A glance at the dairy case reveals yogurt's come along way since the days when the wrinkly old man extolled the benefits of yogurt in TV commercials.
Today you'll find Boston cream pie yogurt, yogurt with crunchy, sweet mix-ins, fiber-infused yogurt, organic yogurt, Greek yogurt (strained and drained regular yogurt, made in the USA), gluten-free yogurt (was there ever gluten in yogurt?), yogurt to lose weight and yogurt that addresses "tummy troubles."
Who knew that the marginally popular homemade plain yogurt I grew up with, like the stuff Grandma Mauer made from scratch from whole milk without the aid of a fancy yogurt machine would, decades later, become so wildly successful?
Yogurt's lip-curling tartness certainly didn't help build its thundering popularity. No. The addition of sweeteners like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice and honey helped turn yogurt's popularity around.
And, that's my top issue with today's yogurts; the amount of sweetener it takes to please American palates. A 6-ounce container (¾-cup) of Stoneyfield Organic 0-percent-fat Chocolate Underground yogurt delivers 180 calories and contains 34 sugar grams, that's nearly 3 tablespoons.
It seems that yogurt makers realized that calories count, so to blunt the perception that sweetened yogurt could equal the calories in some dairy-based desserts, they downsized yogurt's container size. To keep flavored yogurt's calorie count near 100, Breyer's YoCrunch Fruit Parfait yogurt (120 calories) comes in a 4-ounce -- ½ cup -- container.
I don't find a half cup very filling. Since consumed sugars trigger insulin, once that insulin helps metabolize those sugars, my blood sugar drops and I'm hungry again; especially for something sweet. That's potential trouble.
What keeps me from feeling hungry? Protein. Studies show that protein delivers a sense of satisfaction when consumed and that sense stays with you longer than carbohydrate or fat.
Greek-style yogurt, because the whey (a watery liquid that separates from yogurt and when making cheese) is drained-off, it usually delivers far more protein than standard yogurt. A 6-ounce container of Dannon's All Natural Nonfat Plain yogurt serves-up 8 protein grams, while a 5.3-ounce container of Brown Cow's Greek plain yogurt delivers almost twice as much protein: 15 grams.
If you want what many consider yogurt's healthy value, look for the words "live and active cultures" on a yogurt's label. Yogurt is a cultured dairy product and live cultures, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus, are used to culture yogurt from milk. Some yogurts are heat-treated after the culturing process (fermentation) completes, neutralizing most of those cultures. If plain, no-sugar-added yogurt tastes too tangy, and sweetened yogurt comes with too much sugar and too many calories, there are lower-calorie, sugar-substitute-sweetened yogurts available.
I steer toward plain yogurt by the quart because, frankly, it's less expensive. Then, I mix-in some fruit (frozen or fresh) and use artificial sweetener, like Splenda, or a sugar substitute, like Stevia. I also add a couple tablespoons of plain, nonfat yogurt to my morning protein shake.
I also use plain yogurt in a great marinade that helps add moisture and flavor to chicken. It's easy to make and use and works well not just with chicken but with lamb, too. I created the marinade; you can pick the cooking method.
• Don Mauer welcomes comments, questions and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.