While yogurt seems to be one of those highly controversial foods (yes, it’s dairy), it can make for a nutritious and delicious meal or snack if it’s properly selected. After all, it can be a good source of calcium, protein, and even probiotics. However, with so many yogurt brands and products available, I completely understand if you’re intimidated by your local supermarket’s selection. That’s why we’re going to take a (figurative) walk down the dairy aisle together. Here are some of my tips and tricks to help you feel confident the next time you find yourself overwhelmed in the yogurt section.
Do: Go for Greek and/or Icelandic-style yogurts that use milk from grass-fed cows.
These types of yogurts are strained in such a way that creates a naturally thick and rich texture and offers more protein than conventional yogurt. Protein is important to help you feel both full and satiated.
Don't: Shy away from fat.
A little bit of fat will also help you to feel satiated and will assist with the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin D. Opt for the low- or full-fat options or if you do choose a nonfat option, I recommend that you add your own source of healthy fat (think flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, etc.).
Do: Look for yogurts that contain "live active cultures."
These cultures promote gut health by facilitating the proliferation of good bacteria. Many types of yogurt undergo a heat-treated pasteurization process, which indiscriminately kills both good and bad bacteria. Make sure the good stuff is preserved!
Don't: Settle for the yogurts with sugar substitutes to circumvent eating sugar.
Ingredients like sucralose or aspartame may be present in yogurts labeled "low-sugar." Instead, look for yogurts that have ideally less than 12 grams of sugar. One of the most common questions I’m asked is "how much sugar should be in my yogurt?" There is no recommended amount when it comes to sugar, simply the less the better. Just remember, there will be some natural sugar present from the milk and from the fruit, if you choose a fruit flavor.
Do: Opt for yogurts made with real fruit, if plain or vanilla doesn't do it for you.
Read the nutrition label and confirm that real fruit is present versus "fruit juice."
Don't: Be OK with artificial ingredients or thickeners.
If your yogurt is pink, it should be because it’s stained from real fruit present in the yogurt, not because it’s been colored by artificial food coloring. Similarly, your yogurt should be thick because of the natural yogurt-making process that creates a thick texture, not because thickeners like modified cornstarch or gelatin are present.
Do: Be a label detective!
It’s always a good idea to play it safe by avoiding yogurts with lengthy ingredient labels or with lots of words you can’t pronounce. In fact, the nutrition label should be pretty simple, with just five or six ingredients or less.
Another trick of the (yogurt) trade is to look at the protein-to-sugar ratio. Assuming that you’ve already read the nutrition label and confirmed the ingredients are free of artificial additives and thickeners (right!?), the yogurt with the least sugar and the most protein is going to be the best option. Here are some of my favorite Tovita-approved brands of Greek and Icelandic-style yogurts:
- Siggi's 0 percent Icelandic-style nonfat yogurt
- Siggi's 2 percent Icelandic-style low-fat yogurt
- Chobani plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- Chobani plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- Fage plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- Fage plain 2 percent nonfat Greek yogurt
*These yogurts are either Greek or Icelandic-style, meaning they have naturally thick and creamy consistencies. They all have live active cultures, and they’re all high in protein and low in sugar. Of course, none contain artificial food colorings or thickening agents.