How to choose the healthiest yogurt

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How to choose the healthiest yogurt

When buying yogurt, you want to spoon up the best – yogurt rich in calcium, probiotics and tastes great too. Yogurt has become one of the most sought after foods in the grocery store and is considered a true health-food superstar.  Walk down the dairy aisle and the amount of shelf space devoted just to yogurt has exploded in recent years.  When there is such a wide variety to choose from it can become quite mindboggling to know if we are choosing a healthy yogurt or not. 

But aren’t all yogurts healthy you may ask?  The short answer is no.  Not all yogurts are equal in terms of the amount of sugar, fat, and protein content and that is where being an informed and smart consumer makes all the difference on choosing your healthiest option.

Here’s what you need to know when reading a yogurt label:

·      Take notice of the sugar content

Yogurt, like milk, naturally contains the milk sugar called lactose.  But many yogurt brands add additional sugar often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, to make it more palatable for people who don’t like its natural tanginess.  Yogurts that state “fruit on the bottom” or “fruit flavored” and has elaborate sounding flavors like Boston Cream Pie, Berry Blue Blast or Caramel Macchiato, are pretty much guaranteed to contain too much sugar and thus more calories. 

What to choose: Read the Nutrition Facts Label and look for yogurts containing no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving size.  The American Heart Association recommends that women should limit their sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons a day or 24 grams while men should eat a max of 9 teaspoons a day or 36 grams.  Remember too that sugar comes in different forms such as cane sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrate, or evaporated cane syrup. Some of them may sound healthier than regular sugar but they are also just sources of empty calories. 

·      Are artificially sweetened yogurt okay to use?

Some yogurt brands will choose to sweeten their product using artificial sweeteners in order to reduce calories and sugar.  If the yogurt tastes good to you and you enjoy eating it, keep doing so. 

What to choose: Look for labels that have a simple ingredient list.  Some brands will have a long list of ingredients of which many are thickeners, stabilizers and other additives included in the yogurt.  Choose brands that use as few of ingredients as possible.

·      Go Greek or regular?

Greek yogurt has dominated the yogurt scene for a while now and for good reason.  Generally, most Greek yogurts tend to be higher in protein than regular yogurts.  Even though most people are not protein deficient, Greek yogurt makes a great snack or breakfast/lunch item for anyone wanting to pump up their protein intake at a meal.

Traditional Greek yogurt has been strained to remove the whey (the calcium-rich liquid left behind after the milk curdles) resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yogurt and preserves yogurts distinctive, sour taste.  If you are lactose intolerant, Greek yogurt may fit the bill since some of the sugar is lost during the straining process. 

What to choose: Look for Greek yogurts with at least 10 grams of protein or more per serving while also paying attention to the amount of sugar it contains.

·      Lowfat or nonfat yogurts

If the label reads “low-fat or nonfat” beware.  They are not lying about their fat content but they are not disclosing that most likely they also contain a high amount of sugar. In fact some have as many calories as full-fat yogurts due to added sugars.

What to choose: Some studies suggest dairy foods, unlike other sources of saturated fat, may not be bad for the cardiovascular system.  In other words, it is probably okay to go ahead and choose a higher fat yogurt that most likely will have less sugar.

·      What about “whipped” yogurts?

Yogurts that have the word “whipped” on the label are yogurts that incorporate air for a lighter consistency.  They do contain fewer calories simply because there is less actual yogurt – 4 ounces by weight, for example, compared to 6 ounces in a typical single-serving container. 

What to choose:  It would be better to stick with a Greek yogurt.  The whipped yogurts will have fewer calories, but they also contain less important nutrients such as calcium and protein and are often at the same price or even higher than regular yogurt. 

·      My yogurt says it contains “live and active cultures” Is this a good thing?

That is a very good thing!  If you look under the ingredient list, look for the words like L. acidophilus, L. casel, B. bifidum and B. Longum. These are all probiotics which is a “helpful” kind of bacteria which are very beneficial in several ways – they produce vitamin K, they help the body absorb nutrients and maintain the right balance of good bacteria which may treat conditions such as diarrhea, eczema, vaginal infections, and irritable bowel syndrome.

What to choose: Most yogurts from regular to frozen to Greek contain these live bacteria.  But to be sure, either read the ingredient list or look for a “live and active cultures” seal on the yogurt container.  This means the yogurt contains at least 100 million cultures per gram.

Common brands that contain probiotics include Chobani, Dannon, Yoplait, Fage, Stonyfield, and Siggi.