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The Unhealthiest Food You Should Leave in 2020

If you're looking to stay as healthy as you can and finally reach those weight-loss goals, it's time to stop eating this food.
flavored yogurt

With 2020 coming to a close, you might be ready for some change in the upcoming new year. And for good reason! This was an precedented time for everyone and for many, that meant taking a closer look at exactly which foods you were eating. If you're looking to stay your healthiest in 2021 and finally reach those weight loss goals, there's one grocery store food you're going to want to leave behind. (And while you're making better choices, be sure to try out any of the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)

Fruit yogurt may seem like a good fit with your weight loss plan, but this sweet stuff is not all it's cracked up to be.

Yogurt itself has a lot going for it, but some dairy yogurt is better than others. Plain yogurt offers health benefits that make it a nutritious choice for snacks or as part of balanced meals on a regular basis. But not all yogurt is created equal. If you rely on sugary fruit yogurt to get your fill, you may want to think twice about how it may affect your efforts to eat better in the new year.

Why is yogurt good for you?

Yogurt, especially the Greek and Skyr varieties, is rich in protein that blunts hunger. It also offers several other nutrients including the bone-building trio, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B12. Some brands may contain added vitamin D, too.

Yogurt is produced by mixing beneficial bacteria, or live active cultures (LAC), with milk. LAC, also known as probiotics, promote digestive health and support the immune system. Yogurt with the highest levels of probiotics is labeled with the Live & Active Cultures seal from the National Yogurt Association.

As part of a balanced diet, a consistent yogurt intake may protect against weight gain, type 2 diabetes and promote bone health.

What exactly is wrong with fruit yogurt?

With all that yogurt has to offer, sugary fruit yogurt has a health halo that isn't always deserved.

As a nutrient-rich food, plain yogurt offers relatively more nutrition for the calories. Adding any form of sugar, including sucrose (table sugar), honey, or maple syrup, increases yogurt's calories, possibly contributing to weight control problems and elevated blood triglyceride levels, a risk factor for heart disease.

Some yogurt choices have surprisingly high sugar levels. A serving of a popular whipped fruit yogurt contains 18 grams of added sugar. That's more than one ounce of milk chocolate, and contributes a whopping 36% of the suggested daily intake for added sugar, which is 50 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan.

Added sugar displaces valuable nutrients, including protein. For example, plain non-fat Greek yogurt offers 16 grams of protein, while the same amount of fruit on the bottom non-fat Greek yogurt has 11 grams of protein and nine grams of added sugar.

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So what's a fruit yogurt-lover to do?

Make your own, healthier version! Toss 1/2 cup plain regular, Greek, or Skyr yogurt with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen (and thawed) fruit, such as raspberries, sweet cherries, or wild blueberries, and 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Research suggests that yogurt and fruit is a match made in nutrition heaven. Fruit provides sweetness, but its naturally-occurring sugars are not typically a concern unless you must limit carbohydrate intake for health reasons. Fruit is a source of fiber that the probiotics in yogurt feed on in the gut. Packaged fruit yogurt provides little to no fiber because it lacks an appreciable amount of fruit.

If you don't make your own fruit yogurt, opt for brands with less than five grams of added sugar, or those with alternative sweeteners such as Stevia, monk fruit, and sucralose. You'll consume less sugar, but you won't get the benefits of adding actual fruit.

To make sure you're buying the right kind of yogurt, check the Nutrient Facts panel for added sugar content and not just total sugars. Dairy yogurt is made from cow's milk and contains naturally-occurring lactose, which is technically a sugar and must be listed as such. Once you can spot the added sugars, then you'll be able to make a better choice.

Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RDN
Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RDN is an award-winning nutrition communicator, writer, and recipe developer, as well as a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read more