Yogurt has been considered a healthy food for ages. However, a healthy yogurt can be highly affected by certain additions like sugar, flavorings and many more.
A huge variety of yogurt are available in market and it becomes highly confusing to pick the ideal healthy yogurt out of all.
This article presents a detailed guide on what to look for and what to avoid when shopping for a healthy yogurt
One must read the labels well and not just the catchy titles which promise a healthy food. If you know what to look for in your food, the label can tell a lot about each type of yogurt.
Ingredients of a Healthy Yogurt
The health promising yogurts available in stores come with a number of additions like sugar, artificial flavors, stabilizers, dyes and preservatives.
It’s always good to choose a yogurt with fewest ingredients. Ideally, they should only include milk and the bacterial cultures used to turn milk into yogurt. This is true for nondairy-based yogurt too.
For a prompting taste, sugar in several forms is the most common addition. It’s always good to avoid sugar altogether whether it’s more or less.
Sugar can be smartly listed in many different forms:
- high fructose corn syrup
- agave nectar
- cane sugar
- fruit juice
Nutrition facts of a Healthy Yogurt
The nutrition facts on the label can give you a good amount of specific information.
The serving size and calories per serving are listed at the very top. The amount of carbs, fat, protein, and sugar present per serving are also listed.
There could be more than one serving per container, so you need to consider the nutrition facts accordingly.
Initially, the nutrition labels did not distinguish added sugar from naturally occurring sugar. This made it difficult to tell how much sugar had been added.
However, labeling guidelines have recently changed. Now, the grams of added sugar per serving must also be listed well on labels.
The nutrition information further tells you how much calcium and vitamin D are present.
Ideally, your yogurt will contain vitamin D and a significant amount of your daily calcium needs. This will be listed in the form of percent of Daily Value (% DV).
Avoid added sugar
The main ingredient which can easily turn healthy yogurt into a less healthy food is added sugar.
The average American’s intake of added sugar has highly increased from merely 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) per year in 1700 to over 150 pounds (68 kilograms) per year by the 2000s.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics say that american adults aged 20 years and older on an average consume 17 tsp of sugar daily.
Eating added sugar foods in excess has been linked with the development of many health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic disorder
- Liver disease
Yogurt naturally contains some sugar in the form of lactose (milk sugar). However, it has become very common to add sugar to yogurt to give it a pleasant sweet taste.
Plain yogurt typically contains around 9–12 gm of carbs per cup (245 gm), but the same amount of flavored or sweetened yogurt can very well contain 30 or more gm for the same serving size.
While selecting yogurt, the best option is to pick the yogurt brand with the least sugar per serving. This means as little as possible over the around 7 grams per cup (245 grams) that is already present from lactose.
Ideally, the best choice is always the plain, unflavored yogurt. But if for some reason, you don’t like plain yogurt, you can sweeten it yourself with your favorite fresh fruit.
Another easy option is to make chia seed yogurt to make the plain yogurt less tart. This will also give you extra protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Dairy-based yogurt can be made from full fat, low fat, or skimmed milk.
While low fat or skimmed milk may be lower in calories, reduced fat yogurt generally contains more sugar, which is added to make up for the loss of flavor from fat. So if you choose low fat yogurt, try to opt for the one without added sugar.
Full fat yogurt contains more calories than the plain low fat yogurt.
Dairy products do contain some naturally occurring trans fats. However, they are not like the trans fats found in some processed foods which have serious health effects.
Dairy fat, namely conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), can offer some health-promoting benefits, including:
- reducing inflammation
- improving blood glucose management
- fighting cancer cells, according to animal studies
Both plain unsweetened low fat and full fat yogurt can be eaten. You can pick the type in accordance with your dietary habits, food preferences, and calorie goals.
Live cultures and Healthy Yogurt
Healthy probiotic bacteria are used in the yogurt making process. They turn the milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid, which gives the sour taste to yogurt.
These probiotic bacteria are referred to as “live cultures” in yogurt labels. They offer many health benefits:
- improve symptoms of lactose intolerance.
- stimulate immunity
- reduce risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
Some research has also found that probiotic yogurts may help lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Eating yogurt with probiotic Bifidobacterium may also help improve constipation, though more research is needed on this.
All yogurts contain these live cultures at first, as they are made with live cultures only. However, the probiotic content of yogurts can vary according to packaging methods and storage conditions.
To get the maximum benefits from yogurt, always choose yogurt with the most probiotics. However, it can be difficult to tell how much each yogurt option contains.
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) offers a “Live and Active Cultures” seal for yogurts that contain 100 million cultures (bacteria) per gram.
The IDFA also states that some yogurts may contain live and active cultures without carrying the seal. Getting the seal costs a good amount of dollars, and brands may opt to not have the seal, even if they meet the standard qualifications.
One should always avoid yogurts that have been heat treated, or pasteurized after the probiotics are added. Pasteurization kills the bacteria, which must be alive to give their benefits. These kind of yogurt labels say “heat treated after culturing”.
Greek yogurt is currently a popular trend in yogurt, owing to its weight loss properties. It sets apart from traditional yogurt as it is strained more times, which removes some of the whey and lactose.
This makes Greek yogurt about twice rich in protein as compared to traditional yogurt and around half the carbs. It’s a great option as a filling snack for weight loss. and for those who are lactose intolerant.
Dairy-free yogurts, like soy or coconut yogurt, have also become the trend. Since they are plant-based, they are very low in fat than traditional yogurt and also do not contain lactose.
These are good choices for vegans and lactose intolerant people. However, they do not naturally contain much calcium so try to look for a brand with added calcium and vitamin D.
A healthy yogurt should have the “Live and Active Cultures” seal and one should avoid yogurt which has been treated after the sealing. Any additions like sugar, flavorings, stabilizers and preservatives, should be avoided.