Yogurt starts as fresh milk that is often pasteurized first and then fermented with various live bacteria cultures. It is then incubated at a specific temperature to encourage the growth of the bacteria. The culture ferments (breaks down) the lactose into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its distinctive flavor.
Yogurt is a healthy food choice because it contains protein, calcium and several other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium. Calcium is important for the both the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. It also is important for blood clotting, wound healing and maintaining normal blood pressure. Yogurt also often contains live bacterial cultures (probiotics) which can help enhance your gut microbiota and may also boost your immune system.
Nonfat or Lowfat Yogurt: Since this program limits the amount of fat you consume, it is important to look for yogurt that does not contain much fat. Nonfat yogurt is made with skim milk while lowfat yogurt is made with 2% milk. If you are looking for a plant-based yogurt, look for a brand that has little to no coconut or coconut oil.
Active, Live Cultures: Look for yogurt that contains active, live cultures (bacteria) known as probiotics, which can help keep the intestines healthy. The International Dairy Food Association offers the Live & Active Cultures (LAC) Seal as a voluntary identification method for yogurts that contain at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt at the time of manufacture. Fresher yogurts will generally contain more live bacteria.
Less Sugar: Look for lower added sugar or better yet, no added sugar. Plain dairy yogurt does not contain any added sugars. Look for flavored yogurt that contains sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit but not sucralose, aspartame, or acesulfame potassium.
No Mix-ins: Avoid the yogurts that contain mix-ins (like nuts, dark chocolate, cookie pieces, pastry crumbles, graham crackers etc.). These yogurts tend to be high in added sugar and fat. Add your own toppings like fruit, low-sugar bran flakes and/or lowfat granola.
Higher Protein: Look for at least 6 grams of protein per serving. Greek Yogurt and Islandic skyr has at least double that much. Greek yogurt has more protein because the yogurt is strained numerous times to remove the liquid whey which results in a thick, concentrated yogurt that is high in protein but is also stronger in flavor which gives plain Greek yogurt a stronger sour taste. Many plant-based yogurts contain less than 6 grams of protein.
Higher Calcium: Try to find a yogurt that has at least 10% of the Daily Value for calcium. Greek yogurts lose some calcium during the straining process. Some plant-based yogurts add either little or no calcium.
Contains Vitamin D: Try to buy a yogurt that contains Vitamin D since this vitamin helps the small intestine absorb calcium. However, most yogurts do not have added Vitamin D. There are a few exceptions: Oikos Triple Zero, Oikos Pro, GoodBelly and So Delicious all add 10% of the Daily Value for Vitamin D.
Buy a lactose-free yogurt if you need to: The cultures in yogurt help to digest the lactose (milk sugar) it contains. Thus, you may be able to eat yogurt even if you are lactose intolerant. If not, look for a brand of yogurt that adds lactase (which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose) such as Fage BestSelf Lactose Free Plain, Fage BestSelf Lactose Free Blended Yogurts, Chobani Zero Sugar Yogurts or GoodBelly Probiotic Lactose-Free Lowfat Yogurt or try a plant-based yogurt such as Silk Soy Plain or Silk Soy Flavored.
Here are some brands of yogurt that meet most of the above criteria (this is not an all-inclusive list):
Information compiled from:
“Get Some Culture: What’s New in the Yogurt Aisle” article in the Nutrition Action Healthletter, May 2021
Medical News Today