Yogurt is a beloved staple of many households. It makes for a quick, easy snack or an addition to just about any meal. It can be given as a treat or put in a smoothie for a healthy morning boost. Yogurt also offers health benefits, like providing essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body, supple skin, and strong bones. But are all yogurts created equal? The simple answer is no. There is a difference between fat free, low fat, and full fat yogurts. There is also a difference between organic yogurt and processed yogurt.
This article will cover some yogurt nutrition facts as well as important differences between fat free, low fat, and full fat yogurts. It will also highlight key differences between organic and processed yogurts to help trim the time spent in the yogurt section trying to interpret all the labels and ingredients.
According to registered dietician Elaine Magee of WebMD, yogurt offers many health benefits, including helping to prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk of hypertension, maintain gastrointestinal health, prevent yeast infections, and provide a feeling of fullness that helps distract from unhealthy snacking between meals. These benefits are attributed to a few key ingredients. So it’s important to take a close look at each yogurt container to make sure they are included.
Important ingredients in yogurt include:
Vitamins: Yogurt is rich in vitamin D, which contributes to healthy teeth and bones. It also makes hair strong and lustrous and boosts the immune system to fight off illness. Some yogurts have up to 20% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.
Calcium: Getting the recommended amount of calcium is critical to preventing bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. According to The National Academy of Medicine, adults aged 19 through 50 should be getting around 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Calcium content in yogurt will vary by brand, but some yogurts offer anywhere from 18-25% of the recommended daily calcium intake.
Protein: When looking for a yogurt with a high protein count, opt for Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has a higher protein count than regular yogurt. Eating Greek yogurt between meals is a great way to feel full and avoid unhealthy snacking. It’s also a convenient way to add some protein to a morning fruit or veggie smoothie.
Probiotics: Opting for a probiotic yogurt often benefits gastrointestinal health. Think of probiotics as good bacteria that are required to maintain healthy regulation of the gastrointestinal tract. Yogurt with probiotics may help with a variety of conditions including: lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Active cultures: Live and active yogurt cultures contribute to good gut health and also help prevent and fight vaginal yeast infections. Yogurts with active cultures will say so on the label. It may not be listed under the nutrition facts but it should be under the list of ingredients or specified somewhere else on the container.
Different Types of Yogurt
When perusing the yogurt section of the grocery store, there are dozens of options to choose from. Yogurts differ not only by brand but by type of yogurt. There is Greek yogurt, which offers a higher protein content than most yogurts. There are yogurts that come with granola and fruit, making them parfait ready. There are also a variety of flavored yogurts. But what about the yogurt itself? There are usually three types that are available: fat-free yogurt, low-fat yogurt, and full-fat yogurt.
Fat-Free Yogurt/Nonfat Yogurt
While words like fat free and nonfat might look appealing on a yogurt label, they should be treated with caution. Fat-free and nonfat yogurts tend to have very high sugar contents. These yogurts don’t taste as good or as sweet as low fat or full fat yogurts do, so extra sugar and artificial sweeteners are added to compensate for the lack of flavor and sweetness. Be cautious of ingredient lists that contain the words corn syrup, cane sugar, or fructose as these are all different words for sugar. If you see these on your yogurt’s ingredients list, be aware that you might be consuming up to 50-60% of the daily recommended allowance of sugar in just one serving of yogurt.
Like fat free and nonfat yogurts, low-fat yogurt is also high in sugar and artificial sweeteners. There are several kinds of artificial sweeteners. Common artificial sweeteners include saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. According to Harvard Health, artificial sweeteners contain a variety of health risks, including the risk of addiction, which ultimately leads to poor food choices and an unhealthy lifestyle. A general rule of thumb when it comes to yogurt nutrition is the lower the fat, the higher the sugar. People with underlying health issues, such as diabetes, should be especially cautious when it comes to consuming fat free and low fat yogurts.
Full-fat yogurt doesn’t equal unhealthy yogurt, and it doesn’t equal added pounds. For anyone trying to stay in shape or drop a few pounds, seeing words like fat, total fat, or full fat on a food label can be a major deterrent. But full-fat yogurt doesn’t mean that fat will be transferred directly to your waistline. It just means that it comes from whole milk. Nutritionally this means that while there is a higher fat content in full-fat yogurt than in fat free or low fat yogurts, there is also a lower sugar content and higher protein content. Full fat yogurts help create a feeling of fullness and avoid the excess sugar or potentially dangerous artificial sweeteners found in fat free and low fat yogurts.
Organic Yogurt vs. Processed Yogurt
Another thing to consider when purchasing yogurt is where the yogurt came from. There are usually two main options, organic and processed. Organic yogurt should be marked with a USDA Certified Organic label, which assures that the yogurt was processed per federal guidelines that regulate manufacturing aspects such as animal raising practices. We’re talking factors like pasture-raised cows that are fed organic food and not given antibiotics or hormones.
Processed yogurt, however, contains added ingredients and does not necessarily come from pasture-raised cows, nor are they guaranteed free of antibiotics or hormones. This doesn’t mean that processed yogurts are necessarily bad or don’t have health benefits. Processed yogurts usually contain added ingredients like good bacteria (probiotics) to promote digestive health. But they are also the yogurts that contain ingredients such as artificial sweeteners and flavors. The key when shopping for yogurt is to always check the label for any added ingredients that might not be conducive to a healthy diet.