Last week in the Denver Post, there was an article about the increasing popularity of frozen yogurt (also called frogurt or fro-yo). Denver went from having one fro-yo place to about eight fro-yo places practically overnight! They have become social gathering places for teenagers; after-dinner destinations for families or couples; and snack stops for moms and kids during the day. People love fro-yo because it’s not ice cream, but rather something they consider lighter, healthier, and guilt-free.
Frozen yogurt originally gained popularity in the 70s and 80s, first being introduced as just the original, tart frozen plain yogurt, and then later with added flavors, sugars and toppings galore. Now it has turned into not just a treat, but an “experience.” Most shops have exotic flavors such as cake batter or pomegranate, and as many toppings as you’d find at a salad bar.
Let’s do a nutritional comparison of frozen yogurt and ice cream. The typical ingredients in frozen yogurt are actually quite similar to the ingredients in most ice creams: milk, sweetener, colorings, and flavorings. The biggest difference is that fro-yo includes yogurt cultures, whereas ice cream includes cream. Both, however, are known to contain things like corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavors and colors. They actually end up being very similar in calories because of all the sugars and sweeteners. Ice cream is higher in fat than fro-yo, but fro-yo can have just as much or even more sugars. From a digestion standpoint, those who are lactose-intolerant or have a dairy allergy may find that fro-yo is easier to digest, because of the active cultures found in the yogurt.
Some places offer the plain fro-yo flavor and claim that there are no added sugars, and any sweetness you taste is simply from the lactose sugars in the milk. From a nutritional standpoint, this is the preferred choice. The flavored fro-yo will often contain such high amounts of sugars and artificial colors and flavors, that you’d be better off eating real ice cream. I’d be especially wary of those labeled “sugar-free,” because they definitely use fake sugars that can disrupt metabolism and cause unwanted side effects such as headaches or increased sugar cravings.
Then we move onto toppings. Most places have a variety, including anything from fresh kiwi to Captain Crunch cereal. I don’t think I need to spend too much energy here – you guys know that the fruit is the way to go! Adding things like gummy bears or Fruity Pebbles to your fro-yo can instantly double (or more) the sugars, carbs, and calories of your “healthy” treat.
The last thing I want to touch on is the process. Most places now let you self-serve, which is genius on their part. When it comes to dessert, peoples’ eyes tend to be bigger than their stomachs. The shop will typically provide either one or two sizes of containers, let you fill up with your choice of ice cream and toppings, and then charge you by the ounce (I’ve seen anywhere from $0.32 to $0.54 per ounce). Some people may have the self-control to order a small dish of fro-yo or ice cream if the person behind the counter is waiting on them, but when they get to prepare it themselves, they may go overboard.
So, to sum it up, here is my recipe for a healthy fro-yo experience:
1 small serving of plain frozen yogurt
Generous serving of the freshest-looking fruit toppings
One last thing: if you enjoy ice cream more than frozen yogurt, I recommend having a small serving of ice cream every once in a while and skipping the fro-yo altogether. With cravings, people tend to do better if they satisfy them rather than attempt to fake themselves out by choosing a “healthier” version. Both frozen yogurt and ice cream are fairly high in empty calories, so choose the one you prefer and enjoy it in moderation.