Yogurt: we’ve been eating it for centuries, and for good reason. It can be eaten on its own as a snack, added to a breakfast smoothie, or used to make delicious dip or dressing—the possibilities seem endless!
Yogurt is made by combining heated milk with certain bacteria, then letting it sit for several hours at 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.1 The bacteria converts lactose into lactic acid, which provides yogurt’s distinct, tart flavor.1–3 Although yogurt can be an excellent source of nutrients, not all yogurts have equal benefits.
Yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.1–4 One cup of plain yogurt made with low fat milk contains 12.9g of protein, 448mg of calcium, 353mg of phosphorus, 0.524mg of riboflavin, and 1.37µg of vitamin B12.5
Types of Yogurt
Whole-fat, low-fat, and nonfat yogurt. Yogurt can be made with whole-fat, low-fat, or skim milk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating low- or nonfat yogurt6,7 due to the saturated fat content of whole-fat yogurt. However, research has shown that consuming whole-fat dairy products does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or metabolic risk factors.8–11 One study found that whole-fat dairy consumption decreased the risk of metabolic syndrome,11 and some studies suggest that whole-fat yogurt intake might offer protective effects against cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.12 Ultimately, the decision of whether to eat whole-fat, low-fat, or nonfat yogurt depends on personal preferences and nutritional needs.
Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, which gives it a thicker, creamier texture.1,2,4,7,13 This straining process results in a higher protein content of around 15g to 20g in one 6-ounce serving. But Greek yogurt has lower calcium content than traditional yogurt.2,7,13 The increased protein of Greek yogurt can promote feeling fuller long, which might aid in appetite management.3,4 Greek yogurt also contains less carbohydrates than traditional yogurt.13 Although traditional yogurt has a lower lactose content than other dairy products,1,2 some individuals with lactose intolerance might still find traditional yogurt difficult to digest. For these individuals, Greek yogurt may be a good alternative, as its lower sugar content means it also contains less lactose than traditional yogurt.7,13
Plant-based yogurt. As with many dairy products, yogurts come in a variety of plant-based options. These yogurts can be made from ingredients such as almonds, coconuts, soy, cashews, and oats.1,4,7,14 However, pay careful attention to the nutrient profiles of these nondairy alternatives. Without fortification, nondairy yogurts have little to no calcium, and even those with added calcium tend to have less than traditional yogurt.14 Coconut milk yogurt can be higher in saturated fat than traditional yogurt,4,14 and certain almond milk-based yogurts can have higher amounts of unsaturated fat than their dairy counterparts. Soy-based yogurt typically offers a comparable amount of protein to traditional yogurt; additionally, some plant-based yogurts are fortified with soy, peas, or fava beans to increase their protein content.14
Sweetened versus unsweetened. Experts suggest avoiding yogurt sweetened with added sugars, as one eight-ounce cup of sweetened yogurt can have as much as 30g of sugar.15 A better alternative to these sugary snacks is buying plain yogurt and adding your own flavor enhancers, such as fresh or frozen fruit and honey.2,4,7,15 Plain yogurt can also be used in savory recipes, making it a versatile kitchen staple.
Yogurt has been associated with a variety of health benefits. Research has shown that eating yogurt can help alleviate irritable bowel disease and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.3,16 Certain varieties of yogurt contain probiotics, or live bacteria, which can improve gastrointestinal health and immunity.2–4
Yogurt has also been found to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health through its ability to reduce serum cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and promoting healthy blood pressure.1,3,4,16,17 Furthermore, regular yogurt consumption can help protect against Type 2 diabetes.1,16,17
With its high calcium content, yogurt also allows for the formation and maintenance of healthy bones.2,16,17 For elderly individuals, yogurt could be a key source of calcium to help maintain bone mineral density.17
Whatever variety you choose, yogurt is an excellent, healthy addition to any diet; just be sure to stick to unsweetened varieties to reap the most nutritional benefits.
Editor’s note: Consult with a qualified healthcare professional to determine how much, if any, yogurt consumption is right for you.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Yogurt. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/yogurt/. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Ware M. Everything you need to know about yogurt. Medical News Today. 11 Jan 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295714. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Elliott B, Ramburger L. 6 impressive health benefits of yogurt. Healthline. Updated 6 Apr 2022. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-yogurt. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. Is yogurt good for you? 9 Nov 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-yogurt-good-for-you/. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- FoodData Central. Yogurt, low fat milk, plain. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1097559/nutrients. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, 9th edition. Dec 2020. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Ellis E. What to look for in yogurt. 8 Jun 2022. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-to-look-for-in-yogurt. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Ducharme J. Why whole-fat milk and yogurt are healthier than you think. 11 Sep 2018. https://time.com/5391756/dairy-whole-fat-milk-yogurt/. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Benatar JR, Sidhu K, Stewart RA. Effects of high and low fat dairy food on cardio-metabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized studies. PLoS One. 2013;8(10):e76480.
- O’Sullivan TA, Schmidt KA, Kratz M. Whole-fat or reduced-fat dairy product intake, adiposity, and cardiometabolic health in children: a systematic review. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(4):928–950.
- Schaffer R. Consuming high-fat dairy tired to less metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and hypertension. Healio. 1 Jun 2020. https://www.healio.com/news/endocrinology/20200601/consuming-highfat-dairy-tied-to-less-metabolic-syndrome-diabetes-hypertension. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Hirahatake KM, Astrup A, Hill JO, et al. Potential cardiometabolic health benefits of full-fat dairy: the evidence base. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(3):533–547.
- The University of Tennessee Medical Center. The benefits of eating Greek yogurt. 15 Jul 2018. https://www.utmedicalcenter.org/the-benefits-of-eating-greek-yogurt/. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Harrar S. How nondairy yogurts stack up against the real thing. American Association of Retired Persons. 25 Feb 2022. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2022/nondairy-yogurts.html. Accessed 26 Sep 2022.
- Hasemann A. Yogurt: nutritious food or sugary treat? Pract Gastroenterol. 2014;38(2):37–46.
- Banerjee U, Halder T, Malida R et al. Variety of yogurt and its health aspects–a brief review. Int J Innov Pract Appl Res. 2017;7:56–66.
- El-Abbadi NH, Dao MC, Meydani SN. Yogurt: role in healthy and active aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(5 Suppl):1263S–1270S.