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Is Yogurt a Healthy Food?

September 29, 2020
Is Yogurt a Healthy Food? - Lark Health

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Which foods you choose are of top importance when it comes to taking charge of your health and weight. Using Lark can make you even more determined to select the best foods. As the number of types of yogurt seems to be exploding in the dairy aisle, should you opt in? Which type is best?

Will yogurt help you lose weight, manage blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and meet other health goals? If you choose well and eat it with other nutritious foods, yogurt can be part of your healthy eating plan. Here is what to know about yogurt's health benefits and how to choose wisely.

What Is Yogurt?

Yogurt is a fermented food. It has only two ingredients: milk and bacteria cultures. These bacteria ferment the milk and produce lactic acid. Yogurt is pasteurized to kill bacteria, and live bacterial cultures can be added just before packaging and sealing it. Greek yogurt and other thicker varieties of yogurt may go through a straining process to reduce the liquid content.

Types of Yogurt

Supermarket shelves are teeming with different types of yogurt. Basic differences can include the type of milk and whether it is strained to thicken it. 

  • Unstrained (regular) yogurt. This is the type of yogurt you may be most familiar with.
  • Greek yogurt. This strained yogurt is thicker than unstrained yogurt, higher in protein, and lower in carbohydrates.
  • Australian yogurt.
  • Icelandic yogurt (Skyr). A very thick, almost cheese-like yogurt, Skyr is strained multiple times. The protein content is highest of any yogurt type.
  • Goat's milk yogurt. Has a bit of a stronger taste than cow's milk yogurt, but is less allergenic.
  • Sheep's milk yogurt. Has a similar taste to cow's milk yogurt, and is less likely to cause an allergic reaction, but is higher in fat.
  • Kefir. Kefir yogurt has yeast, bacteria, and milk protein added to milk. It is thin and drinkable, and among the highest in probiotics and fat.

There are also non-dairy yogurts, such as almond yogurt, soy yogurt, and coconut yogurt. Coconut yogurt is naturally thin and sour, and is nearly sure to have additives to thicken and sweeten it.

Within all these options are usually choices such as fat content and flavor. Fat-free is lower in calories, and plain is sure to be free from added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Plain, non-fat yogurt may be your best bet.

Health Benefits of Yogurt

Yogurt has been linked to many possible health benefits. People who eat yogurt regularly may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, Crohn's Disease, and other inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. Yogurt may also help protect against weight gain. These benefits may be related to its nutrient content and the fact that it is a fermented product.

Reduced-fat dairy products are linked to lower blood pressure. They are considered an important component of the famous Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which lowered people's blood pressure within weeks of starting it.

Yogurt Nutrition

Yogurt is a nutrient-dense food, naturally rich in protein and calcium. It also contains probiotics, or live bacteria that live in the gut. 

Calories, Protein, Carbs, and Fat

A cup of plain, non-fat yogurt has 120 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Sugar-sweetened flavored yogurt and whole milk yogurt are higher in calories.

Nutrients and Other Beneficial Components in Yogurt

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Potassium
  • Probiotics

Calcium in Yogurt

Yogurt has just as much calcium per cup as milk, or about 30% of the daily value per cup. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in bone, and is an essential nutrient for maintaining bone mineral density. 

Yogurt does not naturally contain vitamin D, but some manufacturers add it, just like they do to milk. Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium to support bone health.

Choosing the Best Yogurt

  • Plain yogurt is free from added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
  • Greek yogurt can be best if you have lactose intolerance, since it is lower in lactose.
  • Fat-free yogurt (or yogurt made from skim milk) is lower in fat and calories, but just as high in protein, as whole milk yogurt and low-fat yogurt.
  • Only yogurts with “live active cultures” stated on the label contain live probiotics.

Does Yogurt Have a Lot of Sugar?

Plain yogurt does not have any added sugar, but many flavored yogurts do. Added sugars are the type that add calories and are linked to higher risk for diabetes and hypertension. A 6-oz. container of fruit-flavored yogurt has about 14 grams of added sugar, or about as much as in a fun-size package of M&M's.

Yogurt and Lactose Intolerance

Yogurt contains another type of sugar. It is called lactose. Lactose is naturally present in milk. Unlike added sugars, that are used for sweetening foods, lactose does not spike your blood sugar, and it is not linked to serious chronic health problems.

Lactose can, however, be a problem if you have lactose intolerance and are unable to properly digest lactose. Still, yogurt is easier to tolerate than milk for people with lactose intolerance due to the presence of bacteria that digest lactose. If you have trouble with regular, unstrained yogurt, Greek yogurt is an alternative that can be lower in lactose than regular yogurt. Goat milk yogurt is also slightly lower in lactose than cow's milk yogurt.

Healthy Ideas for Enjoying Plain Yogurt

  • With berries or cut fruit, such as apples, pears, or peaches.
  • Blended with mashed banana and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Topped with toasted oats or peanut pieces.
  • As a topping for chili, baked sweet potato, or tacos.
  • In tzatziki or raita.

With plenty of protein, bone-building nutrients, and healthy bacteria, yogurt can be a very healthy food. Plus, it is ready to eat or use in recipes. Just be sure to choose varieties without added sugar, and to check with Lark as you make your food choices!

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