Everyone has a favorite yogurt–the perfect creaminess, tang, consistency, and flavor. Whichever your brand, the best choice from a nutritional perspective is plain without any added sugar (e.g., sugar should not be listed as an ingredient, nor should fructose or sucrose). Contribute your own sweetness with a few berries or some crunch with toasted nuts or toasted oatmeal. An enormously important factor in choosing a yogurt is the probiotic content–that’s the reason we really eat yogurt (aside from its delicious taste and the satisfying feeling we get from adding it to a meal). Probiotics help keep an essential balance of flora in our digestive system which can improve the functioning of our immune system. Products like “Yoplait Light” do not contain probiotics and have added sugars, corn starch, and artificial ingredients.
According to Dr. Gerald Mullin, M.D. of Johns Hopkins Medical School (and author of Gut Balance Revolution), yogurt containing live cultures has been shown to decrease total cholesterol while increasing the HDL, the cholesterol we want more of. He believes that It tends to keep blood sugar stable over time by digesting slowly and steadily due to its relatively high protein content but also because it contains probiotics (pp.121-122). Gut Balance Revolution cites numerous studies that suggest that fermented dairy supports healthy weight loss, and Dr. Mullin lists yogurt as one of his ten superfoods (p. 123 and endnotes p. 370).
None of the yogurts listed below have any added sugar. Where “sugars” are listed, they are a component of natural sugars found in the milk and are part of the carbohydrate content. Sugar content varies, even in yogurts made with the same milk, depending on the fermentation process and how much of the sugars are eaten by the live cultures.
When comparing yogurt nutritional levels, note that some individual serving-size containers are 8 ounces (1 cup), and some are listed as 6 ounces.
TRADITIONAL PLAIN YOGURTS
Here in the Northwest, Nancy’s is one of the more popular yogurts. A Eugene, Oregon family-operated company for over 50 years, Nancy’s began adding probiotics to its yogurt in 1970. One serving (8 ounces) of its nonfat plain yogurt contains 127 billion total live cultures, 54 billion live probiotic cultures, and 6 live active culture strains. Eight ounces of Nancy’s has 12 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and 120 calories. No cane sugar, stabilizers, thickeners or anything artificial is used in their yogurts and they undergo an 8-hour culture in the cup.
Straus Family Creamery
Straus Family Creamery yogurts, are a European style yogurt and generally thicker and creamier than Nancy’s, which runs on the tart side due to the large number of probiotics. All of Straus’ products are organic. Founded in 1994, it is both an organic dairy and an organic creamery and is located along the northern California coastline. It was the first certified organic creamery in the U.S. Their yogurt has four active live culture strains and is cooked in stainless-steel vats rather than plastic containers. Chez Panisse and The French Laundry are listed as two of the top California restaurants to use Straus Family Creamery products.
Stonyfield Organic Yogurt
Stonyfield has been making yogurt in New Hampshire since 1983. Founded by two organic farming instructors, their business practices include meeting green building standards and being the first to use recycled cups made from plants. Stonyfield yogurt contains 6 active live culture strains of probiotics, and added Vitamin D and pectin. A six-ounce serving of their nonfat plain yogurt has 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 80 calories.
White Mountain Organic Bulgarian Yogurt
White Mountain yogurt has the distinction of the highest per-serving probiotic content of any national brand–up to 90 billion probiotics per serving. Their full 24-hour fermentation process helps reduce the lactose content of the yogurt, and according to White Mountain’s website, this process also increases the “availability of all the nutrients found in milk.” The most noticeable feature of this yogurt is its delightfully tart taste, due in part to the high probiotic content. A corresponding feature is that this yogurt has about half of the sugars and carbohydrates of other nonfat yogurts, with numbers more similar to a greek yogurt. An eight ounce serving of White Mountain nonfat yogurt has 8 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of sugars, and 8 grams of protein. The calorie count is one quarter less than for other nonfat yogurts (90 calories per cup rather than 120 calories). It is pricier. Sold in glass jars, I purchased mine at PCC on sale for $5.49 for a one quart jar (4 cups). Regular price at PCC is $5.99. I mix mine with a little of the Nancy’s organic greek yogurt to stretch the jar and get little more protein (White Mountain’s protein level is also about one quarter less than for other nonfat yogurts).
Grace Harbor Farms Yogurt
Grace Harbor Farms Yogurt–Located north of Bellingham, Washington close to the Canadian border. Operating since 1999, this very small local company adds 4 live, active probiotic culture strains to its non-homogenized whole milk yogurts. Their plain variety has 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates (6 of which are sugars), 8 grams of fat, and 166 calories. Grace Harbor Farms got their start retailing goat’s milk soap which is still a best-seller. Check store availability in addition to PCC at stores.graceharborfarms.com
Greek yogurts tend to be thicker than regular yogurt and higher in protein content. They are nearly 100 % casein, according to Dr. Mullin because the whey is strained out to enhance thickness. They are typically lower in carbohydrate content. Regular yogurt, on other hand, has a far lower level of caseins and more whey, yet is lower in lactose than milk, due to the fact that the friendly bacteria digest some of the lactose as part of the fermentation process.
Fage greek yogurt contains five different strains of live cultures. One cup of its nonfat yogurt contains 23 grams of protein with 9 grams of carbohydrates and 130 calories. This is one of the thickest greek yogurts on the market with a consistency much like sour cream. For that reason, it’s a great addition to savory recipes–I use it instead of mayonaise in deviled eggs with dill and capers.
Trader Joe’s Greek Yogurt
Several hundred tubs of this yogurt have passed through my refrigerator. A regular breakfast for my husband for years, topped with berries and a few chopped nuts, it is not quite as thick than Fage brand and has a pleasant tartness. The Trader Joe’s brand lists five strains of active and live cultures and contains 22 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbohydrates, and 120 calories in a one-cup serving. The yogurt is cultured after pasteurization, which is key. A good value in greek yogurt.
Chobani Greek Yogurt
The most popular national brand of authentic greek yogurt is Chobani. Begun eleven years ago by Hamdi Ulukaya from Turkey, is it produced in New York. Chobani contains milk and 5 live and active cultures (including 3 probiotics) and is Kosher certified. It also lists the lactose content of its products– less than 5%. Eight ounces of Chobani plain greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugars, and 130 calories. Individual 5.3 ounce servings have 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of carbs, and 90 calories.
Nancy’s Organic Greek Yogurt
Nancy’s has also recently added a greek organic yogurt to its line of products. Slightly creamier than Fage and a little less tart than Trader Joe’s greek yogurt, it has a delightful consistency especially when mixed with a bit of White Mountain yogurt. Blending the best of both worlds–higher protein with tartness. It contains 4 live probiotic cultures and two live yogurt cultures. A six-ounce serving has 22 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of sugars. This serving size (6 oz.) is smaller than many serving sizes listed on nutritional labels–most are 8 ounces, or one cup.