What’s In It? Wednesday—Dannon Fat-free Yogurt

On the web page for nonfat Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt, the tag line is “a great balance of 80 calories per 6 oz, important nutrients, and delicious taste!” (Incidentally, the first thing you see is a really embarrassing ad campaign featuring Heidi Klum sitting on a modern whit leather couch saying “Yummy” and licking her fingers. Uh, not yummy.)

My mother buys this stuff by the bushel, and I’ve eaten one from time to time, but my husband says they taste “chemical-y.” I have told my mother it’s not real food, but so far I’ve had nothing to back that up with, just a hunch. So this week, in honor of my mother, we’re going to look at the ingredients in this yogurt. I have taken the ingredients straight from their site.

Nonfat milk. Milk that has less than 0.5 percent milk fat.”Fresh milk is received directly from local dairy farms.” Ah, I can see it now, the young milk maidens milking the cows and running it over to the Dannon plant. So idyllic. Dannon said in February 2009 that they would be going Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) free, but I can’t find any evidence that they have actually done this.

This synthetic hormone—approved by the FDA in 1993—is used to increase milk production in dairy cows. It has been banned in Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union. According to Wikipedia, “the United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone.” (I have an email in to Dannon asking when they went rbGH free, if indeed they have. For now, I’m going to just say that they may or may not have rbGH.) The FDA does not require special labels for dairy from cows given rBGH.

There are companies who say that they don’t use milk from cows treated with rbGH, but the only way to know for sure is to find a local farm where you can see how the animals are treated. Since most of us can’t do that, here is a page that has links to lists of national rbGH-free dairy producers from Food and Water Watch, a “non profit organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water.”

Fruit/Flavors. “Fruit, natural and artificial flavors can be added to some of our yogurts.” Ah, the natural and artificial flavors again. It seems that pretty much every processed food has these. I don’t know which ones specifically are in each Light & Fit, but you can check out what some of them are in the post I did last week about Candy Corn. In general, this means that the flavors are probably not natural in the way any of us think of “natural.” Also, artificial colors are rumored to affect children in the area of hyperactivity, and some of them can cause allergic reactions in asthmatics or people allergic to aspirin.

Yogurt Cultures

Live and Active Yogurt Cultures. “Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are added to the milk. In addition, some DANNON cup yogurts contain a third culture called Lactobacillus acidophilus. These cultures are carefully cultivated in DANNON laboratories by expert yogurt technologists.” This kind of scares me and makes me laugh at the same time. I’m not sure what this means either.

“Besides milk, fruit and live and active cultures, some DANNON yogurt varieties may contain other ingredients that enhance the flavor, texture and appearance of the finished product.”

I personally think plain yogurt tastes good and doesn’t need any “other ingredients” to make it look, feel and taste better. It’s also interesting that in this ingredient round up, they don’t mention the natural and artificial flavors again.

Other Ingredients

Cornstarch. “A natural starch extracted from corn, cornstarch helps give body and texture to yogurt. The Food and Drug Administration has deemed modified cornstarch as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) ingredient, meaning that it can be safely added to foods under current good manufacturing practices.”

Gluten. “The natural system for stabilizing flavor might contain ingredients derived from gluten sources.” Hmmm. Why doesn’t the yogurt *I* buy have gluten in it then if it’s so natural?

Aspartame. “A low-calorie sweetener, aspartame is made of two naturally occurring amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, aspartame has been determined safe for the general population, as well as for people with diabetes.” See my Diet Coke post for more about aspartame.

Fructose. “A simple sugar derived from fruit, fructose is added to several DANNON products for a natural-tasting sweetness.” “Natural tasting.” This can also be made in a laboratory, so I’m not sure if the wording is clear. Is it the kind that is derived from fruit or the kind that is man made? Not sure.

Pectin. “A fiber derived naturally from fruit, pectin helps thicken the yogurt and create the desired consistency and texture. Some DANNON yogurt varieties may contain a small amount of a pectin blend made from citrus fruits including lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit.”

Gelatin. “Some of our products contain gelatin to give them the desired consistency and texture.” “Desired consistency.” Again, I like the yogurt I buy and it has NO gelatin in it. Why does Dannon’s yogurt need gelatin? Check out more about gelatin in my Candy Corn post.

Mineral Compound. “Calcium, potassium and sodium phosphate are mineral compounds that are present naturally in milk. These minerals can be added to our products for specific functions that improve quality.”

Now, not to make this longer, but I am looking at the ingredients of my plain Stonyfield nonfat yogurt in my fridge right now and these are the ingredients: Cultured pasteurized organic nonfat milk, pectin, vitamin D, 6 live active cultures. Four ingredients.Of course, this is PLAIN yogurt, and Stonyfield does need to “color” their flavored yogurt, but they use beets and strawberries to do so, not food coloring. They DO use “natural” flavors, which I’m curious about. Are they really natural? At any rate, it’s best just to buy plain yogurt and add what you want to so that you KNOW what you’re eating.

Lots to think about. If you have any reaction, input, information, please leave a comment. I think this is really important to talk about and be informed about what we’re eating!

Another yogurt that doesn’t use rbGH is Brown Cow. Do you know of any other brands? Please comment so I can add the brand to a list I’ll be putting together for a future post. Thanks!!

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17 Responses to What’s In It? Wednesday—Dannon Fat-free Yogurt

  1. Pretty sad to think that yogurt & candy corn can be lumped into the same category, huh? I used to love the Dannon Light & Fit, until I started reading labels. Blech. And yes, it does taste “chemicall-y.” (That is SO a word!)

    An interesting aside, I was in Japan in 1993 and one thing I did while there was to tour a dairy. Not a huge deal to me because my grandpa ran a dairy, but my hosts thought it was something this American needed to see. I noticed (& still remember!) that their cows were skinny. Not sickly skinny, but not waddling-fat like some dairy cows I’ve seen. And strangely, their “whole milk” had 3.7% milkfat, which is .2% more than what American dairy cows produce. Hmmmm. You mess with Mother Nature, things are gonna get weird.

    Anyway, back to the yogurt. I can’t always find organic or even Greek yogurt, so I buy plain natural yogurt these days. I read the label. Like your yogurt, 4 ingredients. And I can pronounce them all. :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. MyGreenMouth says:

    I love your “What’s In It? Wednesdays.” Love!!

    I am a big believer in buying plain yogurt then adding what I want to add and how much of it I want to add. I have a habit of buying lots of jars of jam from farms when I go on vacation, so I tend to add some of that. Or a little real maple syrup, or sometimes a little organic agave nectar … Or heaven forbid … actual fresh fruit!

  3. I agree with your husband on the chemically taste. I don’t like it either. I have to be very careful about things sweetened with artificial sweeteners because things like aspartame flare up my fibromyalgia I have found. Thanks for letting me know what kind of yogurt you enjoy eating. I will be going out to get some this weekend. Thanks for the info!

  4. Awesome post. I didn’t know the it wasn’t banned in the US! The things you learn. I look forward to the response from Dannon. But then again, I would imagine that is intensely hard to regualte, if some cows can and some can’t. They would need their own diary production facilities and such. Wow, I’ll take the real food my body recognizes any day.

  5. Fran says:

    Aspartame is a scary word to me; also “natural-tasting” (whatthehell does THAT mean?” — it certainly doesn’t connote that it IS natural). My friend Niki’s mother Maria, a Russian Victorian anarchist and dear friend also, told me that making your own yogurt is the only way to be sure you are getting the real thing….. I buy Greek or Mediterranean plain yogurt at our health-foods store and add fresh fruit and local honey to it; can’t be beat, IMHO.

  6. Shelley says:

    I’ve never had Dannon yogurt… and now I’m glad! So scary that we (society) believe the advertising instead of reading the labels and using our common sense! So thankful that you posted this and ESPECIALLY love that you included an alternative to the ‘bad stuff’ So helpful. I buy Brown Cow brand – because “In all of our yogurts, however, we use only natural ingredients—fresh wholesome milk and the finest fruits. All of our yogurts are either sweetened with maple syrup or naturally milled sugar. And we never use preservatives or refined sugar. “ but when I can’t find that, I buy Stoneyfield :)

  7. Caitlin says:

    it always annoys me that companies make a big deal about live active cultures. if it didn’t have cultures, it wouldn’t be yogurt, it would be milk!!!!

  8. Lizzie says:

    Well, I love research analysts – such as yourself. You do it for passion and humanity. That’s good – that’s the difference between you and those who twist research to sell a product. But I digress. The reason that I like humanitarian research divas (that would be you) – is that I get the benefit of all your hard work and the end result is the reminder to take care of my body – treat it the way I would my beloved child. And in this particular case the verdict is: eat plain yogurt. I had such a feeling of simplicity when I read those words. Perhaps the answer to all of life’s complex mysteries: EAT PLAIN YOGURT. Ha. Well, I can dream. Thanks again for your outasight reporting.

  9. jimma says:

    Nice work, Greta!!

  10. Teri Chace says:

    What annoys and worries me is that there are so many products marketed as “natural,” or failing that, “natural-tasting,” that are full of junk. Take granola bars for instance…anymore, they are really just glorified cookies.

    Price is also a factor for me when I shop. Single-serving size yogurts are generally a rip-off.

    The 24 oz tub of Greek Gods Traditional Plain Yogurt in my fridge states “from cows not supplemented (or treated) with rbST/rbGH.” It does contain milk, cream, pectin, and five active cultures”….cream?! not so low-fat, I guess! …. and five oh my.

    Very interesting, Greta, good job!
    xo

  11. Nicole Stanton says:

    Thanks, G. Great job. The kids eat Stoneyfield, but I’ve indulged in the chemical brew on occasion. Might as well just hit the Halloween candy I guess.

  12. Stella says:

    Well… As that this “What’s In It? Wednesday” post is in honor(?) of me, said mama of the “not-so-dead & pretty damn good lookin’ middle-aged jock” (my Greta Ann), I must respond. … With horror! Horror is due to the fact that I have been buying this ‘crap’ in truck loads due to the caloric/fat content. Well, now… I am going to move my purchasing over to a simpler yogurt… need coupons! … On my way to the fridge to check out my ‘greek’ yogurt. I usually get TJ’s version of the greek kind. But that’s @ work and will check out my ‘vat’ of Fage instead… Ingredients: Grade A pasteurized skimmed milk, 2 live active cultures. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus Thermophilus. No pectin. Milk and cultures. 120 cals for 1 cup. that’s only 40 more than the deathly Dannon above. Sigh… THANKS Grets! ByeBye Dannon!

    Love Mom :o)

  13. I’ve been making my own yogurt from whole milk in the crock pot. SO thick like Greek yogurt. I just flavor it with different frozen berries :-) or I put some vanilla in it (I can’t do straight PLAIN yogurt. WAY too sour!)

    I’m thinking about picking up some yogurt culture from a local dairy and making it that way instead of using an organic plan yogurt like I’ve been doing.

    You should try the yogurt in the crock pot. Definitely yummy!

  14. pauline says:

    Holy mother! Gluten!??!?!?!?!? I didn’t know that and I thought we were all about knowing what had gluten in it. We don’t buy dannon anymore. Just greek yogurt and stonyfield. But wow does that list make me so happy we don’t eat that anymore. (and remind me to tell The Husband to stay away from Dannon should he be offered one at work.)

  15. Barb says:

    Nancys yogurt does not hav all the junk, I order from Azure Standard, a family food company, gets trucked in once a month…great food

  16. Michael in Miami says:

    Natural can mean synthetic cause the FDA currently does not regulate its term, SAD and true! So beware and read labels cause most “natural” products are full of synthetic ingredients.

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