One glance at the supermarket’s miles-long yogurt aisle tells you all you need to know about yogurt’s popularity. But has yogurt really earned its reputation as a healthy superfood?
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It’s complicated. Yogurt is absolutely good for you, says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD. But not all yogurt is created equal, and some choices are definitely better than others.
Tart, sweet, thick, thin: Here’s what you should know about yogurt’s good side and how to pick a winner.
Is yogurt healthy?
As far as nutrients go, yogurt has a lot going for it. It’s full of:
- Protein: Greek yogurt has about twice as much protein as traditional yogurt.
- Calcium: You need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Your muscles and nerves also rely on this mineral to function properly.
- Probiotics: These beneficial bacteria are important for your health. The helpful microbes may improve gut health and boost immunity. But only yogurts stamped with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal contain probiotics, and the type and amount can vary by brand. So check before you buy.
Those nutrients are good for head-to-toe health. But there’s also research suggesting that yogurt is specifically good for heart health: Yogurt has been linked to healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And some research shows that eating yogurt as part of a healthy diet can help prevent long-term weight gain, which is good for the heart.
Beware of sweetened yogurts
While yogurt has a lot going for it, not all yogurt is a healthy choice. Some flavored yogurts — even those made with real fruit — can be more like junk food in disguise.
That strawberry swirl fruit-on-the-bottom or chocolate chip crunch topping can pack a sugary punch. Some flavored yogurts contain more sugar in one serving than the daily recommended amount. (The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men.)
What about sugar-free flavors? Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners may not be any healthier than real sugar. And eating super-sweet artificial sweeteners can set up your taste buds to crave more sweet stuff throughout the day.
Your best bet is to avoid flavored yogurt and reach for the plain variety. “Plain, nonfat yogurt is best,” says Zumpano. “Both original and Greek-style are excellent sources of protein, calcium and probiotics.”
Yogurt shopping 101: What to know before you buy
What should you know before you hit that overwhelming dairy aisle? Here’s a rundown of your yogurt options.
- Greek-style yogurt: Greek yogurt is strained to create a rich, creamy texture — and has twice as much protein as regular yogurt. “For managing your weight, try Greek yogurt,” Zumpano says. “It has more protein, which can help you feel fuller longer.”
- Traditional yogurt: Regular old yogurt is also a good source of protein and other nutrients, though it doesn’t pack quite the same protein punch as Greek yogurt. But some people prefer its milder taste and thinner texture, so it’s worth a try.
- Flavored yogurt: Fruity picks and other flavored yogurts can contain a lot of sugar, but the amount varies by brand. If you can’t resist, try to pick a flavor with less than 120 calories per container and no more than 12-13 grams of sugar.
- Whole-milk yogurt: This extra-creamy option is a good choice for growing babies, toddlers and children, who need the extra fat for growth and development. But it’s high in saturated fat, so it may not be the best pick for older kids and adults. If you’re looking for something a little creamier, choose a 2% milk fat instead of full fat.
- Nondairy yogurts: Yogurts made from soy, almond or coconut milk are good options if you have a dairy sensitivity or eat a vegan diet. They can be a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats. But some are high in sugar, so read labels carefully. Coconut milk yogurt is also high in saturated fat, so watch your portions accordingly.
Dress your yogurt for success
Unsweetened yogurt gets two thumbs up from many dietitians. But some people are put off by its tart taste. If you’re still getting used to plain yogurt, try these tricks until your taste buds adapt:
- Dress up plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit, vanilla extract or a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Swap in Greek yogurt to replace some of the sour cream or mayonnaise in dips, dressings and soups. You’ll get the benefits of yogurt and cut some saturated fats from your diet.
- Add Greek yogurt to fruit smoothies for an extra boost of protein and creamy texture.
Once you start adding a dollop of yogurt here and there, you’ll discover all sorts of ways to enjoy this versatile food.