Despite all of the hype, not all yogurt is good for you. Here are 8 tips to help you select the best and healthiest yogurt for you:
1. Look for live cultures. The live cultures in yogurt provide the many beneficial gut health and overall health benefits we attribute to yogurt. So be sure to look for a yogurt that says “live cultures” on the package. It could be in the ingredients list or somewhere else on the package but it needs to be there.
2. Check the sugar content. Some yogurt contains a whopping 26 to 29 grams of sugar for an individual serving of yogurt. That’s more than many soft drinks or doughnuts. Most of the sugars naturally present in milk or milk alternatives should be eliminated during the culturing process since the sugars act as food for the probiotic cultures. If the yogurt contains much sugar that means either a) the manufacturer added sugar to the yogurt after the culturing process; or b) the culturing process didn’t take place and the manufacturer added flavors and thickening agents to the milk instead.
3. Check the serving size. Some brands of yogurt list the amount of nutrients and sugars for a four-ounce serving while others indicate a six- or eight-ounce serving size. That way you can compare the amount of sugar and nutrients based on similar servings.
4. Avoid any yogurt that says it has been “heat treated” after the culturing process or during the packaging process. The beneficial probiotics that proliferate during the yogurt-making process are heat-sensitive. If they are heated during packaging or at another stage of the manufacturing process it is unlikely you will reap any of the health benefits of eating the yogurt. This type of product is better left at the store.
5. Avoid yogurt with fillers. Making yogurt takes two ingredients: a type of milk (or milk alternative) and live cultures. The cultures do the rest of the work to transform the milk into yogurt. If the yogurt you purchase contains more ingredients than just milk and live cultures it probably contains harmful ingredients like sugar, colors, fillers, or other less-than-healthy substances and is best avoided.
6. Go Greek. When it comes to yogurt varieties Greek or plain yogurt are preferable. That’s because most of these varieties contain fewer ingredients like colors, fillers, or sweeteners.
7. Dairy-free yogurt alternatives can also make excellent choices. In my research I found that dairy-free yogurt varieties often contained a greater diversity of probiotic strains than dairy yogurt. That doesn’t mean all dairy-free yogurt is better than cow’s milk yogurt, but it does mean that if you’re vegan or just avoiding milk products you can still reap the health benefits of yogurt.
8. If you’re choosing cow’s milk yogurt, choose organic as much as possible. Cow’s milk frequently contains antibiotic or other medication residues as well as the genetically-modified hormone known as rBST. BST is a hormone known as bovine somatotropin; rBST is a genetically-modified version of the hormone developed by Monsanto using genetically-engineered E. coli bacteria and is probably not something you want in your body.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules since there are many manufacturing and processing variables that determine the quality of the yogurt you choose but the above guidelines will help you pick the best one for your buck.