The popularity of yogurt has really exploded and so has the variety of flavors, brands and specialty products available.
How do you know which yogurt to choose?
- The first answer is the simplest: Choose low fat or fat free plain yogurt!
- It is low in saturated fat, has no added sugar (1 cup of yogurt has 12g natural sugar), and it contains up to 40% of the Daily Value (DV) for calcium.
- You can add fruit and even a little honey to plain yogurt; it is delicious and minimally processed.
If you want flavored yogurt there are a few guidelines to help you find the most nutritious choice.
- Look for non-fat or low fat yogurt (to keep saturated fat low).
- Look for minimal sugar. Check in the organic section; many organic yogurts are lower in sugar and make good options.
- 30g sugar or less per 1 cup
- 23g sugar or less per 6 ounce container
- 15g sugar or less per 4 ounce container (many “kid friendly” yogurts are in 4 ounce containers)
- Check the label for at least 20% DV for calcium and look for added vitamin D in yogurt.
- Artificially sweetened yogurt also falls into the lower sugar category and there are many varieties available.
Kim’s Quick Picks (local):
Disclaimer: these quick picks are not meant to purposely promote or exclude any particular brands. I have not tried all available local yogurts, but these are the choices that fit my guideline for nutrition and that I personally enjoy from a flavor standpoint.
- Any Plain yogurt (non-fat or low fat)
- Low fat Stoneyfield Farm is a good lower sugar choice
- Yoplait Kids (25% less sugar) and I like that the color comes from beet juice vs. food coloring.
- Most artificially sweetened low fat yogurts will fit into the guidelines above.
Greek Yogurt is made differently than regular yogurt. It is strained and therefore has a creamier texture. It generally has less calcium and more protein than regular yogurt. The flavored varieties also have less sugar. Many however do not have added vitamin D, so enjoy them on a sunny day (being careful not to get too much sun of course).
Health promoting yogurt: The thought of yogurt brings to mind health, but the marketing of yogurt has taken health promotion to a whole new level. This is where more scrutiny is needed when choosing yogurts. Here are some things to keep in mind when you evaluate specialty yogurts. I will describe them based on additive.
- Added Probiotics:
- Probiotics: are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts provide a health benefit for the host. Some live active cultures act as probiotics.
- Keep in mind that all yogurts start off with live active cultures. The starter cultures for making yogurt are: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The cultures are what change the milk’s sugar (lactose) into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its tart flavor and firm texture. This is also why people with lactose intolerance can usually tolerate yogurt.
- Many yogurts add additional live cultures with probiotic activity (different strains than those used to make yogurt). These additional strains can be found listed on the product label. They may or may not be marketed as health promoting.
- Both DanActive® (immunity) and Activia® (intestinal health and intestinal transit tem) are products containing probiotic strains supported by published human studies for their indicated use (1).
- Key point: The effect of the probiotic is dose dependent, meaning you have to consume the product in the amount recommended as often (usually daily) as recommended to achieve the desired effect. Check with each manufacturer for specific recommendations.
- Consider this: Slow intestinal transit time and poor immunity are related to poor dietary and lifestyle habits. Improving dietary habits (i.e. eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables + adequate fluid intake) can improve intestinal transit time and immunity as well as decrease risk of chronic disease.
- The bottom line: You can improve your intestinal transit time and immunity with or with out specialty yogurts.
- Added Fiber: Fiber in yogurt? That sounds kind of strange, but it is true enough. The fiber in yogurt is isolated from chicory roots. Fiber from inulin may help you reach your fiber goals, and it may or may not confer the same benefits as the fiber you get from whole grain or whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Omega-3 enriched yogurt: Omega-3 fatty acids are being put into many products these days and yogurt is no exception. The amount of Omega-3 fatty acid in yogurt is minimal (about 32mg which is approximately what you would get from 1 teaspoon of salmon).
- The bottom line: You can increase the fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet with or without specialty yogurt. They may help, they may not, and the choice is yours.
Yogurt can be a delicious part of a healthy diet. It is a good source of protein, provides calcium, vitamin D, live active cultures and many times additional probiotics. Typically, as is true with most food products, purchasing it in the least processed form is best. Enjoy!
1. Douglas LC, Sanders ME. Probiotics and prebiotics in dietetics practice. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008; 108 :510-521.
2. Palmer S. Happy Entrails. Today’s Dietitian. 2008; 10 : 28-32.
3. Aisle by Aisle Tips: Yogurt. Retrieved September 23, 2009 from www.supermarketsavvy.com.