Today’s question comes from Andrea, who writes:
“I was reading the packed lunch article and I have a question for you. As far as yogurt is concerned, what type is the best option? I usually eat Light and Fit Greek. Is it better to eat full fat yogurt?”
Thanks, Andrea, for reading the article and for your question!
Unfortunately, one of Dannon's yogurts (the Light & Fit) was recently inducted into the Health Hall of Shame. Pop over to Pinterest to see why, or read below to figure out!
Let’s first answer the basic question: "what is yogurt?" I know this simple question may seem silly, but the reality is that some yogurts in the marketplace are far removed from what “yogurt” is meant to be.
Yogurt, defined, is “food prepared from milk fermented by added bacteria.” This added bacteria is the “good bacteria” we call probiotics that help strengthen our body’s digestive and immune systems. Low-fat yogurt is made from low-fat milk, and full-fat yogurt is made from – you guessed it – full fat milk. It's that simple.
Why is this definition important? As you look to selecting a healthy yogurt, know that some yogurts contain ingredients like artificial sweeteners or added sugars. And some Greek yogurts aren’t what “Greek yogurt” is truly meant to be!
Ask these questions whenever selecting your yogurt to determine if what you're choosing is a better-for-you option. Use the slider's arrows to see all three questions/examples!
As you look to select a healthy yogurt, use this checklist as a guide. If you answer "yes" to these questions, you've got a great yogurt on hand!
- Is your yogurt free from artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors?
- Does your yogurt contain less than 12 grams of sugar per cup (~8 oz)? There will be some naturally occurring lactose (milk sugar), but if there are added sugars: the lower, the better!
- If Greek, is the yogurt strained and does it avoid using protein concentrates?
- If your yogurt is dairy-free, does it refrain from using carrageenan as a thickener?
- BONUS: If dairy-based, is the yogurt organic and/or sourced from grass-fed cows?
Now, back to your question about full fat yogurt vs. non fat yogurt...it really boils down to the issue of saturated fat.
Both the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommend the consumption of low-fat dairy, with the AHA saying you should have no more than 13 grams of saturated fat (the fat predominant in dairy milk) per day if consuming a 2000-calorie diet.
However, the current thought is that saturated fat may not be as bad as what we once thought in increasing blood lipid levels (i.e. cholesterol and triglycerides). (Source) In fact, even some top experts say that it’s okay to include this type of fat in moderation rather than eliminate it altogether since cutting back on saturated fats likely has no benefit if people replace the sat fat with refined carbs (aka: sugar) (Source). Plus, there may be certain fatty acids that are actually healthy for us! (Source)
In addition, it’s important to recognize that many whole foods known for their “healthy fats” also contain saturated fats, including avocados, almonds, and sunflower seeds! As we take a look at milk (which makes yogurt), we need to recognize that it's only by processing that we can acquire low fat or non-fat milk. If we’re trying to eat foods in their more natural form, full fat is the choice that is "closer to nature."
In fact, in a recent study, organic whole milk was shown to contain more omega-3 fatty acids (a type of “good” fat that helps combat inappropriate inflammation) than conventional milk, as well as higher levels of fat soluble vitamins (like vitamin E and A) and CLA (a special type of fatty acid). (Source)
As you consider the amount of fat in your yogurt, please also focus on if what you are choosing is actually yogurt. Does it include artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors? Is the “fruit on the bottom” more like “jelly on the bottom?” If you’re choosing Greek yogurt for it’s higher protein content, is it higher in protein thanks to added protein isolates? If there is a “yes” answer to any of these questions, you can do better!
What are your favorite yogurt combinations? Pin some of my old favorites to try later!
[Originally posted August 27, 2014. Updated January 9, 2017].