Healthy… or Not? Frozen Yogurt and Peanut Butter

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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  • Wayne

    I know the saying is everything is good in moderation. I was wondering if eating peanut butter everyday is good or bad. I keep it to one serving, apprx 2 tbs, either mixed with my oatmeal for breakfast or a banana or apple as a snack. I normally buy all natural peanut or almond butter.

  • acampbell

    Hi Wayne,

    I think it’s perfectly fine to eat peanut butter everyday. It’s a healthy food, and as you say, you’re watching your portion size. Almond butter is good too. I say go for it!

  • Carmen

    I live in Vancouver Canada and a frozen yogurt chain here, called Yogen Frus has sugar free, fat free frozen yogurt and I love it. They can blend it with frozen, unsweetened berries for a fresh treat.

    A note on the pb…maybe try to cut the serving portion in half. 2 tablespoons is a hefty serving…think about the manufactur’s definition of the serving size. They just want you to eat more faster, so you can run out and buy another jar sooner. An actual portion of pb, according to the Canadian Diabetic Assoc. is ONE tablespoon, equalling one protein.

    Just food for thought…:)

  • joan perkins

    I’ll confess to an occasional treat. My SO is Type 2 so we watch what we’re eating. No blindfolds, no kidding ourselves.

    BUT: Cabot’s ice cream, a world of ice cream, in the Boston Suburb of Newton, has a fat-free, sugar-free yummy vanilla yogurt (all bets are off with the mix ins!) and a dark fudge topping that is fat free and sugar free – and delicious. Well, then there’s the whipped cream…

    The point is, as you said Amy, you have to look at what you’re eating. Though I know that it can’t be all that carb free or “good” for me, when I read the fine print, I always feel like I’m getting away with something.

    Tell me all that fat-free, sugar-free stuff is worth doing once in awhile!

  • joseph

    I just love peanut butter, the better kind though,my favorite is smart balance all natural rich roast creamy real peanut butter with omega-3 from flax oil I am talking like this because I know it is good for me.I have type 2 diabetes and I eat peanut butter every day that I can remember,sometimes with bananas but lately I dismiss the banana because I am on a diet and fruit is not on the plan.peanut butter is a good source of protein (7g)and I eat it before I go on my treadmill to exercise,and it keeps me feeling full.After exercising, i drink a lot of water eat a non-fat yogurt take my med and i’m good for another day.I think peanut butter is a very healthy food that can be used with so many great snacks,but it have to be eaten in moderation or you can get carried away by eating to much.