Many people equate the word “yogurt” with “healthy,” but according to Caroline Kaufman, a registered dietitian in San Francisco, yogurt can quickly become junk food, depending on the ingredients. Some yogurts are loaded with fat but low in protein. Others contain no fat but pack a punch when it comes to sugar or artificial sweeteners. Yogurt can be a diet staple, but choosing the best yogurt makes all the difference.
Check Out the Ingredients
The only things you need to make yogurt are milk and live bacterial cultures -- specifically Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus -- yet many commercial yogurts contain tons of added ingredients like sugar, artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Instead of buying a flavored yogurt that’s loaded with unhealthy or artificial ingredients, choose one that contains as few ingredients as possible and then add your own toppings, like fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey or some low-sugar granola.
Go Sans Sugar
Although the amount of sugar in fruit-flavored yogurt differs based on the brand, the added fruit and sweeteners in flavored yogurt contribute about 14 grams of sugar on average. Because it is made from milk, yogurt contains the milk sugar lactose and is not naturally sugar-free; the natural sugar in a 6-ounce yogurt contributes about 12 grams. Choose a yogurt that contains only natural sugar and no added sugars.
Pack on Protein
Protein promotes fullness, so choosing a yogurt that is higher in protein makes it more likely that you’ll get through the afternoon without reaching for unhealthy snacks. A 6-ounce serving of regular yogurt contains 9 grams of protein, while the same 6-ounce serving of Greek yogurt contains about 15 to 20 grams. Choose yogurts with a higher protein content and up the numbers even further by adding a handful of chopped nuts.
Focus on Fat
The fat content of yogurt ranges widely. Some yogurts boast zero percent fat, while others are full-fat. Most of the fat in full-fat dairy products is in the form of saturated fat, which can contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease. A 7-ounce serving of full-fat Greek yogurt contains 16 grams of saturated fat, about 80 percent of the total recommended dietary allowance for a standard 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. Choose yogurts that have 2 percent milk fat or less more often than full-fat versions.