Tips for choosing yogurt

yogurtIn simpler times, the biggest decisions consumers had to make in the yogurt aisle were fat content and flavor. Now, consumers are inundated with yogurts varying in style, country of origin, nutrient content (sugar, fiber, protein, fat, sodium, etc.), dairy content, and probiotic strains among other features. Here, I’ve broken down what to consider when making your selection.

First, let’s address the numerous “international” styles of yogurt (many of which are produced in the U.S.). Most commonly seen at the grocery store are Greek, Icelandic, Australian, Asian, Swiss, Bulgarian and French yogurts.

Texture

Greek and Icelandic-style yogurts tend to be thicker and creamier than conventional yogurt, while French yogurt has a custard-like texture. The rest are considered thinner than regular yogurt.

Taste

Greek, Icelandic, Swiss and Bulgarian yogurts are known for their sour or tart flavors. However, mostly taste varies depending on individual flavoring, as the more sour styles are usually sweetened to mimic the taste of conventional yogurt.

Protein

Greek and Icelandic yogurts have about twice the protein content of conventional yogurt. Swiss and Asian-style yogurts have slightly higher protein contents than conventional yogurt, while French yogurt has slightly less. The rest are comparable to protein content of conventional yogurt.

Other

  • Icelandic-style yogurt is actually skyr, a strained milk cheese branded as yogurt.
  • Australian-style yogurt is more so a branding ploy than anything. There is no feature that makes yogurt specifically “Australian-style.”
  • Commercial French-style yogurts tend to be artificially thickened with additives like agar, carrageenan, gelatin, or guar gum

The type of milk used to make the yogurt is another area of differentiation.

Cow’s Milk Yogurt

This is what we consider conventional yogurt and contains dairy and lactose. The lactose in milk is converted into lactic acid by live bacteria during the fermentation process, giving yogurt its sour taste. While calorie content can range anywhere from under 100 to over 200 per 6-ounce serving depending on the brand, protein content averages around 9 grams per 6-ounce serving. And although sugar content is all over the map, for reference, plain yogurt contains about 12 grams of sugar per 6-ounces.

Soy Yogurt

The big difference here is that it’s made with soy milk and thus is dairy-free. It contains less fat than conventional yogurt, while protein content tends to be similar. One thing to look out for is the use of artificial sweeteners added to this style of yogurt.

Almond Yogurt

Made from almond milk, the selling point is that it is both dairy-free and contains the nutrients found in almonds (ie. antioxidants, heart-healthy fats). However, protein content can be extremely low compared to conventional yogurts. And, like soy yogurt, it’s typically sold sweetened.

Coconut Yogurt

Made from coconut milk, this is another dairy-free option that is creamier than conventional yogurt. While the protein content is low, the fiber content is often higher than conventional yogurt. Coconut yogurt is mostly sold sweetened so sugar content can be high, along with higher amounts of saturated fat compared to conventional yogurt.

Lastly, I’ll provide insight into the hot topics currently surrounding yogurt and health.

Sugar

Sugar content seen on the Nutrition Facts panels gives us a total amount sugar. This encompasses both naturally-occurring and added sugars, as yogurt contains lactose, a naturally occurring sugar found in milk. And as mentioned above, for your reference, plain yogurt with no added sugar contains about 12 grams per 6-ounces. Therefore, selecting a healthy yogurt isn’t quite as easy as relying on basic nutrition information. It’s also important to read the ingredients lists to look for sources of added sugar, such as agave or honey.

Probiotics

Let’s start out by defining probiotics – bacteria considered to have health benefits when ingested. To be considered yogurt by the FDA, a product must contain at least these two strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles. Other strains may be added for extra potential health benefits, especially ones that survive in the gut. It’s important to remember the word “potential,” as many strains lack adequate scientific research and even in some strains that have thoroughly been studied, a specific health benefit cannot be proven. In fact, the FDA has not approved the use of probiotics for supporting any health claims. That said, several studies do suggest certain probiotics support immune health, including the following:

  • Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001
  • Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC 55730
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and LcS

The caveat is that benefits are dose-specific and that live cultures decrease over time, yet the U.S. currently does not require yogurt to be labeled with the actual amount of probiotics. And, while the National Yogurt Association requires at least 100 million cultures per gram to sport the Live and Active Culture claim, the exact beneficial dose is specific to the strain.

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