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.
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