Few foods offer more health benefits than yogurt. In addition to being a great source of protein and calcium, it provides live & active cultures, which are beneficial for many reasons, primarily because they promote healthy digestion & can boost immunity (there are lots of wannabe immune-boosting foods out there; yogurt is a real one). You can even eat yogurt if you’re lactose-intolerant; it may actually help you digest!
Not all yogurts are created equal. Some are healthy, but others have so much sugar and so many additives, they should barely be considered yogurt.
Facts to help you choose a good yogurt:
- Plain yogurt has about 12g of naturally-occurring sugar per cup— this is from lactose, a natural component of milk, and is not the same as refined sugar. Even tart, unsweetened yogurt contains this lactose, so don’t let it scare you off.
- A teaspoon of sugar = 4grams. So for example, if you buy a cup of yogurt that has 32 grams of sugar (like regular Yoplait or a grocery store-brand), that means it has 8 whole teaspoons of sugar in just one serving— chances are you would never feel comfortable adding this much sugar into anything, so why would you eat it in yogurt?!
- If you’re not into the tart taste of yogurt,add your own honey, maple syrup, fruit preserves, berries, or other chopped fruit (this is a much healthier than buying pre-sweetened yogurt, as you’ll add less sugar). Aim for a little (1 tsp) then add more if you need to. Or, mix a few tablespoons of a flavored yogurt into plain, to get the benefits of both.
- Frozen yogurt from a yogurt shop, even if it’s nonfat and or sugar-free, is not as beneficial as regular yogurt. It’s definitely better than ice cream, and better than many commercial yogurts, but keep in mind it’s still a dessert, and it tastes that good for a reason.
- “Tart” frozen yogurt, from Pinkberry & other yogurt shops, is not unsweetened. It’s actually very high in sugar (32g in a 8oz serving, which is usually the smallest cup-size), they just add citric acid to make it taste tart.
Here are some of my favorite types — they are not only tasty, but healthy:
Siggi’s Skyr Icelandic Yogurt
Siggi’s “skyr” is a thick, tart, flavorful yogurt, with a hint of sweetness. They offer all sorts of unique flavors, like orange-ginger, pomegranate-passionfruit, and grapefruit. High in protein (16g) and low in sugar (10g) — very rare in a yogurt. Only drawback to Siggi’s is it’s $2.99/6 oz container. But a great occasional indulgence.
Fage 0% Greek Yogurt
Fage is one of the original Greek yogurts in the U.S. It comes in Total (full fat), 2% (reduced fat), and 0% (fat free). Go for the fat-free & plain — it’s so thick & creamy you won’t feel any sacrifice. If you want sweetness, add a teaspoon of honey or chopped fruit rather than buying the sweetened type; that way you can control the amount of sugar and calories added.
Note: Trader Joe’s sells a generic 0% Greek yogurt–it’s Fage only with a Trader Joe’s label–and about half the price.
Trader Joe’s European Style Fat-Free Yogurt
This yogurt is thinner than Greek, but is equally creamy and delicious. It’s still high in protein (14g) and low in sugar (10g), and tasted very tart. Add 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup to a cup if you prefer a sweeter yogurt (even adding your own sweetener will keep yogurt much lower in calories and sugar than if you buy sweetened yogurt).
Stonyfield Organic Yogurt
I love almost all of Stonyfield’s yogurts. The milk comes from family farms in Vermont and the yogurts are super high quality. Some of them are pretty sweet, so if you buy a fruit-on-the-bottom one, leave the fruit-at-the-bottom. Or, mix a little of the fruity yogurt into a larger amount of plain.
Other brands to check out (Read the Nutrition Label before buying — look for less than 20g/sugar per 6-oz cup — and even less is best!)
- Mountain High — Plain fat-free, Plain lowfat, Lowfat Vanilla (esp if you mix w/ plain)
- Cascade Fresh — Even the flavored ones are lower in sugar than other commercial fruit yogurts
- Brown Cow — Plain fat-free, Plain Lowfat, Maple Lowfat
- 365 (Whole Foods brand) Lowfat and fat-free varieties
- Wallaby Organic — some flavors are lower in sugar than others–read the label
- Oikos (Stoneyfield’s Greek Yogurt) — all flavors are good & pretty low in sugar
Yogurts I recommend avoiding:
- Yoplait Regular
- Yoplait Custard Style
- Dannon regular
- Ralph’s, Von’s, Safeway, Kirkland Signature, etc. — these regular fruit-flavored yogurts are super high in sugar and calories
- “Light” yogurts — these are reduced calorie, but sweetened with aspartame (Nutra-Sweet) and contain many additives. If you need sweet, these are a better choice than regular versions calorie-wise, but not necessarily healthy.