Over the last few decades, supermarkets in the U.S. have been inundated with a growing supply of new yogurt varieties. In simpler times, yogurt lovers only had to focus on buying flavors they liked the most. Today, however, the process of purchasing yogurt includes layers of decision-making, including choosing between many different types and quantities of protein, fat and sugar. To make matters even more confusing, different styles of yogurt are becoming increasingly available, such as Greek, Icelandic and French varieties.
When faced with all of these choices, you may be tempted to randomly select a container and leave the dairy aisle as fast as possible. But not all styles of yogurt are created equal, and it’s important to understand how they compare to one another nutritionally. We’ve done the detective work and sifted through the nutrient content of some of the most popular styles of yogurt that are available in stores today.
Greek yogurt is known for a thick and creamy consistency, which is the result of a specialized straining process that removes liquid whey. A typical five to six ounce (150 g) container of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt ranges is about 90 calories and 15 grams of protein, with about five grams of sugar. The high protein content can help improve satiety, preserve and repair lean body mass and support immune health.
Many Greek yogurts also contain probiotics in the form of live and active microbial species, which can improve gastrointestinal function. In terms of vitamins and minerals, most options are a good source of calcium and also provide potassium. However, not all plain Greek yogurts contain vitamin D, which is critical for bone health. Check the bottom of the Nutrition Facts Panel to determine if a particular brand contains vitamin D. If it does, consider pairing fat-free yogurt with a healthy source of fat, such as nuts or seeds to help increase the absorption of vitamin D in the gut.
In addition to plain, fat-free options, Greek yogurt may also come in varieties made with whole milk, which contain fat. Whole milk gives yogurt a deliciously rich flavor and texture, but be sure to read the labels carefully, because these varieties may also have high amounts of saturated fat.
Regardless of the milk fat content, it’s important to be conscientious when consuming any fruit- or dessert-flavored variety. While some are made with low-calorie sweeteners and have a low sugar content, others may contain some added sugars. The DGA recommend limiting intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories to help in build a healthy eating pattern. Topping plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit is a great way to add of hint of sweetness without any added sugars.
Originating from Iceland, skyr is made through a straining process similar to Greek yogurt, but due to potential differences in the type of bacterial cultures found in the product, it is actually considered to be a type of cheese. Skyr has an extremely thick, creamy texture with a uniquely tart taste profile. Like Greek yogurt, skyr can be found in both fat-free and fat-containing varieties. The overall macronutrient makeup is very similar to that of Greek yogurt with a few extra grams of protein. The fat-free, fruit-flavored varieties have similar protein content to the plain flavor, but they contain more calories and sugar. It’s also a source of calcium and potassium, but at this time, skyr is not fortified with vitamin D.
French yogurt is the newest addition to U.S. supermarket shelves. It is made by combining whole milk – no fat-free varieties here – and live bacterial cultures in small glass containers, resulting in an extremely thick and rich product with a lower protein content compared to Greek yogurt and skyr. Just like its creamy relatives, French yogurt is a source of calcium and potassium, though it is not fortified with vitamin D. A Since French yogurt is made with whole milk, there are more calories and fat in this style. In addition, the protein content is typically much lower than other styles of yogurt.
As you can see, each style of yogurt (or cheese!) has its own set of nutritional benefits. If you are looking for a filling treat without worrying about the protein content, French yogurt may be the way to go. If you’re more in the mood for a protein- and vitamin D-packed meal or snack, then Greek yogurt may be the best choice. And if you’re looking for the best of both worlds with a rich and creamy protein-packed snack, then skyr might pleasantly surprise you. Each style can find a place in a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Alison Webster, dietetic intern, contributed to this piece.