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Choosing the Best Yogurt

Apr 12 2021
5 min read
close-up for woman from shoulders down reading nutrition label on yogurt in yogurt section of grocery store

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 later; people who had no snack asked for dinner an hour earlier.

Many varieties 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). It even makes for a delicious dessert when combined with some berries and a swirl of honey.

So, which types of yogurt should you add to your cart? Fat-free, low-fat, regular, plain, flavored, Greek – the options could be a bit overwhelming. Read on for guidance you can use on your next trip down the dairy aisle:

Should You Choose 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 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 recent research questions whether the type of saturated fat in dairy is as harmful as was once believed. If you are concerned about the fat in yogurt, you can opt for a nonfat variety, which offers a savings of 70 calories per cup compared to full-fat.

Are Flavored Yogurts Really Unhealthy?

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).

Look for single portions of yogurt containing 150 calories or fewer, and around 15 grams or less of sugar per serving – that’s roughly the amount that comes from naturally occurring lactose. While you’re checking calories and sugar content, do a quick scan of the ingredients. The fewer you see (milk and live cultures are all that’s needed to make yogurt), the better the product is for you.

Should You 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 full-fat varieties.

How Can You Tell If There Are 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 International Dairy Foods Association’s “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which means the product has at least 100 million live cultures per gram of yogurt.

Is Greek Yogurt Better Than Regular Yogurt?

The difference between traditional and Greek yogurt is in the processing. Greek yogurt is strained three times instead of twice. The liquid is removed in the straining process, leaving the yogurt with a thicker, creamier texture.

Going Greek might give you a slight nutritional edge. It’s lower in fat and sugar and 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. That said, it does tend to be lower in calcium, and not everyone is crazy about the 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.