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Yogurt Goes Gourmet

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WebMD Expert Column

Walk down any dairy aisle and your head may spin when you see the ever-expanding yogurt options. Once viewed as a health food, yogurt has gone uber-trendy with a dizzying choice of flavors, textures, styles, milk sources, fat content, and sweeteners.

Yogurt’s nutritional goodness and health halo are at the core of its appeal. According to a news release from AC Nielsen Global Services, yogurt is among the fastest-growing food categories in the world.

Satisfying consumer demand for healthy foods, yogurts are quick, easy, and pleasing to most everyone. Convenient and portable, you can drink it or squeeze it when you are crunched for time or eat it the old-fashioned way with a spoon.

Not All Yogurts Are Nutritional Superstars

But not all yogurts are created equal -- some are more like a dessert than a nutritious snack.

“Various yogurts undermine the nutrient richness with fat and added sugar from sweeteners and additional ingredients like candy and cookies that make it more like candy in a container instead of a valuable dose of dairy,” says New York weight loss expert Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD.

The Truth Lies in the Label

To find the healthiest yogurts low in fat and sugar, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts panel on the package. Keep in mind that the sugar listed on the panel includes added sugars and lactose, which is the natural form of carbohydrate found in milk.

“A serving of plain yogurt contains 8-12 grams of sugar from lactose without any added sugars. Check the ingredient list to see if fruits, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, or other sweeteners are present,” says Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It.

Yogurt is often filled with added sugar and can also come with toppings to mix in -- adding even more calories. Natural sugar from fruit is better than other sugars, Taub-Dix says. She recommends choosing the lowest-sugar option or adding your own fruit or high-fiber cereal to plain, nonfat yogurt.

And when it comes to artificially sweetened yogurts, it is a personal choice that can help trim calories but Taub-Dix prefers a more natural approach by adding your own fruit to plain low-fat Greek-style yogurt.

The fat content of yogurt depends on the type of milk, including skim or nonfat, 1%, 2%, whole milk, and whole milk with a splash of cream.

Most nutrition experts recommend nonfat and low-fat yogurts.

Nutritional Benefits of Yogurt

Rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins, and often fortified with vitamin D, yogurt is a nutrient-rich food routinely included on "super food" lists. An average 8-ounce serving contains between 8-12 grams of protein.

An excellent source of calcium, an average 8-ounce container contains one-third of the Daily Recommended Value. Yogurt has slightly more calcium than the same amount of cow’s milk. It is also a good source of potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and phosphorus.

A few servings of low-fat or nonfat yogurt a day helps fill in the calcium, potassium, and vitamin D nutrient gaps most adults and children have in their diets, says Elizabeth Ward, RD, nutrition expert and author of Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating, Before, During and After Pregnancy.

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