Yogurt 101

Some people hear the word yogurt and automatically assume it’s healthy. Truth be told, most yogurts out on the market are anything but.  Excess sugar, food dyes, and additions such as candies or crumbled cookies turn what could be a healthy snack or breakfast into a more of a sugary dessert.

Yogurt can be an excellent source of calcium and protein, and also offers potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. But not all yogurts are created equal.  Here are some guidelines for your next trip down the dairy aisle.

Quality Matters
I am partial to organic yogurt, especially made from grass fed cows. These will be made from cows fed at least organic feed that is free of GMO's, and are the only kind I buy.

Sugar Counts
All yogurts contain lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk. One cup of plain, yogurt contains about 12 grams of lactose. Anything beyond this amount is added sugar.

  • Look to get no more than 4 to 8 additional grams of sugar per 6 to 8 oz., or 16 to 22 grams total. 
  • Added sugar come in the form of fruits, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, honey, agave, or other sweeteners. No matter the source, you want to keep it limited.
  • Many heavily sweetened 4-oz. yogurts have 24 or more grams of sugar. That could come to 36 to 40 grams in an 8-oz. yogurt.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners. My big pet peeve with sugar substitutes is that they don’t allow you to wean your taste buds from excess sugar, leaving you more susceptible to sugar cravings. They also have been found to interfere with good bacteria in your digestive system.

Pay Attention to Protein
Yogurt can be a decent source of protein. A 6-oz. container of regular yogurt has about 9 grams of protein. The same amount of Greek yogurt has around 17 grams.

  • Greek yogurt has a creamier taste and offers a more concentrated source of nutrients since water has been removed.
  • Yogurt drinks or squeeze tubes have less protein and are usually high in sugar (plus often have food dyes). These usually come in small packages with an average of 2 or 3 grams of protein per serving.

A Probiotic Plus
“Live and active cultures” refer to the living organisms which convert milk into yogurt. These probiotics allow many people with lactose intolerance to tolerate yogurt.

  • Probiotics can also help keep good and bad bacteria at a healthy balance.
  • Choose yogurts that contain “live and active cultures.” This usually means the cultures were added after the milk was pasteurized.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on some unproven claims about yogurt. Probiotics play a role in immunity and digestion, but the beneficial amounts from yogurt are not yet known.

Fiber, too? 
Some yogurt brands have hopped on the nutrition bandwagon by adding “functional” fiber, usually in the form of inulin or cellulose. Functional fiber differs from dietary fiber, which is found naturally in whole foods.

  • Experts debate if there is any real benefit from eating foods with added functional fiber.
  • Functional fiber won’t hurt, but it’s definitely better to get your fiber from whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans, which also offer a host of other vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants!
  • Yogurts that have this claim are also likely to have added sugars (artificial or otherwise), food dyes, and other unhealthy added ingredients.

Fat Facts
If your yogurt brand is well sourced (organic and grass fed), go for whole milk. There is no reason to fear the kind of fat and the taste is superior (plus it will hold you longer).

  • I personally usually buy whole milk grass fed yogurt such as Stonyfield or Maple Hill Creamery. I am also a fan of Siggis.

Yogurt Prep Ideas
Want to keep sugar at bay, but still enjoy great taste?

  • Try Greek yogurt. With much of the water removed, Greek yogurt is thick and creamy. Don’t like the high cost? Make your own: Put 2 cups of plain yogurt in a colander lined with a paper towel. Place the colander over a bowl, and let sit in the fridge for 2 hours or more.
  • Make yogurt parfaits. Spruce up plain yogurt by adding 1/2- teaspoon of raw honey or pure maple syrup. Include some fresh fruit, raw oats, ground flax seeds, vanilla, ginger, unsweetened coconut flakes, nuts or seeds.
  • Use plain yogurt as the base for a creamy dressing by pureeing it with some lemon juice, olive oil, salt, dill, garlic, and a pinch of honey.


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