"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. For most people, it's about as cool as going to prom with your cousin. But health experts can't get enough of it because of the food's very legit benefits, from its impressive nutritional profile to the fact that it can be used in so many versatile ways. 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 yogurts?
The types of yogurts 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. 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.
Regular yogurt: 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, and is lower in calories and fat compared to Greek," says Tony Castillo, RDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. And 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 g
Total fat: 8 g
Saturated fat: 6 g
Carbohydrates: 12 g
Sugar: 9 g
Calcium: 300 mg
Sodium: 329 mg
Vitamin A: 500 iu
Cholesterol: 34 mg
Greek yogurt: 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 liquidy whey—which makes it thicker while also cutting back on the carb and sugar content. Below is the nutritional information for a one-cup serving of Greek yogurt, according to the USDA:
Protein: 21 g
Carbohydrates: 8 g
Sugar: 6 g
Calcium: 222 mg
Magnesium: 22 mg
Phosphorus: 272 mg
Potassium: 282 mg
Sodium: 72 mg
Zinc: 1 mg
Selenium: 20 ug
Choline: 30 mg
Non-dairy yogurt: Non-dairy consumers can still enjoy their yogurt and eat it too, thanks to a variety of plant-based 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 ($5 for 24 ounces) has less than one gram of protein.
For more FAQ about non-dairy, vegan yogurts, check out this video:
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 study found that consuming a high-protein Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack resulted in less hunger, increased satiety, and delayed the need to eat dinner. 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 diabetes. "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 reduce dramatic swings in a person's blood sugar levels. Of course it's important to be mindful that the yogurt you're choosing isn't loaded with added sugar; otherwise, this benefit won't ring too. An important reminder to do your label reading.
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," Castillo says. "This can help [protect] against osteoporosis." Modell adds that "calcium is [also] essential for vascular contraction, muscle function, nerve transmission, and cellular signaling." 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 disease by reducing blood pressure. While it may be surprising, there's a correlation between nutrients that benefit the gut 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 eating yogurt ever a bad idea?
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 are lactose intolerant, 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 good 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 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 and berries for flavor, sweetness, and fiber. If you must have 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 for a protein boost. Basically, you can add yogurt to anything that could use a protein boost to help keep you full until your next meal. Add it to waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, baked goods, dips, dressings, or chili. The possibilities are endless.
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