If you walk down the dairy aisle of most supermarkets, yogurt dominates serious real estate as a popular dairy product. Diverse and versatile, yogurt can be blended into smoothies, mixed with vegetables as a side dish, or pureed into do-it-yourself facial masks. Choosing from the variety of brands, flavors, and types can create a downright dizzying shopping experience. If mitigating paralysis in the dairy aisle is your goal, nutritional value might help. From a nutritional standpoint, yogurt actually lives up to the hype – but there are several factors to consider when making your selection.
The nutritional rundown
The standard serving size for any type of yogurt – including Greek yogurt – is one cup, eight fluid ounces, or 245 grams. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, one serving of plain whole milk yogurt contains:
- Calories: 160
- Calories from fat: 70
- Protein: 10.8 grams (22% recommended dietary intake [RDI])
- Sugars: 10.7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 11.7 grams (4% RDI)
- Cholesterol: 30.9 milligrams (10% RDI)
- Fat: 8 grams (12% RDI)
- Calcium: 32% RDI
- Vitamin A: 6% RDI
One serving of plain Greek yogurt contains:
- Calories: 130
- Calories from fat: 0
- Protein: 22 grams (44% RDI)
- Sugars: 6 grams
- Carbohydrates: 11 grams (4% RDI)
- Cholesterol: 10 milligrams (3% RDI)
- Fat: 0 grams (0% RDI)
- Calcium: 25% RDI
- Vitamin A: 0% RDI
Yogurt also contains vitamins B12 and B2, phosphorus, and high amounts of probiotics, healthy bacteria that benefit your gut. Probiotics help regulate the digestive system and decrease gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. The two most common types of bacteria found in yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles, but many yogurts also contain additional strains.
Types of yogurt
Whole milk yogurt
Also called traditional yogurt, whole milk yogurt has a smooth, creamy texture and is made from whole cow’s milk. This is the most common yogurt seen on grocery store shelves.
Low-fat or nonfat yogurt
Low-fat or nonfat yogurt is also made from cow’s milk, but it’s typically made from skim or 2% milk, as opposed to whole milk. Watch out for hidden sugars in these yogurts – they can contain up to 33 grams of sugar in each serving – about the same as a cup of chocolate ice cream!
Greek yogurt has a distinct tangy taste and is much thicker than traditional yogurt because it’s strained to remove more liquid. Greek yogurt also naturally contains less sugar, less carbohydrates, and more protein than traditional yogurts.
Kefir is a fermented yogurt drink and can be made from soy milk, cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or any of the other nondairy milks available today. Because it’s fermented, kefir is a great source of probiotics and other gut-healthy bacteria, even more than traditional yogurt.
Icelandic yogurt, or skyr, is a skim milk yogurt that’s gained popularity in the past few years. It’s so much thicker than Greek yogurt that it’s actually categorized as cheese in Iceland.
Just like nondairy milks, nondairy yogurts are a great substitute for people who have lactose intolerances or milk allergies or follow a vegan diet. Nondairy yogurts contain the healthy bacteria and probiotics of traditional yogurt and are often naturally lower in sugar.
Seven reasons yogurt is good for you
1. Promotes digestive health
Because of its active cultures, yogurt can be very helpful in regulating your gut. Studies show that the probiotics found in yogurt have helped reduce the impact of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating and gas. The probiotics in yogurt also protect again the bowel irregularities that come from antibiotic use.
2. Lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. High salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, and the average American consumes more than twice the RDI of salt. The potassium found in yogurt can help flush excess salt out of your system, as one serving of yogurt has almost 450 milligrams of potassium.
3. Strengthens the immune system
The probiotics in yogurt have been shown to reduce inflammation, which is linked to everything from the common cold to gut disorders. The vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, and zinc found in yogurt also play a part in keeping your immune system strong. Research even shows that probiotics can help mitigate the severity and duration of the common cold.
4. Helps maintain bone health
Calcium plays a crucial role in bone health, and one serving of low-fat yogurt contains around 300 milligrams of calcium, which is about 12% of the RDI. Greek yogurt contains slightly less calcium per serving, around 200 milligrams. You can also get this calcium benefit from nondairy yogurt, like almond milk yogurt!
5. Assists weight management
Yogurt – specifically Greek yogurt – is very high in protein. Traditional yogurt contains around 11 grams of protein per serving, and Greek yogurt boasts more than double the amount at up to 22 grams per serving. Getting enough protein in your diet is key to regulating your appetite. Protein increases the hormone leptin, which is what tells your brain that your stomach is full.
6. Balances blood sugar
Yeast infections, formally known as candida, can affect everyone, but 75% of women report having had at least one yeast infection in their lives. Women with diabetes are even more prone to candida because of fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. Maintaining blood sugar levels are key to preventing these infections, and yogurt’s probiotic content has been shown to help regulate them.
7. Improves recovery after workouts
Because of its high protein content, yogurt makes a great post-workout snack. Greek yogurt has a great balance of both carbohydrates (which replace energy stores after workouts) and protein (which helps repair muscles). Dairy yogurt can contain either whey protein or casein, both of which are rich in amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Of all the amino acids, there are six we can only get from the food we eat, and all six of them are found in yogurt!
The bottom line
Although people with lactose sensitivities should avoid cow’s milk yogurt, there are many dairy-free alternatives available that boast just as much nutritional value. The probiotics and live cultures in yogurt are a great addition to a healthy diet, but be sure to avoid those high in sugar.