You should feel good about eating yogurt, as it’s a key part of the healthiest diet on the planet—the Mediterranean diet.
But you need to be careful about which type of yogurt you eat—especially considering there is now a bewildering array of brands and products on grocery store shelves. In fact, in the average U.S. grocery store, there are now more than 300 different yogurt products from which to choose.
So, today, let’s go over four steps to picking a good, healthy yogurt…
How to choose a delicious, healthy yogurt
1. Opt for less processing. As I always advise, your diet should mainly consist of whole foods. And you should stay away from processed foods.
Nutritional researchers use a handy index called NOVA to classify foods based on their amount of processing. (You can learn more about the NOVA system at world.openfoodfacts.org/nova.)
So, for example, the least-processed foods include things like fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, dairy, meat, fish, and seafood. (These foods are typically found around the perimeter of grocery stores—as they require refrigeration.)
By comparison, the ultra-processed foods include things like soft drinks, boxed cereals, sugary snacks, and frozen meals. (These foods are typically found in the center aisles of grocery stores.)
Sadly, Americans get 58 percent of their calories, on average, from ultra-processed foods. And all this “junk food” is taking a toll on our health…
In fact, research shows that people who eat the most highly processed foods are the least healthy. And those who eat the most whole foods are the most healthy. (Which also helps explain why the government’s nutritional recommendations to avoid meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy were all wrong, all along!)
When it comes to yogurt, specifically, some varieties fall in the unprocessed category and some varieties fall in the ultra-processed category. To figure out which is which, you’ll need to take a look at the label…
Traditional, authentic yogurt is considered one of the least-processed foods, as it has just two ingredients—whole milk and probiotic bacterial cultures. The bacterial cultures ferment the lactose in the milk to produce lactic acid, leading to changes in its texture and taste. And humans have been using this traditional process to make yogurt (and cheese) for thousands of years!
2. Look for Greek or Icelandic varieties. It can be overwhelming when you see row upon row of yogurt at the grocery store. But here’s one simple key: Look for plain, unflavored Greek or Icelandic (skyr) varieties of yogurt—without added, artificial ingredients.
Greek and Icelandic yogurts are thick, rich, and tart—reminiscent of sour cream. They also have more protein than other varieties of yogurt. In fact, both Greek and Icelandic varieties often contain 14 to 16 grams of protein per serving—compared to just 6 to 7 grams in other types of yogurt.
Just be careful…
Some cheap yogurts claim to be “Greek style,” but when you check the label, they have much less protein than authentic Greek yogurt. So keep an eye out.
You can spot these fakes by their low protein and the presence of gelatin and/or guar gum on the label, which are artificial thickeners that you want to avoid.
Greek and Icelandic yogurts also contain less sugar…
In fact, plain, unsweetened Greek or Icelandic yogurt usually has about 4 to 5 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving. (This natural sugar remaining in yogurt is fine—in general, you’re looking to avoid “added sugar.”)
By comparison, other yogurts typically contain about 10 grams of added sugar per serving. It may be listed as granulated sugar, corn syrup, or organic, evaporated cane juice. But these added sugars aren’t healthy for you, no matter what the clever marketing portrays.
Now, Greek yogurt does go through a double-straining process—which removes some of the calcium. Still, just one serving of authentic Greek yogurt typically provides about 15 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium, which you should only get from foods, not supplements, anyway.
So, if you have some plain Greek yogurt in the morning, just remember to have another serving of full-fat dairy with lunch…and some dairy and leafy greens with dinner. With that routine, you’ll get plenty of calcium into your daily diet, naturally.
3. Skip the “light,” “fat-free,” and “sugar-free” yogurts. Diligently avoid all the “light,” “fat-free,” or “sugar-free” varieties on shelves, which are kind of like the diet sodas of the yogurt world. Like diet soda, they contain artificial sweeteners (like sucralose), which are even more dangerous for you than regular sugar.
These varieties also often replace the healthy, natural fat found in Greek and Icelandic yogurt with plant gums. (But you want the full-fat because that’s where a lot of the benefits come from!)
And while you’re at it, forget the non-dairy “yogurts” made from plant matter, such as almonds, coconut, oats, or soy. These ultra-processed, fake yogurts are full of artificial ingredients—just like the ultra-processed, plant-based, fake meats.
4. Add your own flavorings and toppings. It’s wise to avoid any type of flavored or whipped yogurts or yogurt with added fruit—including supposedly “healthy-sounding” varieties like lemon, vanilla, or honey. They all contain added sugars, artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose), or both. Instead, just sprinkle some fresh berries, local honey, or nuts on top—for some extra flavor and nutrition.
Overall—yogurt can and should be a part of your healthy, balanced diet. Just don’t get sucked in by all the ultra-processed junk that dominates the market nowadays.
P.S. To learn more about the health benefits of full-fat dairy, check out the recent August issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Don’t skim the health benefits of dairy”). Subscribers have access to this issue and all of my past content in the archives. So if you haven’t already, consider signing up today. Click here now!
“There are lots of yogurts out there, but which ones are healthy?” The Washington Post, 5/7/20. (washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/there-are-lots-of-yogurts-out-there-but-which-ones-are-healthy/2020/05/07/9a4a705e-8af8-11ea-8ac1-bfb250876b7a_story.html)