In 1971, H.P. Hood Dairy created America’s first froyo. They christened it Frogurt, but the popularity of the product fizzled in and out for decades—that is, until its surge of notoriety in 2010. Frozen yogurt is now an American staple, kicking ice cream to the curb in terms of consumer preference.
According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly 79 percent of Americans prefer the low-cal treat before ice cream, gelato and snow cones. Clearly, times have changed: I certainly don’t scream for ice cream, and statistics say neither do you.
Five years have passed and America’s love of fro-yo has stuck. And somehow, this product fluke has transformed into a $2 billion industry in the United States alone. There’s no better way to honor our favorite summer treat than to re-examine froyo itself—and America’s national affair with it.
What’s the deal with froyo?
In 1981, TCBY led the nation away from Frogurt, and toward today’s froyo. TCBY opened 100 stores by 1984, but the demand for frozen yogurt remained relatively calm until the 2000s, when new self-serving components allowed the industry to skyrocket.
Now, 820 froyo shops stand in the United States, spooning out 121 million servings of the frozen dessert each year.
One thing all brands have in common is the atmosphere they try to uphold: like a futuristic coffee shop, froyo stores are intended to be trendy. Modern furniture borders colorful walls, lights flash, and music blares. It’s an environment meant to embody the concept of “going out” for ice cream, turning an on-the-go outing into an event worth going to. This branding allows for froyo’s high prices—consumers pay 4-6 dollars per visit and still return for more.
Part of the American public’s fascination with the dessert lies in the fact that we have choice in the consuming process. We pick the flavors and toppings, and we choose the quantity. You walk away with something that is purely your own—turning food into fun.
Frozen yogurt and your health
Of course, a major reason for froyo’s popularity lies in the idea that it’s healthy. It’s just yogurt, right? Nearly 95 percent of Americans believe froyo is healthier for you than ice cream. And that fact is correct: Yogurt has probiotics and live cultures and frozen yogurt carries some of the same health benefits. However, it is unknown whether the live cultures in yogurt survive the freezing process. Froyo eaters could be missing out on probiotics that ease digestion and facilitate proper bodily functions.
“It does have a health halo around it because it’s made from yogurt, and yogurt is thought to be ‘healthy,’” said Danielle Omar, local dietician and nutritionist. “However, when you remove the protein and the probiotic piece isn’t known, it’s really no better than ice cream.”
Two factors are crucial when it comes to creating your supposedly guilt-free dessert: serving size and topping choice.
“Frozen yogurt is a great dessert if you don’t have too much,” said Katherine Tallmadge, another local dietician and nutritionist. “I recommend no more than 10 percent of your daily calories for something extra, like a sweet or a chip.”
Tallmadge and Omar agree froyo eaters should have a serving size limit. The golden rule in this case is half a cup, especially if you plan on adding toppings. Even healthy choices can yield hidden calories: a large frozen yogurt, for example, topped with bananas and shredded coconut, can reach up to 530 calories. Omar also recommends sticking to basic flavors like original or plain—and typically, there is a lower calorie count in fruit-based flavors as well.
Adding toppings can be the most fun part of the froyo experience—but be wary. Overdoing it could leave you with far more calories than intended. Even “healthy” toppings, like granola and cereal, are still packed with additional fat. Stay away from mochi (each tiny piece contains a whopping tablespoon of sugar) and sauce toppings like hot fudge and caramel.
The safest options Tallmadge and Omar both suggest are fresh fruit and nuts. Fruit only amounts to around 5-10 calories per serving, while nuts, though they seem caloric, contain healthy fats and won’t do much damage. The berries will provide fiber while the nuts provide protein, helping your body absorb fat soluble vitamins in the froyo such as Vitamin D, Omar said.
Additionally, don’t fool yourself by adding a little candy. Because they are in small bits, it’s easy to think you’re really not adding much—but 3-4 scoops can amount to an entire candy bar.
“I would steer clear of adding any more sugar to this already very sweet treat,” Omar said.
It is also important to remember that frozen yogurt is a substitute for ice cream, not for yogurt. Beneficial nutrients in yogurt like potassium, calcium and protein are considerably lower in frozen yogurt. As positive nutrients are lowered, sugar levels are higher, Tallmadge said.
“That’s not to say frozen yogurt is a bad thing,” Tallmadge said. “It’s just really not comparable to regular yogurt. It’s like a whole wheat cookie being comparable to whole wheat bread.”