What to Eat: Yogurt 101

The yogurt aisle isn’t what it used to be. In the last few years, greek yogurt has taken over a sizeable chunk of the refrigerator case, leaving non-greeks to compete for the remaining real estate.

Meanwhile, both greek and non-greek yogurts are branching out. Fat-free? Cream on top? You got ‘em. Fruit purée or fruit mousse? Check. Lactose-free or no dairy at all? Got you covered. And as for toppings and mix-ins, strawberry and vanilla are battling for shelf space with fig with orange zest and chocolate-coated corn flakes.


Here’s our basic guide to yogurt:

1. What makes yogurt? Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two strains of bacteria that companies add to milk to make yogurt. Many brands also add other bacteria.

2. How can you tell if the bacteria are alive? The label will say something like “live cultures” or “active cultures.” It may or may not carry the National Yogurt Association’s “Live & Active Cultures” seal, which requires a yearly fee. Live cultures decline over time, so the sooner you eat your yogurt, the more live cultures you’ll get.

3. What can yogurt’s cultures do? So far, the only clear benefit is their ability to change milk’s naturally occurring sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. So people with lactose intolerance should have less diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms when they eat yogurt.

Does yogurt help restore beneficial bacteria to the gut after a course of antibiotics or help treat yeast infections? No good studies have looked.

4. Which yogurts are best? Yogurt should be a good source of protein and calcium without loading you down with saturated fat, added sugars, or possibly unsafe sweeteners. What’s too much or too little? It depends on the type and the serving size.

One caution: companies don’t say how much of the “Sugars” number on their Nutrition Facts labels comes from added sugar and how much comes from naturally occurring sugars in the yogurt’s milk and fruit.

5. Should you look for added vitamin D? Dannon, Silk, So Delicious, Stonyfield, YoCrunch, and Yoplait add 40 to 120 IU of vitamin D to many of their yogurts. If you need D from yogurt to help you reach your daily target—600 IU for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU for people over 70—check the label. Vitamin D is listed as a percent of the Daily Value (400 IU). So a yogurt with 20% of the DV, for example, has 80 IU.


Other relevant links:

34 Replies to “What to Eat: Yogurt 101”

    1. Greek yogurt, traditionally, is created by straining ordinary yogurt. Straining removes some of the liquid whey and leaves more concentrated solids behind, making it thick and rich, even if it’s fat-free. Greek yogurts generally have significantly more protein than non-greek yogurts. Unfortunately, the straining process does remove some of the calcium-rich whey, so greek yogurts tend to be lower in calcium.

  1. I thought that this article would discuss more about which yogurts had this or that, which were good for you, which were bad, which had insect parts for colour, which didn’t, which to buy and which to avoid and why. The article needed more substance. This really told me very little important and nothing new. I want the nitty-gritty on yogurt. Also, tell us why some yogurts are eye level and others are hidden. Don’t they pay the grocer for location. Tell us the down and dirty!

    1. This Daily Tip, and many others, are condensed versions of longer articles published in Nutrition Action Healthletter. This Tip comes from “Going Greek: Yogurt gets a makeover” in this month’s (September) Healthletter. The full article also contains descriptions of 5 name-brand yogurts (what is good and/or bad about each) along with a detailed chart containing relevant nutritional information for 41+ Greek yogurts and 33+ regular yogurts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI], publishers of Healthletter, awards “Best Bites” and “Honorable Mentions” to the brands that they recommend to consumers. I have subscribed to the newsletter for years and highly recommend it for the scientific information on nutrition and food safety that it presents to lay readers in an entertaining and practical way. And your subscription price goes to support the health-advocacy nonprofit CSPI, that “mounts educational programs and presses for changes in government and corporate policies.”

  2. We’ve found lots of uses for Plain Yogurt in place of sour cream – or sometimes mixed with a little sour cream – will dill weed mixed in on baked potato (white or sweet). or with other herbs on meats, or on hard-boiled eggs. On any dense protein or carbohydrate, it helps “wet” it up a bit without adding fat.

  3. Please make sure that readers know that plain yogurts are the best for their kids. Parents just need to add their own fresh fruit.
    Commercial yogurts are LOADED with sugars that just keep us all addicted!!!!

  4. I find that most yogurts have too much sugar. I stick with plain then add a little vanilla and honey to sweeten it up.

  5. Don’t you think this is too superficial–even for a primer? Five more minutes on Wikipedia could have enriched this article 100% or more. You folks normally do much better.

    1. See my reply to Monroe Davids. See September issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter for complete article and detailed analysis of 74+ commercially available yogurts.

  6. “So Delicious” isn’t even yogurt: it’s a dairy free product. You can also make your own easily in a crock pot. Google instructions online for directions.

  7. Greek yogurt is for suckers and people who love to throw away money. Just line a colander with paper towel, put a bowl under it, and pour plain yogurt into the lined colander. When the whey finishes dripping out of the yogurt into the bowl (in 24 hours or so), there’s your Greek yogurt. It has a cream cheese taste and feel and is great on raisin bread. I don’t eat flour products anymore (in the house only) so no raisin bread for me so I don’t bother with this anymore. Why bother? So the yogurt is a little thicker. Big deal!

  8. This was good info. I just started eating yogurt, have hated it for forever, but would it frozen now and then. Saw the ads about new Yoplait and thought I’d try it and it’s good. I need some ‘lactose control’, it’s good so I think I’ll stick. And truth be told it really doesn’t have that unpleasant after taste, which was the problem for me.

  9. Speaking of unpleasant after-tastes, what is it that makes that in SOME (but not all) brands of nonfat yogurt and nonfat sour cream? It seems more prevalent among the high-end brands. I buy nonfat plain exclusively, so it has nothing to do with flavoring or sweetener.

  10. Since going vegan, I haven’t bothered to even look in the yogurt section of grocery stores for a couple of years. It’s great to now read that there are now dairy-free options. I look forward to checking them out once I’m back State-side.

  11. I’ve been making my own yogurt for over 30 years, so I KNOW what has been added to it (from the milk point on). Seems a bit silly to strain off the whey. A little like cutting the crust off bread to make it look “nicer.” I actually prefer eating the crust, but I grew up in a family where my father, my brother, and I would argue over who got the most (and biggest) Brussels sprouts.

  12. I think these daily nutrition messages are great. Very clever and informative.

    am a subscriber of the mail editions and enjoy getting email previews and later read more in the newsletter, which is much more detailed.

  13. Cutting off the browned crust of bread is supposed to reduce cancer causing heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which can also be produced by grilling food, according to . I must have been intuitive as a child! The movie “Knives Over Forks” , created on the world research work of two doctors (one of whom grew up on a diary farm!) suggests that increased diary intake is related to cancer, as well. Wow, that’s a simple solution: skip it entirely!

  14. I like Greek yogurt — only in Greece. The yogurt in the US is hardly Greek style, which has been reduced from the typical 7-10% fat to 0-1% fat. While we see mostly whole milk and 2% lowfat yogurt in Greek markets, hardly anyone buys the nonfat yogurt there. Also, Greek cows eat grass in pastures, without chemicals, and aren’t given hormones or antibiotics.

    We mostly eat lowfat or whole milk yogurt at home in Maryland. I don’t like the “Greek” yogurt here, especially since it costs twice as much without improving flavor. I can make it myself by straining the plain yogurt and drinking the whey separately or using it for cooking.

    Best breakfast: Fresh fruit, topped with plain yogurt, and muesli with little or no added sugar. Sometimes we’re tempted to have it German or Scandinavian style, with chocolate chips.

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