Like with everything, not all yogurts are created equal. In fact, there is quite a jungle of yogurts out there and you would be surprised just how much they differ. There are those that are really good for you and there are those that are simply not. On my last trip to Safeway I picked up a yogurt, their pantry essential brand, and I was horrified when I read the list of ingredients. Not only did the yogurt contain high corn fructose syrup as the third ingredient on the list after milk and vanilla base, the yogurt was lacking the live and active cultures which make yogurt healthy in the first place. In addition, the yogurt contained colors yellow 5 and yellow 6 not to mention pectin, carrageenan, modified corn starch and phenylalanine. Studies show that yogurt is really good for us, so how do you chose a good and healthy yogurt and where do you begin? There are four key considerations when choosing a good yogurt: live and active cultures, protein, sugar and fat.
Live and Active Cultures
The most important place to start is to check if the yogurt you are buying has live and active cultures. You are looking for the following: lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp.bulgaricus, streptococcus thermopiles, lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and lactobacillus casei. It is these live and active cultures that are responsible for the health benefits of the yogurt. Bifidobacteriain particular are beneficial for the digestive tract as they prevent the harmful bacteria from colonizing the gut and colon. The Lactobacillus casei have been linked to lower rates of antibiotic associated diarrhea and clostridium difficile infections. In addition, live and active cultures have been found to boost the body’s immune system, fight certain types of cancer and prevent osteoporosis. So next time you are buying your yogurt check the ingredients to make sure that these strange sounding, and impossible to pronounce correctly, bacteria are present because they are good for you.
The next thing to consider is the protein level and here the greek yogurt has the edge over its traditional counterpart. Greek yogurt can contain 14g to 18g of protein in one pot which is equivalent to eating half of a chicken breast. The traditional yogurt can have as little as 4g or 5g of protein in one pot. This distinction is particularly important if you are a vegetarian and are looking for good sources of protein.
Related to protein is the sugar level. I say related because for whatever reason on average the lower the level of protein the higher the level of sugars. In the traditional ‘pantry essentials’ yogurt that I looked at in Safaway’s there is a shocking 25g of sugar in one pot – this is two tablespoons, not teaspoons, of sugar just in one pot. The super healthy option is the greek plain yogurt as it can contain as little as 4 g of sugar. Depending on your palate this may be the best thing since sliced bread but I definitely need to add something extra to make to make it more palatable. I usually sweeten this yogurt with a little dollop of honey and it is delicious. If you prefer you can buy already sweetened greek yogurt in the shop. Chobani brand I think has the biggest number of various flavors to choose from.
The last thing to consider is whether you want to buy, non-fat, low-fat or full fat yogurts. My recommendation is to go for the non-fat version. The main reason for this is the presence of saturated fat in both low fat and full fat yogurts. Saturated fat is not good for us mainly because it is associated with cardiovascular disease. Health authorities in many countries including USA, UK, Canada and Australia have all recommended to reduce the consumption of saturated fat. The added advantage of eating non-fat yogurt is that is has less calories than full fat yogurt which means that this is a perfect snack if you are trying to lose weight or for the price of few extra calories you can add berries, oats or chia seeds to make the snack more substantial. If you have a choice and can spend little bit extra money on a good yogurt then I would recommend choosing one from small organic farms where you know that cows have been treated humanely – believe it or not the milk from these cows tastes much better.
So to sum up: good and healthy yogurt contains live and active cultures, has high protein level, low sugar level and is low in fat. There are so many varieties of yogurt out there that you can let your tastebuds do the choosing. My favourite brands are:
- Stonyfield organic nonfat greek yogurt – I love this brand because it contains both the bifidus and l casei live cultures. The plain variety contains 15g of protein while only 6g of sugar and best of all has only 80 calories. My kids are big fans of the vanilla flavour.
- Wallaby organic nonfat greek yogurt – Although this brand does not contain the l casei live cultures, it does have one of the highest protein levels. At 17g of protein per pot, this yogurt is a very good and healthier alternative to a protein bar. I also like the fact that they have a separate container for the jams so you can control how much to put in.
- Chobani – Although it is not organic, it does have all the live cultures and the plain yogurt has 18g of protein, 7g of sugar and only 100 calories. What I really like about this brand is that it has many flavors to choose and most shops and even some cafes stock it. However I would be careful when selecting the flavor because for example the vanilla chocolate chip variety has 32g of sugar and comes at 270 calories.
So these are my favourite yogurts what are yours?