Choosing the Best Yogurt

Yogurt is a go-to food for people who are aiming for a healthier weight, and with good reason: It’s high in protein, which helps you stay satisfied. In one study, people who had yogurt for a snack didn’t ask for dinner until almost three hours after the snack; people who had no snack asked for dinner an hour earlier.

But the benefits of yogurt go beyond that. Many varieties also contain probiotics, healthy bacteria that live in your digestive tract and help boost your immune system as well as aid in digestion. Yogurt is also one of the best food sources of calcium, the bone-building nutrient many Americans don’t get enough of. And let’s not forget that yogurt is an easy on-the-go breakfast (try pairing it with some homemade granola); when matched with some berries and a swirl of honey, it even makes for a delicious dessert.

But a stroll down the dairy aisle could leave you a little mixed up. Fat-free, low-fat, regular, plain, flavored, Greek…how do you know which to toss into your cart? Check out the questions below to learn which yogurts to say “yes” to.

Should I Go for Fat-Free, Low-Fat or Full-Fat?
Low-fat yogurt is one of the healthiest options. It contains fewer calories than full-fat—50 calories less per cup, on average. It does have some fat, but that’s not a bad thing—a little fat helps you feel more satisfied and also allows your body to absorb certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K).

Yogurt and other dairy foods, like milk and cheese, do contain saturated fat, which has been linked with an increase in LDL, or bad cholesterol, and a greater risk for heart disease. But emerging research is beginning to question whether the type of saturated fat in dairy is as harmful as once believed.

If you’re still concerned about the fat in yogurt, you can opt for a nonfat variety. It offers a savings of 70 calories per cup over full-fat.

Are Flavored Yogurts Really That Bad For Me?
It’s best to buy plain yogurt and add your own mix-ins, like fresh fruit, honey or maple syrup. Yogurt that’s flavored, has fruit on the bottom (or the side) or comes with toppings you’d find in an ice cream shop is loaded with added sugar (and often, calories you don’t need).

A single portion of yogurt should contain 150 calories or fewer, says Chrissy Wellington-Garner, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., a former nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. Look for around 15 grams or less of sugar per serving, since roughly that amount comes from naturally occurring lactose.

Do a quick scan of the ingredients list while you’re checking calories. The fewer ingredients there are (milk and live cultures are all that’s needed to make yogurt), the better the product is for you.

Should I go organic?
Ideally, yes, because toxins and pesticides build up in animal fat. We recommend purchasing organic dairy products regardless of the fat content, but it’s especially important to go for organic yogurt if you’re eating a full-fat yogurt.

More: Understanding Organics and Clean Eating

How Can I Tell If I’m Getting Probiotics?
A quick check of the label should tell you if you’re grabbing a product that contains these protective bacteria. Look for the phrase “contains live and active cultures” or for the National Yogurt Association’s “live and active culture” seal, which means the product has at least a hundred million live cultures per gram of yogurt.

Is Greek Yogurt Better Than Regular?
The difference between traditional and Greek yogurt is in the processing. Greek yogurt is strained three times instead of twice. The whey removed in the straining process, leaving the yogurt with a thicker texture.

Going Greek might give you a slight nutritional and weight-loss edge because it’s higher in protein; you’ll get about 17 grams per six ounces versus 10 grams in regular yogurt. In fact, Greek yogurt’s high protein level makes it a great option for people who follow a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet. “Plain Greek yogurt is also lower in fat and sugar, and it has a thicker, creamier consistency, which may also help you feel more satisfied,” Wellington-Garner says.

Greek yogurt does tend to be lower in calcium, however, and not everyone is crazy about its thicker texture.

Bottom line: Both Greek and traditional yogurt are healthy choices, so it comes down to preference.

Is Frozen Yogurt a Healthy Choice?
These chilly treats are healthier than regular ice cream. Stick to six ounces or less of frozen yogurt, and limit or skip all those tempting toppings.

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