Yogurt has enjoyed a place at mankind’s table since 6000 BC. Today, Americans consume an average 12 pounds per person of the cultured dairy product each year, and industry experts project that figure will soon double.
Why? First, yogurt is versatile. You can spoon its creamy goodness over cereal at breakfast, top fruit at lunch, use it as a salad dressing base at dinner, and snack on it anytime.
Second, the sheer number of choices on supermarket shelves is astounding. Technically, yogurt is defined as cow’s milk cultured with two specific bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Yet manufacturers are using virtually every type of milk, including goat, soy, rice, and
almond, to make yogurt.
Third, yogurt lives up to its long-standing reputation as a healthy food—if you choose wisely.
To find the most nutritious yogurt, read product labels, says Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, CSSD, a San Francisco, California-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Look at the Nutrition Facts panel for a yogurt that provides less than 160 calories per 6-ounce serving. It should also have 5 grams of fat or less, at least 5 grams of protein to keep levels low of the hunger hormone ghrelin, and 30 grams of sugar or less. Keep in mind that cow’s milk naturally contains 12 grams of sugar as lactose per serving.”
In addition, says Villacorta, “Choose a yogurt that has at least 25% to 30% of the daily recommendation for calcium and 10% of the requirement for vitamin D. Many people of all ages don’t get enough of these two bone-building nutrients, and yogurt can be an excellent source.”
The next choice is what kind of yogurt product to choose, and the options are increasingly plentiful:
- Cow’s milk: The most popular yogurt, made with cow’s milk, is available plain or with fruit, sweetened or unsweetened, and in skim, low-fat, and whole milk varieties. If you choose sweetened over plain, you might get an additional 20 grams or more of sugar. And with whole milk varieties, you get up to 6 grams of fat and 4 grams, or one-fifth of the daily recommended allowance, of saturated fat.
Custard or Swiss types come with fruit mixed in and get their creamy texture from a stabilizer such as gelatin, while sundae-type yogurts have fruit on the bottom. The best bet is to select fat-free yogurts and stir in your own fresh fruit. ON THE MARKET: Yoplait Original 99% Fat Free plain or fruit flavors and Dannon Light & Fit plain or fruit flavors l Probiotic: Bacteria used to culture milk into yogurt can promote digestive health. Some studies show that probiotic yogurt, which contains live cultures, may promote regularity, relieve stomach upset, and boost immunity. Look for the National Yogurt Association’s Live and Active Cultures seal to make sure the product contains live bacteria that haven’t been killed by heat treatment. ON THE MARKET: Dannon Activia, Yoplait YoPlus, and Stonyfield Organic Activia
- Greek: Drain the liquid whey from yogurt and the result is this thick, creamy product. In addition to its indulgent flavor and mouthfeel, Greek yogurt, even in its fat-free form, provides nearly twice as much protein as regular yogurt spoon for spoon—14 to 16 grams per 6-ounce serving. On the downside, in its full-fat form, it has double the fat and saturated fat of regular yogurt. Another negative is that some of its calcium is lost by removing the whey. On the plus side, however, it contains less of the milk sugar lactose, which makes it appealing to those who are lactose intolerant. ON THE MARKET: FAGE Total 0%and Chobani Fat Free plain or with fruit
- Skyr: Akin to Greek yogurt, this seriously thick skim milk yogurt is technically classified as a soft cheese. It hails from Iceland and is made according to a centuries-old Viking recipe. Low in fat and calories and with as much as three times the protein of regular yogurt, Skyr is available in plain and fruitflavoredvarieties. ON THE MARKET: Siggi’s
- Kefir: This fermented milk product resembles a drinkable yogurt. Traditionally made with camel’s milk, in the United States it’s a cow’s milk product with a nutrient profile similar to that of regular yogurt. It’s available plain and fruit flavored, nonfat to full fat, organic, Greek style, and probiotic enriched. ON THE MARKET: Lifeway and Green Valley Organics
- Goat’s milk: Although goat’s milk is globally popular and historically thought to be the first type of milk from which yogurt was made, goat’s milk yogurt isn’t a safe substitute for those with cow’s milk allergies, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Using whole goat’s milk leads to a high fat content of 5 grams per 6-ounces, most of it saturated. ON THE MARKET: Redwood Hill Farm
- Soy: Vegetarians will delight in this nondairy yogurt. However, vegetarians, and especially vegans, will want to choose products with plant-based pectin rather than animal-derived gelatin as a thickener. Soy yogurt has no cholesterol. It’s also lower in protein and calcium than its cow’s milk counterparts,but many brands are calcium fortified. Soy yogurt also provides from 1 to 5 grams of dietary fiber, something that cow’s milk doesn’t offer. Some studies suggest that soy yogurt can help control blood sugar and blood pressure. ON THE MARKET: Silk Live! and WholeSoy & Co
- Almond milk: This delivers heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and nutrients naturally found abundantly in almonds, such as vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, and phosphorus. It has half the protein and twice the calories of plain or artificially sweetened fat-free cow’s milkyogurts. ON THE MARKET: Amande l Rice milk: Vegans and those with a cow’s milk allergy or intolerances will appreciate this type of yogurt. It has no saturated fat, is fortified with calcium, and offers 3 grams of dietary fiber per 6-ounce serving. On the negative side, like nut milk yogurts, rice milk yogurt delivers half the protein of cow’s milk versions.
- Coconut milk: Low in protein and high in fat and saturated fat, this yogurt offers 2 grams of dietary fiber. Its creamy texture makes it a flavor winner with those looking for a dairy-free yogurt. Look for varieties with live cultures and calcium fortification. ON THE MARKET: So Delicious Dairy Free