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Yogurt: as good as they say?

Tracy Benjamin

Widely regarded as part of a balanced diet, yogurt has been nothing short of trendy in recent years. On any given trip to your local supermarket, you’re likely to come across dozens of varieties, so which ones are actually good for you?

To shed some light on the nutrition behind yogurt, “Take Care” spoke with Johannah Sakimura, who received her master’s in nutrition from the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition, and is now a registered dietician and nutritionist from the Atlantic Health System.

Yogurt, Sakimura explains, is made from milk with added live cultures, which ferment the naturally occurring sugars in the milk, turning it into lactic acid. This fermentation process is what gives yogurt its distinct, tangy essence.

Greek yogurt, unlike regular yogurt, is strained to remove some of the liquid (known as whey), resulting in a much thicker texture, as well as a higher protein concentration. In fact, Sakimura says, Greek yogurt has about twice as much protein as regular yogurt. It does, on the other hand, have less calcium and lactose sugar, as some of that is lost with the whey.

But if a nutritious snack is what you’re looking for, Sakimura says, Greek and regular yogurts are both good options, so long as you check the label. Sugar, known to sabotage diets, is what you really need to watch out for. Frequently added to a number of brands and flavors, the sugar content of some yogurt is too high to ignore. And while all yogurts have some amount of naturally occurring sugar, the added sugar is what should be avoided.

For this reason, Sakimura recommends plain yogurt. And if you want something sweet? You can you add fresh or frozen fruit on your own, she says. But if you’re short on time and grabbing a yogurt on-the-go, again, check the label. The yogurts with the lowest sugar contents, and fruit listed as an ingredient before sugar and sweeteners, are going to be your best bet, says Sakimura.

And it’s always good to know what you’re looking for, she notes. If you want yogurt with a protein punch, Greek yogurt is best. On the other hand, regular yogurt has less protein but more calcium and vitamin D, so knowing what you need is essential.

Similarly, Sakimura mentions that although live cultures are associated with probiotics, not all live cultures qualify. Probiotics are specific strains of bacteria with proven health benefits, and while some brands may add them, they aren’t typically found in most yogurts. So, if you’re looking for the health benefits probiotics offer, such as immunity or digestive health, you might consider taking it as a supplement instead.

As far as other types of yogurt, such as dairy-free options made from coconut or soy, Sakimura emphasizes the focus on sugar again. Whether your yogurt is made from cow’s milk, soy milk, or coconut milk, the sugar content is arguably the most important factor in deciding which to choose.

As always, talk to your doctor if you have questions about yogurt or probiotics. And next time you’re shopping for yogurt? Go for plain.