"Yogurt is the fermented food produced by culturing cream, milk, or both with a characterizing bacterial culture that contains lactic acid-producing bacteria," says Maya Feller, RD, of Maya Feller Nutrition. Keep reading to learn about the different types of yogurt, the benefits of eating it, tips on choosing the best one, and creative ideas to incorporate it in your everyday food rotation.
First things first: What is the difference between these three popular types of yogurt?
The types of yogurt available are about as abundant as boutique fitness classes. There's whipped, drinkable, and skyr, to name a few, that come in either plain and flavored versions and varying amounts of milk fat percentages. Despite the wide variety, though, yogurts tend to fall into three common categories: regular yogurt, Greek yogurt, and non-dairy yogurt. Here's how they broadly compare.
Which yogurt is the healthiest?
Regular yogurt benefits: Regular yogurt is usually made with cow's milk, which makes it not suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. On the plus side, "it typically has more calcium, but is a bit lower in protein compared to Greek," says Tony Castillo, RDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. Still, it's a great source of protein at around eight grams per one-cup serving. Below is the nutritional info for a one-cup serving of regular plain yogurt, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Protein: 8 grams
Total fat: 8 grams
Saturated fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Sugar: 9 grams
Calcium: 300 milligrams
Sodium: 329 milligrams
Vitamin A: 500 IU (international unit)
Cholesterol: 34 milligrams
Greek yogurt benefits: Greek yogurt, which has more of a tart flavor, is arguably the most popular type of yogurt, and it's easy to see why. "It usually has twice as much protein as regular yogurt," Castillo says, at 20 grams per seven-ounce serving. Greek yogurt is also lower in sugar and carbs than regular yogurt, adds Brittany Modell, RD, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness. Why? Unlike regular yogurt, Greek yogurt strains off the liquid-y whey—which makes it thicker while also cutting back on the carb and sugar content. And since cottage cheese has been all the rage, you may want to check out how Greek yogurt vs. cottage cheese stack up against one another. Below is the nutritional information for a one-cup serving of Greek yogurt, according to the USDA:
Protein: 21 grams
Carbohydrates: 8 grams
Sugar: 6 grams
Calcium: 222 milligrams
Magnesium: 22 milligrams
Phosphorus: 272 milligrams
Potassium: 282 milligrams
Sodium: 72 milligrams
Zinc: 1 milligrams
Selenium: 20 IU (international unit)
Choline: 30 milligrams
Non-dairy yogurt: Non-dairy consumers can still enjoy their yogurt and eat it too, thanks to a variety of some of the best non-dairy yogurt options such as soy, cashew, almond, oat, and coconut milk. But Castillo says that in comparison to regular and Greek yogurt, plant-based yogurts tend to be lower in protein. For example, a six-ounce serving of plain Kite Hill Unsweetened Almond Yogurt ($6 for 16 ounces) has just five grams of protein, while a one-cup serving of plain So Delicious Coconutmilk Yogurt ($3 for 5 ounces) has less than one gram of protein.
What are the most important yogurt benefits to know?
1. It's satiating
Yogurt is rich in protein and healthy fats, which makes it a very filling breakfast or snack, says Feller. Both of these nutrients are key to actually feeling full for longer than roughly 15 minutes. One small study found that consuming a high-protein Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack resulted in less hunger and increased satiety1. So if you're super hungry and need to eat something fast, yogurt has your back (er, stomach).
2. It may help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
Research has also shown that yogurt may play a role in preventing Type 2 diabetes2. "Yogurt contains unique properties, such as its lactic acid bacteria content, which may affect gut microbiota and have a potential role in reducing glycemic variability," Feller says, meaning that it may help stabilize blood sugar levels. Of course it's important to be mindful that the yogurt you're choosing isn't loaded with added sugar, which can counteract the benefits. (A friendly reminder to always read the nutrition labels.)
3. It's good for bone health
Yogurt also contains calcium—415 milligrams per eight-ounce serving of regular, plain yogurt—which is essential for bone health. "Calcium helps bones stay stronger by increasing their density and can help [protect] against osteoporosis," Castillo says. "Calcium is [also] essential for vascular contraction, muscle function, nerve transmission, and cellular signaling," Modell adds. The high-quality protein in yogurt also contributes to bone health as well as muscle strength.
4. It's good for heart health
Want to eat with heart health in mind? Dig your spoon into some yogurt. Feller points to one study which found that consuming fermented dairy products such as yogurt regularly (about two servings per week) long-term can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease3 by reducing blood pressure. While it may be surprising, there's a correlation between nutrients that benefit gut health also being good for the heart.
5. It's good for your gut
Yogurt (specifically the dairy kind) is rich in probiotics, which support your immune system and "improve digestive health by maintaining levels of 'good bacteria' in the gut," Modell says. This good bacteria, Castillo adds, helps break down lactose and improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome too. Besides supporting your digestive system, this will positively impact your brain, too. Scientific studies have shown a strong connection between gut health and brain health. That means, eating yogurt regularly can help with both cognitive function and mood.
Is there a downside to eating too much yogurt?
In general, yogurt is a very healthy food. However, there are some specific instances where a person might want to choose a different snack or breakfast option. For one, if you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, a dairy-based yogurt won't play nicely with your digestive system. Thankfully, there is a huge variety of plant-based options that could be a better fit for your needs and tastes.
Yogurt can also affect the effectiveness of certain specific medications. "It may interact with some immunosuppressants and antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin," Feller says. "Those on certain medications may need to be aware of that and avoid or adjust the timing of consuming yogurt until the medicine is completed," Feller says. If you're not sure if yogurt will affect medications you're taking, it's best to be safe and check with your doctor first.
How to buy the best, healthiest yogurt possible
1. Look for yogurts that are unflavored and contain low sugar
Like with all packaged foods, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the sugar content. While yogurt naturally contains about six to eight grams of sugar, Modell recommends opting for yogurts that are unflavored or plain to cut back on added sugars that are often included in flavored varieties. Then you can add your toppings, like berries for flavor, sweetness, and fiber. If you do opt for a flavored version (because TBH, sometimes you just need that key lime pie yogurt!) Feller says to aim for 11 grams of sugar or less per serving.
2. Prioritize probiotics
If you're going to eat yogurt, you might as well get your dose of probiotics in. That's why Modell recommends grabbing yogurts that say "living cultures" or "contains active cultures" to reap the most benefits. "These are the bacteria that can improve the symptoms of IBS and help your gut flora," Castillo says.
3. Full fat versus low fat? It's up to you
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to full-fat versus low-fat yogurts. Choose the one that's right for you, Castillo says. And whichever you choose, enjoying it in moderation is key.
Creative ways to eat yogurt every day (without getting sick of it)
Eating yogurt out of its container, although delicious, can get boring. Here are some ideas to help you spice up the way you consume it.
- Add toppings: Feller recommends adding fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or seeds of your choosing to make your yogurt interesting (and even healthier). Or, if you're feeling fancy, you can try making an Instagram-worthy yogurt parfait with blueberry puree.
- Use it as a base: "Think of yogurt as a base for pretty much anything and everything," Modell says. Some ideas to get your creative juices flowing include adding it as a base to smoothies and homemade ice creams for extra protein and thickness.
- Make it a go-to healthy swap: Yogurt makes a good swap for sour cream, mayo, and other ingredients, Modell says. Don't be afraid to get creative. For example, don't have ghee or butter? Spread some yogurt on your whole-wheat toast instead.
- Add it to any recipe for a protein boost. Basically, you can add yogurt to anything that could use a protein boost, think waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, baked goods, dips, dressings, or chili. The possibilities are endless.
For more FAQ about non-dairy, vegan yogurts, check out this video:
- Douglas, Steve M et al. “Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women.” Appetite vol. 60,1 (2013): 117-122. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.012
- Panahi, Shirin, and Angelo Tremblay. “The Potential Role of Yogurt in Weight Management and Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition vol. 35,8 (2016): 717-731. doi:10.1080/07315724.2015.1102103
- Buendia, Justin R et al. “Regular Yogurt Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Hypertensive Adults.” American journal of hypertension vol. 31,5 (2018): 557-565. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpx220
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