August 22, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Yogurt Parfaits

I had a Starbucks yogurt and fruit parfait this morning. It also has granola. I saw that it has 38 grams of sugar. Is that too much to have at breakfast? What should my maximum intake be for one day?

-- Patricia Roebuck
New York, NY

The combination of fruit, granola, and yogurt sounds very healthy. And, with the right ingredients, it can be. However, don’t forget that even healthy food has calories.

An 8.5 ounce Starbucks yogurt-fruit-granola parfait provides 320 calories and 4 grams of fat. Ironically, a yogurt parfait at McDonald’s is approximately half the size and only provides 160 calories and 2 grams of fat.

The 38 grams of sugar you saw noted for this parfait are a little misleading, since that number combines naturally occurring as well as added sugars. As far as healthy intakes are concerned, you only really need to be concerned with added sugars.

For example, yogurt naturally has lactose, or milk sugar. Even plain, unflavored yogurt will have approximately 10 or 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounce serving.

I suspect these parfaits are made with flavored yogurt, though, which contains added sugar. I would estimate the flavored yogurt is providing 15 grams (or almost 4 teaspoons’ worth) of added sugar.

On the bright side, it seems to me that the fruits used in this parfait are fresh, as opposed to sugary jam, so in their case we are also talking about naturally-occurring sugars.

If anything, the one ingredient to watch for is granola. Although it has long been associated with good health and clean living, granola is actually refined grains with sugar.

Does that mean you should you avoid it at all costs? No. However, a lot of people seem to believe granola is a health food, which it isn’t. After all, a Starbucks parfait only contributes 1 gram of fiber to your diet.

This is not to say that everything you eat needs to be high in fiber. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that your granola parfait counts as a serving of whole grains.

You should aim to have no more than 40 grams of added sugar a day. There are currently bills floating around Congress that would differentiate natural versus added sugars on food labels, which I think is a wonderful idea.

I personally find Starbucks’ and McDonald’s parfaits a bit too sweet for my palate. I prefer to make my own with non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, uncooked oatmeal, and a tablespoon of flaxseed meal.

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