Food Babe Investigates: Frozen Yogurt Gone Bad

This is a guest post by Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) who is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.


Before you start the enjoying the hot weather and cool treats this summer – there’s something I have to tell you, but you first have to promise not to kill the messenger (me!).

Commercially available frozen yogurt is one of the most processed food products on the planet!

Yes – you heard that right – that creamy, low calorie, probiotic promised goodness swirled into your cup and topped with your favorite goodies is one of the worst “healthy” fads to hit the franchise market, and I’m here to tell you the cold hard facts (ha! – no pun intended).

Frozen yogurt is made with several components:
(Unlike real yogurt that is made with just two ingredients – milk + cultures)

  • milk solids, processed milk product (like powdered or condensed milk) and/or milk fat
  • some kind of refined sweetener – usually a few different kinds like evaporated cane syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, etc.
  • yogurt culture (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are common cultures)
  • natural or artificial flavorings
  • natural or artificial coloring
  • sometimes trans fat
  • sometimes preservatives
  • stabilizers and thickeners like guar gum or carrageenan
  • other fillers like cellulose gum (a.k.a. the stuff made from wood pulp)

Before the mixture is frozen into an edible product, the yogurt ingredients come in a big box of pre-made liquid or powder. This is very similar to how most fast food franchises obtain their products – in a box or a carton pre-made, pre-mixed, heavily processed and preserved. In fact, most frozen yogurt companies buy their formula mix from the same manufacturer and at a very cheap cost, about 10 cents per serving – and sell it to you for a 500% markup! To witness just how processed frozen yogurt can be, I challenge you to go over to your favorite frozen yogurt joint and ask them how they make their yogurt. They’ll show you the pre-packaged liquid or powder they mix with water that they throw right into the machine – pre-packed liquid that looks NOTHING like yogurt and more like kool-aid, depending on the flavor in a plastic jug. It’s a rather disgusting sight to tell you the truth, and an exercise I conduct on occasion to remind myself not to eat that stuff.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular brands of yogurt available and what they contain.

Guar gum is an ingredient that is used in all the brands featured below (Pinkberry, Menchies, Yogurt Mountain, TCBY, Red Mango and Yoforia) that you may have heard of and wondered about. It comes from ground up guar beans, which technically aren’t bad for you, but when highly processed into gum it can contain an extraordinary amount of soluble fiber that can reduce the absorption of important vitamins and minerals in your body 1. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg considering what’s really in these frozen yogurt products…

Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.

Pinkberry started its business by selling a yogurt like substance, claiming health benefits of probiotics and live cultures. In 2007, the LA Times sent samples of Pinkberry’s product to get tested, revealing that Pinkberry did not contain enough active cultures to be considered yogurt by California law. It wasn’t until a law suit that Pinkberry eventually came clean about their ingredient list and changed their formula so their products could be called real yogurt.

Today Pinkberry’s ingredients are available online like most retailers. The Cookies and Cream flavor has TBHQ (commonly used in varnishes, lacquers, pesticide products, cosmetics, and perfumes – not something I want to be eating), GMOs (corn flour, soy lecithin, dextrose, maltodextrin) and carrageenan, which can cause stomach inflammation. These ingredients make this product far from healthy. In addition, they do not use organic dairy, which is #1 on my organic shopping priority list because conventional dairy comes from cows on a mostly GMO filled diet, injected with growth hormones and/or antibiotics.

Slide6
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.

It was shocking to find so many different kinds of sugar (including corn syrup) and artificial food dyes in the “Fancy French Vanilla” at Menchies and “Old Fashioned Vanilla” at Yogurt Mountain. I thought getting the vanilla flavor would be about as plain Jane as you can get, but apparently these yogurt chains feel the need to color their vanilla to make it white. Unfortunately, this is a common technique the food industry uses to disguise inexpensive, chemically processed ingredients as real food. When you see artificial colors or flavoring in a product it is a huge warning sign that what you are eating is not real food.

Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.

TCBY – famously known as “The Country’s Best Yogurt” – is actually one of the worst, using the ingredient propylene glycol in almost all of their yogurts. Propylene glycol is a non-deadly antifreeze and solvent no one should be ingesting.

Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.

Luckily, Red Mango is realizing the importance of probiotics to their customers and using strains that can survive the freezing process. However, the way they make their yogurt is still very questionable considering that the “Caribbean Coconut” flavor actually contains ZERO coconut. Which is not the least bit surprising when you examine the ingredient list closely and find the words “natural flavors.” These flavors are created in a laboratory and there’s no way to figure out what’s actually in them by just looking at the ingredient list. They can be created by anything “natural” found on earth (in some cases that could be beavers’ anal glands for a “natural” strawberry flavor!). Food scientists create specific flavors to trick your brain into enjoying a processed product more than you should or trick your brain into thinking a product has an ingredient that it actually doesn’t have.

Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.
Red text indicates potentially harmful ingredients and/or ingredients likely to contain GMOs.

Yoforia uses organic milk (which is FANTASTIC) but then they go and totally screw up a beautiful thing by putting all sorts of other additives in their yogurt, including artificial food dyes, GMOs, and trans fat. This is one of the worst abuses of marketing I’ve ever seen, which motivated me to write several posts about this company and demand changes from their CEO. While they did release their ingredients online after our conversations, they have not changed their product to fit their marketing in their stores.

How To Get Your Frozen Yogurt Fix

Besides all of these chemically made processed ingredients, you have to remember that almost all frozen yogurt has an extraordinary amount of refined added sugar – that’s how they get away with feeding you a non-fat/low-fat product that actually tastes good. Frozen Yogurt was actually invented in the 1970’s as a healthier alternative to ice cream, but food manufacturers found they had to cover up the tart flavor with lots of sugar in order for it to be mass marketed and to taste just as good as ice cream – totally defeating it’s original intent!

With that said, the option least damaging to your health is plain frozen yogurt (tart flavor) with no added flavoring (not the vanilla flavor, because it could likely have additives and/or be artificially colored as noted above). You can add fresh fruit or nuts to it that are commonly found at the topping bar, which are the best real food options. But remember if you decide to go this route, you still have the risk of consuming non-organic dairy and other preservatives. Personally I think choosing the plain tart frozen yogurts is no fun considering they taste pretty boring and too “healthy,” and seeing all the other options can be too tempting for me to even go visit in the first place. Always ask to see the ingredient list before you buy because 9 times out 10 that makes the decision to say no to that craving easier. Please note, recombinant bovine growth hormone (a.k.a. rbGH) found in milk won’t be included on the list of ingredients, so specifically ask about this too, which is outlawed in 27 countries and study after study links it to many forms of cancers.

Personally, I don’t see the need to eat frozen yogurt as a dessert or to get my probiotics (I get them through a daily supplement and lots of fermented vegetables like kimchi). When I want a dessert I go for the real full fat thing and I usually make my own frozen treats to avoid additives. This is my favorite quick and easy recipe for ice cream that un-junks three of my old favorite flavors from Baskin Robbins – Cookies & Cream, Pistachio Almond and Mint Chocolate Chip – and it can be ready in just 25 minutes! Lisa also has a few easy “real food” frozen treat recipes including Peach Sorbet, Banana Ice Cream, Fudge Pops, and Maple Pecan Ice Cream.

coconuticecream1

If you know someone who loves frozen yogurt and real food, please share this post with them and stop over to FoodBabe.com and say hi!

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.

1. Jayson and Mira Calton (Primal Blueprint Publishing, 2013), Rich Food, Poor Food, page 35.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!

38 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates: Frozen Yogurt Gone Bad”

  1. It is easy to make this stuff at home. Just freeze organic plain yougurt and berries in a paper cup with a popsicle stick in the middle. Unwrap the paper, and your done. You can also use freezie pop molds and add veggies.

  2. Has anyone tried Ice Supreme? It’s available in the southeast at wholefoods it can be shipped anywhere else all natural, vegan, dairy free, soy free, made w almonds.Their website lists ingredients for every flavor and gives descriptions of health benefits, like Himalayan pink salt 84 minerals etc… Anyway delicious, natural, real food frozen treat.

  3. I make delicious and healthy frozen yogurt with greek yogurt that I throw in a mixer with frozen fruits from my garden and a bit of sugar if absolutely necessary. Easy, fast, delicious, healthy. The rest is indeed serious garbage.

  4. INGREDIENTS: Pasteurized and Cultured Skim Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Whey, Cocoa (processed with alkali), Nonfat Dry Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Milk Protein Isolate, Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Modified Food Starch, Pectin. Contains the following live and active cultures: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. lactis, L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.

    I asked and they told me. What about these ingredients?

  5. Howdy, I recommend White Mountain Yogurt out of Austin TX. Just milk and cultures, nothing else. Just add fruit, nuts, whatever you want and enjoy!

  6. Wow. That is just so scary. Something peddled as so good is so very bad for us. I am only finding this stuff out myself and what I am finding out is enlightening.

  7. I have been trying to find a low cal ice cream dessert to beat the az summer heat, and used to buy breyers creamy vanilla, because I thought it was the best and most natural. However, after reading the reviews about carageenan, I returned all my carageenan items, and have been looking for something. I am NOT good at making homemade ice cream. I did find Blue Bunny Frozen yogurt, which has the sugar, but the ingredient list otherwise, looks pretty good. What do you think food babe?

  8. Although I never fell into that yoghurt hype, I’m thankful you pointed those out. Now I know my disfavor for yoghurt is justified.

  9. Thanks for uncovering frozen yogurt. We love that you gave us credit for the micronutrient depleting aspects of guar gum from RIch Food, Poor Food. No one really ever talks about that . Cant wait to catch up on the phone later this month. All the best,
    Mira

  10. Thanks so much for this post! We have a frozen yogurt store in Cincinnati, OH – we looked into the chains but once we saw the ingredients decided to go with our own concept. Freeze has no artificial flavors, colors, or flavorings or corn syrup in anything in store (yogurt, toppings, and drinks).

  11. Hi Food Babe!

    You mention that guar gum is one of the bad ingredients in frozen yogurt, but the Native Forest coconut milk that you use in your homemade coconut milk ice cream also contains guar gum. It’s one of the reasons I’ve hesitated to buy that brand of coconut milk so I’m wondering if you feel like it’s ok in moderation? You’ve really inspired me to be mindful of what I put into my body and I have always been confused about guar gum so I’d love to hear your thoughts on consuming coconut milk made with it.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Dan is right- under the Code of Federal Regulation, a natural flavor is defined as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22)

  12. Dear Food Babe,

    I enjoyed reading your article, and applaud your investigation into the ingredients of Red Mango frozen yogurt and those of other brands. I sincerely wish more journalists did the same. I am quite passionate about making sure that we only use the best ingredients to make our frozen yogurt, so I am thankful for your pointing out that our probiotics are indeed unique.

    You also made some points about our coconut flavored frozen yogurt. While I understand your concern about “natural flavors” and how some companies may use this term as a way to disguise gross ingredients, I wanted to assure you and your readers that the natural coconut flavor we use does not contain the anal glands of beavers, and that it is made with concentrated extracts and oils of real coconuts. When I craft our frozen yogurt flavors, I make sure that it is made only with ingredients that I would serve to my wife and 4 year old daughter, so I have pretty high standards.

    With that said, I am now unintentionally wondering how the other excretions of beavers taste. I mean, if their anal glands taste like berries and vanilla (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castoreum), their pee and poo has got to be something worth bragging about, right?

  13. When I crave ice cream or frozen yogurt, my go to recipe is to put two small or one large frozen banana, 3 ice cubes, 1/2 cup organic milk, 1/4 cup organic plain yogurt, and 1 or 2 tablespoons organic peanut butter in a blender and blend until smooth. It tastes amazing and I honestly can’t tell that it’s not a fat-loaded milkshake from the ice cream shop! You can also add some organic preserves for a PB&J “milkshake”.

    1. I use Alton Brown’s vanilla (with organic ingredients, subbing maple syrup for the sugar) and then add in flavors or chunks before the hard freeze stage.

  14. Ughhh I was just planning a trip to Pinkberry so disappointing. Having my own ice cream maker at home now makes this a little less painful.

  15. Have you tried “Yonana?” There’s a machine where you can blend frozen bananas with other fruit and yogurt and make your own frozen dessert. It’s delicious!

    1. Alternatively do the same in your food processor – it works out well – Banana “icecream” almost a weekly treat in our home.

  16. I thought that the plain would be my best bet the last time I went to Peachwave, and then I went home and checked the ingredients and wished I hadn’t eaten it! How can they call it Plain Tart when the second ingredient is sugar?! (From the Peachwave website):

    Plain Tart – Fat Free
    Ingredients
    Cultured Skim Milk, Sugar, Dextrose, Maltodextrin, Nonfat Yogurt Powder, Nonfat Dry Milk, Citric Acid, Guar Gum, Natural Flavors, Ascorbic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Yogurt Culture (S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus).

  17. Food Babe, what is your opinion on Stoneyfield’s Organic Non-fat “Gotta have Vanilla” Frozen yogurt?

    1. I don’t know Food Babe’s opinion, but the ingredients (google search) include a couple of “gums”, “whey protien concentrate” and various sugars – so if you are trying to avoid highly processed this one doesn’t make the cut either.

  18. With all the ads for frozen yogurt, you can be sure it isn’t the best choice for us! Have you tried raw coconut yogurt? Unlike Red Mango’s Caribbean Coconut, it actually does require real coconut to make.

  19. A good solution is to make your own yogurt at home, you get to control the ingredients. Add the fruit etc that you like and freeze. I have done this for years and even a 4 year old pick eater begged for them!! I am not sure if the probiotics last through the freezing process but they are still good.

  20. Is there any reason not to just freeze your own yogurt, whether it be organic, homemade, etc? I know it won’t be as creamy as soft-serve, but I think I’ll give it a try!

    1. Ginger, I’ve done this, but it does freeze hard, so think of it as more of a popsicle than ice cream. (Maybe you could freeze it in ice cube trays and then blend them in a food processor until creamy? Haven’t tried that myself, though.) I freeze mine in silicone molds or paper cups. Last fourth of July, I made “firecracker” popsicles with yogurt blended with blueberries, then a layer of yogurt blended with maple syrup, then a layer of yogurt blended with strawberries.

      1. I imagine if you put yougurt into an ice-cream maker that stirs and blends as it freezes you might come up with a similar product. If you start with plane and add your own sweetner (honey, maple syrup) that may lower the freezing point a little, and make it a little softer.

      2. i use Dannon light and fit and freeze it and it does come out popsicle hard. when i want one i pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds (i have an 1100 watt) and it comes out soft enough to chop with a spoon.

  21. I just wanted to mention another possible side effect of carrageenan. My husband is a gout sufferer and when he eats ice cream that lists carrageenan as an ingredient, he suffers a severe attack relative to the amount of ice cream he has eaten. He can eat ice cream without carrageenan (both Turkey Hill and Blue Bunny make “all natural” formulas) without issue. I put 2 and 2 together last year after hearing that carrageenan causes an acute inflammatory response in the body. This suddenly explained some previously unexplained flair-ups of gout. Fortunately, he doesn’t eat many of the things that contain carrageenan like yogurt, coffee creamers, etc. I always check the labels now before buying anything!

Comments are closed.