June marks National Dairy Month, a month where we recognize the many benefits of dairy products in the American Diet as well as the hardworking farmers who commit to providing us with delicious, nutritious dairy foods. From cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, ice cream, and pudding…what’s not to love? Dairy is encouraged as a regular part of a healthy diet by the DASH diet, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the Mediterranean diet.
Milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese, are nutrient-dense foods that provide the body with a variety of nutrients for good health. Compared to the calories it provides, milk provides a high level of essential nutrients. Dairy products are a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin. It is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin B12.
For National Dairy Month, we decided to highlight one of our favorite dairy foods: yogurt! Being rich in calcium, protein, probiotics, and other vitamins and minerals, yogurt is a food worth celebrating! The calcium and phosphorus in yogurt can help build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Yogurt is well-loved among all ages due to its creamy, sweet taste. Research has shown that eating adequate amounts of dairy products during childhood and adolescence can help to build bone mass and that consuming it throughout the lifespan can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Since dairy is a good source of both potassium and calcium, dairy foods can also help in maintaining healthy blood pressure as well.
Protein content varies depending on the variety of yogurt you choose with Greek and Icelandic yogurt being higher in protein and non-dairy yogurts being lower. Protein from dairy products can help to build and repair muscle tissue. With the unique nutrients found in yogurt plus the cell-building protein, it is a great food at any age to limit bone and muscle mass loss.
The digestive benefits of probiotics in yogurt cultures have been the focus of many consumers looking to receive health benefits. Scientists have found that eating yogurt with live and active cultures may aid digestion, ease diarrhea, boost immunity, fight infection, and protect against cancer. These probiotics also produce lactase during fermentation, which breaks down lactose, allowing people with lactose intolerance to enjoy yogurt without their typical tummy troubles. Yogurt with live and active cultures provides the body with different strains of probiotics. But again, just because you are buying something labeled “yogurt,” does not necessarily mean that you are getting probiotics as well. The specific health benefits and probiotic contents depend on the strain of the culture and type of product you purchase. Make sure you choose yogurts that state they contain "live and active cultures."
Yogurt has gained popularity in the health and wellness market over the last 10 years due to its high protein content, gut-promoting probiotics, and low-fat varieties. There are endless options of yogurts when walking down the dairy aisle. You can even find yogurt on restaurant menus as many people are looking for healthier options while dining out. With so many choices, how do you know which yogurt is best for you? Are there benefits to certain yogurt types? Keep reading to find out the difference between Regular, Greek, Icelandic, Kefir, Frozen, and Non-Dairy yogurt options.
Traditional yogurt is the most frequent type of yogurt you will find at grocery stores, restaurants, or other places you may purchase food. Yogurt is a fermented milk product that is smooth and creamy. Yogurt can be found unsweetened or sweetened and non-fat or full-fat. It is important to watch out for added sugars in regular yogurt because the sugars can add up fast from added sweeteners and flavorings. Calories, fat, and carbohydrates can vary widely due to the different fat content and different types of sweeteners used. Plain non-fat yogurt contains 7g of protein for an 8-ounce serving. It is a great source of calcium, with 300 mg per serving. If you are a fan of regular yogurt, your best bet is to stick to plain nonfat yogurt and add your own toppings such as fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, or low sugar cereals to help cut back on added sugars.
Greek yogurt is thicker and tangier than traditional yogurt. Because Greek yogurt is strained, unlike traditional yogurt, it has a much higher protein content which has caught the eye of many health-conscious individuals. Greek yogurt packs 15 grams of protein per 5-ounce serving, more than double the protein of the same amount of traditional yogurt. It does, however, have slightly less calcium you would receive from regular yogurt. Greek yogurt is often more expensive than traditional yogurt. This is because it takes a higher amount of dairy milk to make Greek yogurt as it does to make traditional yogurt. Another appeal of Greek yogurt is that it often contains fewer carbohydrates and sugars, this combined with the higher protein content makes it better at stabilizing blood sugars. Again, our top pick for Greek yogurts, would be plain Greek yogurt to help limit added sugars. Plain Greek yogurt is also a great substitute for sour cream, butter, and cream cheese in recipes.
If you have picky children that don’t like the texture of yogurt or if you are always on-the-go, drinkable yogurt may be a good option for you. These yogurt varieties have a thinner texture than all other yogurts. Often made by adding fluid milk to yogurt, it has a lot of the same benefits as regular yogurt. The only thing you want to watch out for, again, is added sugars. Since many drinkable yogurts are marketed to children, they often have many hidden sugars to help increase the acceptability of these drinks in kids. Kefir is a fermented milk product that is made with specific kefir “grains” which help to increase the amount and variety of gut-promoting healthy bacteria. Kefir is enjoyed much like a drinkable yogurt but often is tangier and, if very fresh can have a bubbly texture due to the fermentation process. Kefir often is promoted in health and wellness circles because it can help diversify the probiotics which are thought to help promote a healthy digestive tract. Some drinkables are now adding probiotics and prebiotics to their products to market their products as digestive drinks. Prebiotics are fibers that provide “food” for the probiotics to thrive in the digestive tract. Having both prebiotics and probiotics in the diet helps to keep the colon healthy.
A personal favorite is Skyr or Icelandic-style yogurt. This product is very similar to Greek yogurt, in that it is a strained, fermented dairy product. Technically Skyr is a soft cheese rather than yogurt. Icelandic yogurt has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years but is fairly new in the United States. Traditionally it is made from fat-free milk and is strained to remove the whey. This creates a thick, creamy texture similar to Greek yogurt but has a milder, tangier flavor. Skyr is a top pick nutritionally because it is very high in protein, with 17 grams per serving and is very low in sugar with only 3 grams per serving. Many brands sold in the US have very clean labels with simple ingredients. Skyr is a wonderful addition to breakfast or as a snack, but much like plain Greek yogurt is also a great substitute for sour cream, cream cheese, and butter in recipes to help lower the fat and increase the protein in your cooking or baking.
For those who love ice cream but are watching their calories and fat, frozen yogurt is often a go-to. Frozen yogurt is a common frozen treat enjoyed in the United States. It is often more tart than ice cream but is lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories. This is because it is made with milk instead of cream. It is important to read the food label on frozen yogurt as the nutrition information can vary depending on the mix-ins and type of yogurt used. Traditional ice cream generally contains 7 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat while the same portion of frozen yogurt may only have 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. However, frozen yogurt is lower in bone-building calcium than regular yogurt. One common misconception about frozen yogurt is that you get the same probiotic benefit from frozen yogurt as you would from regular yogurt but due to the freezing temperatures the activity of the live and active cultures is slowed which may limit the digestive benefit of probiotics in frozen yogurts.
Yogurt made from almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, and other sources has been gaining popularity as people are avoiding dairy due to concerns about lactose intolerance, going plant-based, or due to concerns about carbohydrates. The nutrition profile of these products can vary greatly. This is mainly due to the nutritional differences between the foods they are made from. For example, soy milk is a great source of protein while almond milk and coconut milk are not. But also, each of these products may be fortified with nutrients differently. Since these products are not naturally good sources of calcium or other vitamins and minerals present in dairy milk, often they have these vitamins and minerals added. Sometimes these companies do not add these vitamins and minerals, which makes reading the label extremely important to see if you are receiving calcium or vitamin D. This is especially important if you are a vegan since these vitamins are harder to get in adequate amounts on a vegan diet. For those watching carbohydrates and sugars, it is still important to read the nutrition labels on plant-based yogurts. Silk-brand yogurt ranges from 14-17 grams of sugar, So Delicious ranges from 7-20 grams, and Stonyfield Farms soy yogurts contain 21-27 grams of sugar.
At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, we often include different types of yogurt as a component of a meal or as an ingredient to help improve the nutritional benefits of our meal plans. We love that dairy foods can be a delicious addition to our meals but also increase the protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals of our foods which provides numerous health advantages to our customers. Whether you are lactose intolerant, looking to improve your digestive health, trying to increase the nutritional content of your diet, or just looking for a convenient, on-the-go snack: yogurt is a great choice all around! With so many options to choose from, we are confident you'll find a variety of yogurt that you’ll love!