Over the last 50 years, yogurt has shifted from being perceived as a specialty health food item to being a beloved mainstream staple in America.
Sweetened yogurt is often served as a healthier alternative to ice cream or custard. Plain yogurt can be used instead of sour cream to top everything from tacos to baked potatoes. Whole-milk yogurt has far fewer calories and more protein than sour cream or ice cream – and it’s also a fermented food that contains live probiotics.
Nutrients per serving
Nutrition per 100 grams of whole-milk plain yogurt:
- Calories: 61
- Fat: 3.3 grams
- Carbohydrates: 4.7 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Protein: 3.5 grams
Yogurt’s vitamins and minerals also include vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. Low-fat and nonfat varieties have fewer calories and less fat; Greek-style yogurt is higher in protein.
Health Benefits of Yogurt
May improve digestion
Many types of yogurt contain live probiotic bacteria that can improve the gut biome and improve digestive health. Pasteurization kills probiotic bacteria, so you typically only find them in products where they’ve been added after pasteurization – check the label to be sure.
Probiotics are widely recognized as being beneficial to digestion. In one study, IBS patients who regularly consumed yogurt or fermented milk containing a specific probiotic, bifidobacteria, showed lasting improvement in bloating and stool frequency after just three weeks.
Another study showed that yogurt containing bifidobacteria improved bowel health and GI tract function in a generally healthy population.
Yogurt containing active probiotics is often recommended to prevent or relieve antibiotic-associated diarrhea and constipation, a use that is supported by several studies.
May help prevent osteoporosis
Yogurt contains several nutrients that are vital to maintaining bone density, including calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Researchers have found that three daily servings of dairy products, like yogurt, may help prevent osteoporosis.
May improve gut bacteria balance
Scientific understanding of gut bacteria and the importance of a healthy microbiome has greatly increased over the last twenty years. Gut bacteria balance is now believed to be an important factor in rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and heart disease as well as maintaining a healthy weight, positive mood, and healthy skin.
May discourage vaginal infections
Candida or "yeast" vaginal infections are a common problem for women with diabetes.
Women and girls of all ages can get vaginal yeast infections. Three-quarters of all women will have one at some point in their life.
There are a number of things that may raise your risk of yeast infections:
- Diabetes with uncontrolled blood sugar
- Birth control that uses higher doses of estrogen
- Use of douche of vaginal sprays
- Recent use of antibiotics or steroid medicines
- Weakened immune system, such as from HIV
Some research suggests that eating 8 ounces of yogurt with "live cultures" daily could lessen the chance of infection. But more research is needed. Talk to your health care provider if you think you have a yeast infection before taking any medicines to treat it.
May help you feel fuller
A study from the University of Washington in Seattle tested hunger, fullness, and calories eaten at the next meal on 16 men and 16 women who had a 200-calorie snack. The snack was either:
- Semisolid yogurt containing pieces of peach and eaten with a spoon
- The same yogurt in drinkable form
- A peach-flavored dairy beverage
- Peach juice
Although those who had the yogurt snacks did not eat fewer calories at the next meal, both types of yogurt resulted in lower hunger ratings and higher fullness ratings than either of the other snacks.
Tips for Buying and Eating Yogurt
Here are 10 things to consider when buying and eating yogurt.
1. Decide Between Whole-Milk, Low-fat or Nonfat Yogurt
When buying yogurt, your first decision is whether you want regular-fat, low-fat, or fat-free. You probably have a favorite brand, with just the right texture or tang for your taste buds. If so, stick with it. But do check the label for sugar content. Some flavors and brands have more than others.
Here are a few examples:
|Low-Fat Yogurt||Calories||Fat||Saturated fat||Cholesterol||% Calories from sugar||Calcium||Vitamin D|
|(6 ounces)||(g)||(g)||(mg)||(% Daily Value)||(%Daily Value)|
99% Fat Free,
|"Light" Yogurt||Calories||Fat||Saturated fat||Cholesterol||% Calories from sugar||Calcium||Vitamin D|
|(6 ounces)||(g)||(g)||(mg)||(% Daily Value)||(%Daily Value)|
|Dannon Light 'n Fit, Fruit flavored||60||0||0||<5||47%||20%||20%|
|Yoplait Light, Fruit flavored||100||0||0||<5||56%||20%||20%|
2. Choose Your Sweetener
The other decision is whether you want artificial sweeteners (which are used in most ''light'' yogurts) or whether you’re OK with most of the calories coming from sugar. If you are sensitive to aftertastes, you may want to avoid light yogurts. If you don't mind NutraSweet, there are lots of light yogurts to choose from, and all taste pretty good.
3. Look for Active Cultures and Probiotics
To make sure your yogurt contains active cultures, check the label. Most brands will have a graphic that says ''live and active cultures.''
If you want to know which specific active cultures your yogurt contains, look to the label again. Under the list of ingredients, many brands list the specific active cultures. For Activia by Dannon, for example, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, and bifidobacterium are listed. This particular yogurt contains the probiotic culture Bifidus regularis, which works to regulate your digestive system. So if constipation is your challenge, this might be the probiotic for you.
4. Team Yogurt With Flaxseed
Get in the habit of stirring in a tablespoon of ground flaxseed every time you reach for a yogurt. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed will add almost 3 grams of fiber and approximately 2 grams of healthy plant omega-3s, according to the product label on Premium Gold brand ground golden flaxseed.
5. Look for Vitamin D
When enjoying calcium-rich yogurt, why not choose one that also boosts your intake of vitamin D? Some brands list 0% of the Daily Value for vitamin D; others have 20%. (See the table above.)
6. Make Yogurt Part of the Perfect Snack
Make the perfect snack by pairing high-protein yogurt with a high-fiber food like fruit (fresh or frozen) and/or a high-fiber breakfast cereal. You can find many lower-sugar breakfast cereals with 4 or more grams of fiber per serving.
7. Whip Up a Creamier Smoothie With Yogurt
Make your smoothie creamy and thick by adding yogurt instead of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Cup for cup, light and low-fat yogurt are higher in protein and calcium than light ice cream. They’re also usually lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.
8. Customize Your Yogurt
If you want to create your own flavored yogurt, start with your favorite plain yogurt and stir in all sorts of foods and flavors. Here are a few ideas:
- Add chopped strawberries (1/4 cup) and 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Strawberries and Cream Yogurt.
- Add canned crushed pineapple (1/8 cup) and a tablespoon of flaked or shredded coconut to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Pina Colada Yogurt.
- Add 1 tablespoon of cool espresso or extra-strong coffee and 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Mochaccino Yogurt.
- Add 1/4 cup chopped orange segments or mandarin oranges and 1 tablespoon reduced-sugar orange marmalade to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Orange Burst Yogurt.
9. Eat Yogurt at Work
Buy some yogurt and keep it in the office refrigerator. (Don’t forget to put your name on it.) On those days when you need a morning or afternoon snack, that yogurt will be ready for you.
10. Use Yogurt in Recipes
Yogurt works as a substitute ingredient in all sorts of recipes. Plain yogurt can take the place of sour cream in a pinch (over baked potatoes or garnishing enchiladas). You can also substitute a complementary flavor of yogurt for some of the oil or butter called for in a muffin, brownie, or cake recipe. It can replace all of the fat called for in cake mixes, too.
Things to Watch Out For
If you are lactose-intolerant or have a milk allergy, you should avoid dairy foods like yogurt. Sweetened yogurts can contain a lot of added sugar or other sweeteners and should be eaten in moderation only.