The good people of Yoplait have recently launched an advertising campaign where they purport that swapping out one unhealthy snack each week for a Yoplait will make a world of difference to your health. (You can check it out here on YouTube.)
While they are on the right track, there's something misleading about this concept. One yogurt isn't virtuous enough to 'undo' a whole week of non-foods; in fact, I would hazard there is quite a bit of non-food action happening in these little yogurts, and definitely not enough nutritional value to compensate for the chips, cookies, ice cream sandwiches, and M & Ms they suggest their customers are eating otherwise.
The idea that certain healthy foods can be 'tolerated' once a week, in order that we may have the junk, sets up a weird food-hierarchy that makes me a little uneasy. Particularly when it comes to building habits with kids and food, we can run into trouble when we focus solely on likability of a certain food group (junk), rather than the benefits and naturally likable factors of another (all other real food).
Let's take a quick look at the Yoplait label itself - and why this isn't a ton better than eating the ice cream sandwich or the M & Ms:
- Nonfat milk: when they take the fat out, manufacturers must add in sugar to compensate for flavor lost. If you're going to have dairy, have full fat dairy. (This also means we need less of it, as the fat is more satisfying. The body can register "thanks, I'm done" when it ingests fat; it can't do the same with sugar.) Some more info on the sugar quandary here. You'll also notice that the vitamins have been added back in synthetically towards the bottom of the ingredient list: this is because they, too, were removed during the skimming process. The real thing is always going to be preferable to the synthetic. Again, whole fat milk if you're going to have it.
- Modified corn starch: a thickener. It's virtually impossible to find any corn that isn't genetically modified, and because Yoplait boasts no organic claims, their starch is absolutely GMO. Avoid this whenever possible. Read more on that here.
- Gelatin: in case you didn't know, gelatin is the by-product of boiling animal skin, cartilage, and bones for an extended period. It's the yellowy substance that floats away from the animal bits and helps keep things texturally appealing. Yum.
- Tricalcium phosphate, acesulfame potassium, and potassium sorbate: both added as preservatives. Here's something to think about: yogurt is marketed as a great boon to the digestive tract because of its active living cultures that play nicely with our own intestinal flora. How thriving can the L. Acidophilus living in the Yoplait be if it's swimming around in preservatives intended to kill bacteria? In general, ingesting preservatives can do wacky things to our systems: they are intended to prevent bugs from thriving, and they don't break down particularly well within us. Repeated exposure can mean high levels of preservative build-up in the body, which has been linked to tumor growth and mood disorders.
- Aspartame: there's a reason this little cup of yogurt has so few calories. Where they might otherwise have included sugar, the manufacturer has used this artificial sweetener with zero calories. It has zero calories because it's not food and the body can't use it for anything (Windex also has zero calories). The trouble here is that ingesting a fake sugar causes the same response in the body as though we ingested something with real energy in it. The body sends out the insulin team to respond to the influx of sweetness (it thinks sugar is coming), but when the insulin discovers there's nothing for it to do, it continues to circulate in the bloodstream, promoting fat storage. Prolonged circulation of insulin means a higher likelihood of fat gain and insulin insensitivity. The diet food industry really loves this: it's why they have no problem continuing to put aspartame in products.
- Natural flavor: this could be anything from mink oil (extracted from the animal), soaked charred sawdust, extracts of crude oil or tar that – to our senses – taste or smell like a 'natural substance’. Anything that is commonly considered edible may be labeled ‘natural flavoring' on a label.
Alrighty, so there we are. The contents of a Yoplait. Not a lot of real food going on in that little cup.
I am all for the main message behind this campaign: as a country, we eat too much garbage, and our food choices aren't always the best for us. And true, on the good-better-best continuum, a Yoplait is a better choice than a can of Pringles.
I would take it a step further, though, and say that to swap one processed product in for another isn't doing us any favors.
Snack time, instead, should be regarded as a chance to work in more whole foods (for kids and adults alike). When our snacks look more like the foods we eat at meal time, we are more likely to cover our nutritional bases, more likely to fuel ourselves with lasting energy, and more likely to be well-balanced (read: at a healthy weight, with no cravings and no symptoms of deficiency).
Some of my favorite snack options include:
- roasted sweet potatoes
- half an avocado
- apple and almond butter
- homemade brown rice crackers with nut butter
- a coconut-flax-almond milk-hemp-greens smoothie
- steamed edamame
- a smaller portion of lunch or dinner
I'd love to see an ad campaign where we were challenged to swap in foods like this throughout the week. I'd bet we'd see a spike in collective energy, productivity, mood, and wellbeing!
Until that campaign airs, will you try out the 'swapportunity' challenge with the foods listed above?
Happy healthy snacking,