What to Look For in a Yogurt

yogurt with berries

(HealthCastle.com) Are you overwhelmed by the variety of yogurt products available on the dairy shelves? If so, you are not alone.

Yogurt 101

If you eat yogurt to supplement milk intake: Choose low kcal with low saturated fat.

  • The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 - 4 servings of dairy products a day for most people. If you are drinking 1 - 2 servings of milk and are having a serving or two of yogurt daily, choose a yogurt product with less than 120 kcal and 1g of saturated fat per 4 oz serving. (If your yogurt is in a 6 oz container, choose one with less than 150 kcal and 1.3g of saturated fat.) We are delighted that many yogurt products meet these criteria. Some are even much lower in calories and are fat free (and trans fat free too)!

If you eat at least 3 servings of yogurt to replace milk: Choose low kcal, high calcium, trans fat free and Vitamin D fortified.

  • In addition to being low in calories, look for a yogurt product that contains at least 15%DV (Daily Values) of calcium per 4 oz serving if you do not eat any other calcium-rich foods. If you eat at least 3 servings of yogurt a day, you would probably like to have one containing no trans fatty acids. Surprisingly, unlike milk, not all yogurt products are fortified with Vitamin D, so it pays to read the labels.

If you eat yogurt to reap its health benefits for a healthier gut: Look for a specific strain.

  • Many studies have reported that eating yogurt with active culture (also called probiotics) can improve bowel functions. Certain strains, such as L bulgaricus, S thermophilus, L casei, have been well studied for their health benefits on the bowel in humans. Look for the words "active culture" or "live culture," or look for one of these strains on the labels.

If you drink yogurt: Choose lower sugar.

  • Most yogurt drinks are catered to kids, and they are generally sweetened. So if you offer yogurt drinks to your kids on a regular basis, choose one with lower sugar level (less than 12 g, or 3 tsp, of sugar), but not added with artificial sweeteners. And don't forget about kefir too!

If you eat yogurt as a dessert or treat and only eat it occasionally: Choose any kind.

  • Almost all yogurt products are nutritionally superior to other desserts like cookies, pies, and cakes, since yogurt contains more nutrients like protein, calcium, Vitamin B12, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. If any of the above mentioned yogurts can satisfy your taste buds, by all means go for it! But if you have a very sweet tooth, be sure to still choose one with less than 5g of sugar per oz (less than 20g of sugar per 4 oz or 30g of sugar per 6 oz).

Bottom Line

Yogurt is a very versatile food. It can be enjoyed on its own, used as a dip, or mixed as a sauce or dressing. As food scientists begin to develop new flavors and varieties, you can even find soy-based and heart-friendly yogurt products (containing ingredients such as fiber and omega 3 fatty acids) in the dairy aisle. Yogurt can definitely be classified as a health food... if you choose the right kind. Therefore, it is important to read the Nutrition Facts label when comparing products. It's also always good to check the ingredient list. In general, a longer ingredient list can mean more calories and fillers, so choose wisely.

Disclaimer: This article is an independent editorial review. No product endorsement is intended in this article.

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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.