Saturday, October 3, 2015

Clean Label Food and Beverages: Going Greek

You hear the term “clean label” everywhere.  Good luck finding a widely accepted or definitive definition, other than on Wikipedia.  The good news, regardless of lack of exact definition, is that the food and beverage industry has undergone a shift in how they process and deliver products to the consumer.  The result, in many cases, is a shorter, simpler ingredient list with recognizable names.  The lack of formal definition is because there are no clear regulations or definitions for what it means to be “clean.”  Whole Foods has provided a list of ingredients that are often found in processed foods that they consider "unacceptable."  This list has been a starting place for many consumers and companies looking to make improvements.

Why the big focus on clean labeling?  The term “natural” is no longer deemed appropriate due to misuse and overuse, thus, began the search for another way to describe products that contained a short list of clear and concise ingredients with familiar names and without artificial ingredients.  

As a registered dietitian, I always encourage my clients to be their own best advocates and become as educated as possible when navigating food choices.  The grocery isle can be overwhelming, and it’s important to have some guidance as you make selections from the multiple options per category.   Transparency from companies is a good thing.  With the amount of information that can be provided on a company’s website, you can get a very good idea of where their ingredients come from and how each product is made.  I would consider transparency the hallmark of a clean-label product.  

One exciting development is that food companies are now allowing dietitians who have a vested interest in communicating safe and accurate science-based information to others to examine and comment on their practices. 

In July, I was invited to the Chobani plant in New York to see, firsthand, the level of quality and commitment to excellence in all areas of this company's Greek yogurt production. 

Some key observations I made while at Chobani were that their yogurt:
  • is made with milk from cows not treated with hormone rBST
  • contains no preservatives
  • contains no artificial flavors or sweeteners
In addition, there are many nutritional reasons to recommend Chobani Greek yogurt, including that:
  •  it contains 11-15 grams of protein per 5.3oz cup
  • it is a good source of calcium
  • it contains live and active cultures – at least three probiotics are present
  • it has less sugar than comparable brands

It was wonderful seeing the attention to detail at the farm where the cows are treated humanely and with care.  We also learned about their feed, milking cycle and how the byproducts  from the farm are managed in a way that minimizes negative impacts on the environment.

Cow Selfie

People often ask me about added sugar in the diet.  When I recommend Greek yogurt as an addition to breakfast or as a snack or side at dinner, they ask if I'm concerned about consuming sugar through yogurt and other dairy products.  My answer is simple, in terms of where we are getting our added sugar, dairy only makes up only about 4% of the total pie, while sweetened beverages remain closer to 47% (based on NHANES data, 2009-2010).  While it’s still important to check out labels and make sure sugar isn't the first ingredient on the yogurt label and within a total reasonable amount in grams (say less than 20), it should also be understood that the majority of the sugar in Greek yogurt comes from natural food sources such as milk and fruit.  As Americans, we typically under consume Vitamin A, D, E, C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber and potassium.  Low-fat dairy can help fill in the gap for these important vitamins, minerals and nutrients in a quick affordable manner, along with helping with weight management via satiety-producing protein. 

If you would like to see sugar content of some popular brands reviewed, this TV segment "What You Need to Know About Greek Yogurt" aired on Good Morning America about a month ago and it was interesting to see some numbers.  With that said, we are still not talking about a food group that doesn’t provide any other benefits.  If adding some a small amount of sugar gets kids or adults to consume more calcium, magnesium, probiotics and protein, guess what, I’m in (within their daily recommended servings of dairy per day).

I was also amazed to see how many healthy ways Greek yogurt could be added to main dishes and snacks to reduce the fat content and increase the moisture.  We were able to taste multiple recipes developed by the Chobani chefs that were simply delicious!  

They have some amazing recipes on their website that you can check out with nutrition information provided.  

Here's a great one for Almond Butter Blueberry Muffins from their website


  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup almond butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp light brown sugar, divided
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup Ultragrain whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup sliced almonds 


    Step 1

    Combine Chobani 0% Vanilla Greek yogurt, bananas, egg, vanilla, almond butter and brown sugar in a food processor and bend until smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

    Step 2

    Add all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, blueberries, and almonds and mix to form batter.

    Step 3

    Scoop batter into pan sprayed muffin tins or paper liners. Batter should yield 12, 3” muffins. Sprinkle each muffin with some of the remaining 2 Tbsp brown sugar.

    Step 4

    Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Nutrition Information

Calories 190, Calories from Fat 50, Total Fat 6g, Saturated Fat 3g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 15mg, Sodium 230mg, Total Carbohydrate 30g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Sugars 16g, Protein 6g.*

 Disclosure: I was thrilled to be asked on an all expenses paid trip to Chobani's plant to learn about their products.  The opinions above are my own.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Hi Kim, love your blog and info you provide! However I still think vanilla/fruit yogurt has way to much sugar. Including Chobani. I think they could do much better and lower the sugar content. If they have to put that much sugar in their product to make to palatable to the public then they should at least offer a lower sugar option!