Consumed for millennia in countries all over the world from India and Spain to Egypt and the Middle East, yogurt really didn’t become very popular in North America until the 1970s. At the time, it was considered an ultra-natural, healthy food consumed for its good bacteria content and easy digestibility.
Centuries ago, it was discovered that milk carried in bags made from the stomachs of animals made the milk ferment and sour which resulted in it lasting longer than milk. Today, yogurt gets its classic taste from the two most common bacterial strains added in making it – Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. And it’s the bacteria that makes it such a great choice for gut health.
Yogurt is also a very valuable source of protein, calcium, potassium, and B vitamins. Whether enjoyed on its own for a snack, topped with nuts and berries at breakfast, or used in everything from veggie dips to muffin batter, yogurt is a major food staple enjoyed by many.
The Case Is Not Always Clear
The range of what is available in the yogurt category has expanded immensely. On the one end of the dairy case, you can find gut-health enhancing yogurts full of extra bacterial culture and Greek-style yogurts, typically high in quality protein. On the other end, there are yogurts that are more like dessert, and often served as a sweet tube or sugary drink.
Some have so many extras added that they’re not easily recognizable as yogurt. Not unlike the cereal aisle, yogurt has become a minefield of marketing messages. For a product that is healthiest in its natural, white hue, this is one very colourful section of the store with a rainbow of product packages.
Yogurt choices can vary quite a bit from one market or grocery store chain to the next. I frequently hear consumers lament that just when they found a healthy, ideal yogurt that the whole family likes, when they return to buy it again, the shelf space has been re-allocated to new and different products. It can take quite a bit of time to read labels again and find a yogurt that will work.
Nutritionally, a yogurt that is a healthy selection for an adult is generally a very good one for a child too.
Start here to select a quality yogurt
As a basic starting point, look for a product that is named yogurt. Seems straightforward enough, but steer clear of yogurt-esque terms like YotoGo, Yocrunch or others that may indicate the product contains more add-ins than actual yogurt.
Check the ingredients list. As with all other wholesome foods, the shorter and simpler the list, the better. Healthy yogurts will have milk or a milk alternative like soy as the main ingredient along with healthy bacterial cultures and perhaps fruit if it is flavoured.
There should be some milk fat in the product (% mf). Although it seems like zero percent mf yogurt is ideal, the vast majority of those ‘no’ or ‘ultra-low fat’ yogurts have very high carbohydrate and sugar counts and a far less creamy texture. Generally, choose a yogurt in the range of 1.5-5% mf. If yogurt is what you opt for instead of a rich dessert, or if it’s for kids or anyone who needs to keep weight on or gain weight, a 9% or higher mf, as is typically found in Mediterranean-style yogurt, is a great way to go.
Limit the Add-Ins and Sugar
To reduce sugar intake, if you like flavoured yogurt, select a quality plain yogurt to which you add your own nuts, seeds, toasted oats, berries, or pureed real fruit instead of the jam-like substance the flavoured ones often come with.
If choosing a fruit-flavoured yogurt, compare brands and choose the one with the lowest grams of sugar that are still in that 1.5-5% mf range. Don’t consider yogurt a way to get fibre, iron, vitamin C or other nutrients that are found in far higher quantities in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
When choosing yogurt, consider it to primarily be a source of protein, calcium, and nourishing calories. It is not typically a source of vitamin D. Greek yogurt, thicker for having some whey strained out, is significantly higher in protein than non-Greek style yogurt. Some yogurts contain gelatin to make it thicker. Eating or avoiding that is a matter of personal preference.
Yogurt naturally contains bacterial culture and if the label states that it has active bacterial culture, it will have probiotics. Read claims carefully to ensure the digestive system benefits of the product are not being overstated. To be called a probiotic food, yogurt must contain at least one billion live probiotic cultures of a recognized probiotic species per serving.
If you shop in a store that employs a dietitian or pharmacist, they are an excellent resource in determining if you need extra probiotics from food or supplements based on your unique needs. It is also valuable to know that pre- and pro-biotics are found in many fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods in addition to yogurt.
To save money, check the unit pricing. If you don’t need little individual containers of yogurt, it is usually more cost effective to buy the larger containers. However, the individual ones do go on sale frequently and the quality versions of those are a nice addition to school lunches or an option when on the go.
Talk to the Manager
If your favourite yogurt was removed from the offering at your local grocer, talk to the store manager or the dairy department manager to let them know. Another option is to call the head office of the company and ask to speak to the Dairy Category Manager. Customer-focused organizations will take your call and be interested in your feedback.
Readers who cook or like to experiment in the kitchen will know that it’s fairly simple to make homemade yogurt. Many straightforward recipes can be found online.
Sign up for the monthly Great Food Grown Here newsletter and stay in touch!