Yogurt is good for you because of the natural vitamins and proteins it contains, as well as the probiotics that can support digestive and immune health. Low-sugar yogurt might be one of the healthiest foods out there. What is yogurt? Yogurt is a popular food product in which milk is fermented with good bacteria. Why is yogurt considered nutritious? Yogurt is high in protein, calcium, and magnesium, all important parts of your diet. Many yogurts are fortified with vitamin D. Most importantly, yogurt contains probiotics, which contribute to gut health and immune health. When is yogurt NOT nutritious? Here are the reasons yogurt would NOT be healthy:
- Added sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- Added flavor
- Unnecessary additives
Is it good to eat yogurt every day? Eating yogurt with no added sugar every day is beneficial to your health. How much yogurt should you eat a day? To get the science-backed benefits of yogurt each day, eat a cup of yogurt every morning. Some experts recommend three cups of dairy products a day.Keep reading to learn about the amazing benefits of low-sugar yogurt, who should/shouldn’t eat yogurt, and misconceptions you may have heard about yogurt.
How Yogurt Is Made
Yogurt is made when live cultures ferment milk.Here is the simple four-step process:
- Milk is scalded. The milk is heated to denature its proteins, so it doesn’t form curds.
- Milk is cooled. The temperature has to be low enough not to kill the good bacteria.
- Active cultures are added. Yogurt cultures (good bacteria) are mixed into the milk.
- The mixture is allowed to ferment. Up to 12 hours are required for the live cultures to ferment the milk sugars into lactic acid, giving yogurt its distinctive texture and flavor.
The two most common strains of bacteria used in making yogurt are:
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus)
- Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus)
Yogurt powder (also called “dehydrated yogurt”) is usually made with pasteurized skim milk and yogurt cultures. If food like cereal bars or yogurt-covered raisins are “made with real yogurt”,the manufacturer likely uses some combination of:
- Yogurt powder
- Skim milk
Yogurt powder goes through a drying process that kills the beneficial bacteria. This means yogurt powder does not contain probiotics that promote gut and immune health. Plus, it almost always contains a lot of added sugar, which is not beneficial to health.
Types of Yogurt
There are 5 main types of yogurt:
- Regular yogurt
- Greek yogurt
- Non-dairy yogurt
1. Regular Yogurt
Regular yogurt is made with fermented milk. This is the most popular form of yogurt.
2. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt. It’s also higher in protein — Greek yogurt usually contains 2-3 times the protein of regular yogurt. No Greek yogurt at your local supermarket? It’s possible to strain regular yogurt to the consistency of Greek yogurt, though the rich flavor may not be as robust with “homemade” Greek yogurt. According to Fine Cooking, to strain your regular yogurt to a Greek yogurt consistency:
- Line a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a plain white paper towel
- Place the lined sieve over a bowl
- With a spoon, put plain, whole-milk yogurt into your sieve.
- Put in the refrigerator for 2 hours and let the liquid drain
You can expect to lose about ½ of the original yogurt during this process.
Kefir is a tangy drinkable yogurt. Kefir is higher in fat, and contains more types of bacteria than regular yogurt.
Skyr is an Icelandic version of yogurt that uses more milk to produce. Skyr is thicker, less tangy, and higher in protein. Some categorize skyr as a cheese.
5. Non-dairy Yogurt
Non-dairy yogurts are yogurt alternatives that are plant-based instead of milk-based. These may be made from:
Non-dairy yogurts typically contain fewer grams of protein than regular yogurt and Greek yogurt. To mask the fact that non-dairy yogurts are not dairy products, non-dairy yogurts may contain a lot of added sugars. Fortunately, there are many brands that don’t add sugar, too — that’s why it’s vital to check labels. However, about half of the human population has some intolerance to lactose. Non-dairy yogurts provide a necessary alternative for millions of Americans to enjoy the benefits of yogurt.
Benefits of Yogurt
There are many health benefits of sugar-free yogurt. Yogurt is good for your:
- Immune system
Craving ice cream? Try yogurt with “toppings” like fresh strawberries or cacao nibs instead. Yogurt with granola and blueberries makes for a delicious breakfast. It’s also a great thickener for smoothies. As long as the yogurt doesn’t contain unnecessary additives (like sugar), anyway you eat yogurt may give you these health benefits.
1. Yogurt for the Gut
Yogurt is good for your digestive system. Your gut microbiome benefits from yogurt consumption. The most important benefit of yogurt is the probiotics it contains. Probiotics are good bacteria that your body needs to function properly. Yogurt contains active cultures; that’s what makes it ferment into yogurt. Active cultures are live microorganisms that can turn milk into yogurt. Eating yogurt reduces inflammation, a key factor in gut health, and regulates your appetite. Yogurt has also been shown to aid digestion in lactose-intolerant individuals.
2. Yogurt for the Immune System
The probiotics in yogurt are immune boosters. A majority of your immune system is in your gut. When you consume probiotics, the good bacteria in your gut thrives, which strengthens your immune system. Inversely, when the good bacteria in your gut are out of whack, your immune system suffers. This can lead to the development of autoimmune disorders or autoimmune reactions like leaky gut. Eating yogurt has been shown to “improve immune activity”. Yogurt can also reduce stress, which is a dangerous trigger of immune dysfunction.
3. Yogurt for Skin
It’s not just good for your insides — yogurt can do wonders for your skin. Applying a yogurt mask to your skin has a few surprising benefits. A yogurt mask can improve the moisture of your skin. Yogurt contains lactic acid, which exfoliates and gets rid of dead skin cells. The probiotics in yogurt may protect your skin from acne and aging from the inside out. Overall, topical application of yogurt to people’s skin has not been studied in many scientific articles, but the initial results are promising.
4. Yogurt for the Brain
There is some evidence that yogurt improves brain function. A 2013study revealed yogurt consumption affected the brain activity associated with “emotion and sensation.” 2018 research confirmed that “dairy products including yogurt” may prevent Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
5. Yogurt for the Heart
Yogurt may benefit your heart health. Contrary to beliefs held just 20 years ago, science has shown that the fat in yogurt can help prevent heart disease. Dairy products like yogurt seem to lower blood pressure. In a 2018 study, men with high blood pressure who ate yogurt twice a week had a significantly lower risk of heart disease. Yogurt also contains saturated fats, which may increase “good” cholesterol (AKA high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).
Not All Yogurt Is Healthy
There are some disadvantages to yogurt. Not all yogurt is healthy, generally because of the sugar content. Yogurt contains natural sugars (lactose). Like a lot of food in Western society, we have also added massive amounts of sugar to most yogurt. The more grams of sugar you add to yogurt, the less healthy the yogurt is. Flavored yogurts are especially high in sugar. For instance, sugar feeds the harmful bacteria in your gut. Excess sugar consumption may lead to the following adverse health effects:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease (such as high blood pressure)
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Cognitive decline
Artificial sweeteners aren’t much better:
- Aspartame maybe the worst of the artificial sweeteners, associated with system-wide inflammation among a laundry list of other dangers. Fortunately, several yogurt manufacturers have stopped using aspartame as an artificial sweetener.
- Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) is associated with a risk for cancer, dysbiosis in the gut, weight gain, and disruption of neurological function.
- Sucralose is the most commonly used sweetener. Sucralose messes with your gut microbiome. Months of sucralose consumption can lead to gut dysbiosis, inflammation, and immune dysfunction.
- Saccharin is another common sugar substitute. Though it is considered “safe” by several organizations, animal studies show that saccharin renders the gut “microbiome unhealthy.” An unhealthy microbiome means digestive and immune dysfunction.
- Xylitol and maltitol are sugar alcohols that are often used as artificial sweeteners because they aren’t supposed to raise blood sugar. Unfortunately, both of these may cause spikes in blood sugar anyway.
Look for healthier alternative sweeteners such as stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, or allulose instead. Artificial coloring is sometimes added to yogurt. Artificial colors are usually synthetic chemicals that have negative health effects. Children, in particular, are usually most sensitive to artificial colorings. Unnecessary additives should be avoided in yogurt when at all possible. Here’s an extensive list of dairy additives that may cause issues with health. Most importantly, try to avoid carrageenan, which can disrupt digestion, and polysorbate-80, which is commonly contaminated with dangerous chemicals.
Is full-fat yogurt bad for you?
Full-fat yogurt (made with whole milk) is not bad for you because dietary fat is good for you. It’s a common misconception that a high-fat diet contributes to body fat. Dietary fat gives you energy — the type of energy your brain actually prefers. When you don’t use energy, it is stored in fat tissue. Dietary fat contributes to body fat the same as carbs, alcohols, and protein do. No matter what you eat, if you don’t burn the calories, it is stored as body fat. Many people suggest low-fat yogurt or nonfat yogurt is better for you than plain yogurt. However, nonfat yogurt does not help with weight loss any more than“low-protein chicken” would. And typically, when manufacturers remove flavorful fat, they replace it with added sugar. Low-calorie probiotic yogurts do not prevent weight gain in themselves. No matter what your diet, eating less and exercising more is the most reliable way to reduce body weight.
A 2015 Study: Yogurt Isn’t Good For You?
A large-scale study was published in 2015 that suggested there was no perceived quality of life improvement in Spanish adults who habitually consumed yogurt. However, this study did not differentiate sugar and sugar-free yogurts. And only perceived quality of life was measured. A subject’s perception is, by definition, subjective, so it’s difficult to pull hard conclusions from this research.
Who Should Not Eat Yogurt
Not everyone should eat yogurt:
- Anyone with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy should not eat regular yogurt or Greek yogurt. Fortunately, there are high-quality dairy-free yogurt alternatives, such as coconut milk yogurt.
- Anyone on a low-carb or low-sugar diet may need to avoid yogurt. Even sugar-free yogurt contains natural sugars that could send your carb count skyward. Your best bet are dairy-free alternatives low in carbohydrates, like almond milk yogurt. Many of these brands use “low-carb” tags on the label but may only be available at certain grocery stores.
The Healthiest Yogurt Brands
Which brand of yogurt is the healthiest? Here are a few brands we recommend:
- Dannon All-Natural (and no other Dannon product)
- Stonyfield Organic (find the lowest sugar you can)
- Brown Cow (Greek yogurt)
- Fage Total Plain (Greek yogurt)
- Smári Skyr (organic Icelandic yogurt)
- Siggi’s Skyr (Icelandic yogurt)
- Kitehill (almond milk, low-carb yogurt)
There are several healthy yogurt options in the dairy aisle. But as long as it’s low on added sugars and unnecessary additives, yogurt will likely provide you with science-backed benefits.
Is yogurt good for you? Yes, yogurt is good for you — as long as you avoid all added sugars and unnecessary additives, like artificial coloring. The surprising benefits of plain, unsweetened yogurt include:
- Gut health
- Immune health
- Skin health
- Brain health
- Heart health
Now you’re equipped to scour the dairy aisle for the best yogurt for you.