Greek yogurt has taken over the yogurt aisle. Food companies are developing new variations of Greek and non-Greek yogurt, such as cream top, high-fiber, dessert, whole milk, lactose-free, soy and coconut milk, all the time. Some of these trends have made yogurt healthier, and others have made yogurt more like a dessert.
Yogurt is made by bacterial fermentation of milk (usually cow, goat or sheep) using Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus as the two main strains of bacteria (cultures). Yogurt’s beneficial cultures are sometimes called “probiotics.” These cultures metabolize or break down some of the milk sugar (lactose) in the milk, producing a semi-solid yogurt consistency.
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Yogurt can be made with unpasteurized milk or milk that has been pasteurized after the active cultures have been added. For yogurt to contain the beneficial live and active cultures, pasteurization must occur before the active cultures are added.
Yogurt is available in Greek, blended, fruit-on-the-bottom, fiber-added, Icelandic, whipped or custard style. Greek yogurt is strained, making it much thicker than most other varieties and giving it twice the protein of ordinary yogurt (or a glass of milk), about 17 grams in 6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt. Non-Greek yogurt contains about 8 grams of protein in 6 ounces.
Many yogurt products sold in the United States are either low-fat or nonfat, but whole milk yogurt is making a comeback. Nonfat yogurt contains no fat or saturated fat. Depending on the portion, low-fat yogurt contains 1.5 to 3 grams of fat and zero to two grams of saturated fat. Whole milk yogurt can contain 6 grams of fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat in one 6-ounce serving. For someone on a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, this would provide almost 30% of a day’s worth of saturated fat. Light yogurt contains one-third less calories and a 50% reduction in fat vs. yogurt made with whole milk.
Most individual yogurt portions are packaged in 4-, 6- or 8-ounce cups. However, serving portions might be somewhere in between, such as 5.3 ounces, a typical serving size for Greek yogurt. When comparing yogurt products, refer to the label for the serving portion and consider the serving size difference when reviewing the nutrient content.
Like milk, yogurt is a good source of protein. An average 8-ounce serving contains between 8 to 10 grams of protein, or 15 to 20% of the Daily Recommended Value (DRV). Keep in mind, however, that once food manufacturers add sugar and fruit to the typical yogurt container of 4 or 6 ounces, this means less protein per serving.
Calcium is critical for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass. Milk products, including yogurt, are the primary source of calcium in American diets, with one serving supplying 10-40% of the daily value for calcium.
Yogurt contains natural as well as added sources of carbohydrate. The naturally occurring carbohydrate in yogurt is lactose. Other carbohydrate sources in yogurt include fructose, fruit, agave nectar, cane juice and high-fructose corn syrup. The carbohydrate content of yogurt varies considerably, depending on whether the yogurt is plain, flavored or “light.” Plain yogurt has no added sweeteners and typically contains 12 to 18 grams of carbohydrate per 8-ounce serving. Flavored yogurt may contain 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar in each 6-ounce cup. Flavored yogurt with added fruit and sugar contains 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrate in a 6- to 8-ounce serving. “Light” yogurt typically is fat free and contains alternative sweeteners to decrease the calories from fat and added sugars. “Light” yogurt contains 12 to 20 grams of carbohydrate in a 6-ounce carton.
Yogurt is a nutrient-dense food, with one 8-ounce serving satisfying one-third of the recommended servings from the milk group each day. Yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium. When selecting yogurt packaged in 5- to 6-ounce containers, choose those with no more than 160 calories, 2 grams or less of saturated fat, and at least 8 grams of protein and 15% of the daily value for calcium.