills was taken to court in 2012 in a class-action suit claiming its Greek Yogurt is not yogurt at all. The product is made with protein concentrate, which the Food and Drug Administration does not recognize as an ingredient in yogurt.

Also, like Dannon, Yoplait dyes many of its yogurts with carmine, which is made from the “dried, pulverized bodies of the cochineal insect.”

How’s this for a better choice: Lightly sweeten some plain Greek yogurt with honey (preferable over five teaspoons of sugar), and add fresh or frozen fruit (instead of crushed-up bugs). Easy!

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