Healthy… or Not? Frozen Yogurt and Peanut Butter

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Food manufacturers are very shrewd marketers. While that’s not always or necessarily a bad thing, it’s so interesting to see how they can put a spin on a food that, once stripped down, really isn’t all that great.

Last week we looked at fruited yogurt and fast-food salads. These are two key examples of how, on the surface, a less-than-healthful food can sound so nutritious. You’re patting yourself on the back for going for the salad instead of the burger and fries, but all those good intentions are for naught when you learn (with horror, no less) how many calories and how much fat and sodium you’ve just ingested.

But don’t feel bad. It’s a learning process. Even dietitians have to carefully decipher labels and ingredient lists. Just remember that it’s always wise to skim over the clever nutrition claims that are splashed across a product’s packaging and to instead go right to the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list. Here are two more food items that are not as healthy as they seem.

Frozen Yogurt
If yogurt is good for you, then frozen yogurt must be at least as good, right? Maybe, maybe not. It’s easy to be misled into thinking that frozen yogurt is always a better choice than plain old ice cream. Regular yogurt contains at least two strains of beneficial bacteria that are called probiotics (a topic for another time). Probiotics have a whole host of health benefits, so it’s a good thing to have them in our foods. Frozen yogurt may or may not contain probiotics. Technically, freezing the yogurt shouldn’t kill off healthy bacteria, but it can happen.

The National Yogurt Association has a voluntary program for yogurt, so you can look for a seal that says “Live and Active Cultures” on the container. Frozen yogurt is made from yogurt, naturally. Like ice cream, frozen yogurt is churned and sweeteners, flavors, colors, and thickeners, such as gelatin, may be added. Many frozen yogurts no longer have that tangy flavor, although frozen yogurt chains such as Pinkberry and Red Mango have brought the tang back.

In general, frozen yogurts are lower in fat and saturated fat than ice cream. Some frozen yogurts are fat-free, as well. Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt contains 200 calories, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 37 grams of carbohydrate for a half-cup serving. Their Cherry Garcia ice cream contains 240 calories, 13 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, and 28 grams of carbohydrate for the same amount. Note that while the carbohydrate is lower in the ice cream, the fat is much lower in the frozen yogurt.

Hood’s Fat-Free Vanilla Frozen Yogurt is just 90 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 19 grams of carbohydrate per half-cup serving (along with corn syrup, cellulose gel, and locust bean gum). Interestingly, Edy’s Slow Churned Light Vanilla ice cream has 100 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 15 grams of carbohydrate per half-cup serving. The bottom line is that fat-free frozen yogurt is well, fat-free. But the calories and carbohydrates aren’t necessarily lower. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of fat-free products in terms of taste and consistency. So, frozen yogurt can certainly be a treat, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a whole lot better for you than ice cream. The carbohydrate is still there and it can impact your blood glucose. As always, read the label!

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Here’s another food item to be wary of. Reduced-fat peanut butter is lower in fat than regular peanut butter, but it’s not low in fat. By definition, a reduced-fat food must contain at least 25% less fat than the regular version. Take Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. Two tablespoons (the serving size) contains 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 7 grams of carbohydrate, and 3 grams of sugar. Jif Reduced-Fat Crunchy Peanut Butter Spread contains 190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 15 grams of carbohydrate, and 4 grams of sugar, along with added corn syrup.

Does the reduced-fat peanut butter meet the definition of reduced fat? Yes. Is it worth using it to save 4 grams of fat while gaining 8 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of sugar? Doubtful. Now you have to “count” those 15 grams of carbohydrate as one carbohydrate choice. Also, you might remember that nuts contain heart-healthy fat. Therefore, you’re better off choosing an all-natural peanut butter (the kind with the oil on top) that contains just peanuts and maybe a little salt. Yes, you do need to watch the portion, because nuts and nut butters aren’t low-calorie foods. But they contain “good” (mostly monounsaturated) fat and protein and will keep you from getting hungry 30 minutes after you’ve eaten. For a change, you might try other types of nut butters, too, such as almond butter or cashew butter.

More “not so healthy” foods next week!

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