Is Low-fat Yogurt Healthy?

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Yogurt is a milk-based food, which undergoes a fermentation process. Although it is traditionally made using cow’s milk -- whole, nonfat or skim -- varieties exist that use goat’s milk and soy. Regardless of the base ingredient, all yogurt ferments for varying lengths of time, which depend on the yogurt type. For the most part, low-fat yogurt is a healthy food that has many health benefits.

Live and Active Cultures

Live and active cultures, commonly referred to as probiotics, are naturally present in yogurt. In some commercial yogurts, manufacturers add additional beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are friendly microorganisms, mainly bacteria, which are already present in the human digestive flora. Common live and active cultures include lactobacilli, Bifidobacterium and, in some cases, streptococci.

Nutritional Facts

Low-fat yogurt is made using either low-fat or skim milk, which contains between 2 and 0.5 percent milk fat depending on the brand. Low-fat, plain yogurt contains about 150 calories per cup with 15 mg of cholesterol, 172 mg of sodium and 3.8 g of fat -- 2.5 g of saturated fat, 0.1 g of polyunsaturated fat and 1 g of monounsaturated fat. This yogurt also delivers about 13 g of protein, 17 g of sugar and approximately 400 mg of calcium.

Health Benefits

Yogurt provides several health benefits. The probiotics present in low-fat yogurt encourage weight loss and maintenance, replenish bacterial flora after a regimen of antibiotics and promote regularity. The beneficial bacteria also help to enhance your immunity. Due to the abundance of calcium in yogurt, it helps to build healthy bones and teeth, and it may encourage low body-fat percentages, although further research is warranted.

The Bottom Line

Low-fat, plain yogurt is a healthy supplement to a balanced diet. You should be aware, however, that flavored yogurt -- particularly that containing fruit -- may have a high sugar content. Excess sugar consumption can actually work against the benefits of the yogurt itself by lowering immunity and inhibiting proper digestion. Non-fat and sugar-free yogurts will usually have an artificial sweetener in lieu of sugar. If you’re sensitive to sugar alternatives or do not enjoy the taste, sweetening plain, low-fat yogurt with vanilla extract or fresh fruit is more conducive to a healthy diet.