What to Look for on a Yogurt Label
The yogurt section in the dairy aisle has been expanding rapidly, with more spins on the creamy delight than you can shake a spoon at. The next time you're adding yogurt to your shopping cart, here are some things to keep in mind as you scan the label.
All yogurts contain sugar. Yogurt is made from milk, which contains lactose, a natural sugar found in milk. It's the added sugar -- what the yogurt manufacturer brings to the mix -- that buyers need to watch out for. Fruit-flavored yogurt and honey-flavored yogurt have more sugar than plain because of added sugars. If you read the ingredient list, you will see words like fructose and evaporated cane sugar, both of which are simply different names for sugar. A good rule of thumb: If a yogurt contains more than 20 grams of sugar per serving, it's more of a dessert than a healthful snack.
Instead of sugar, some brands choose to sweeten yogurt using artificial sweeteners (to cut calories). I prefer to choose a small amount of natural sugar over the artificial varieties. (Here's a low-down on artificial sweeteners you may come across.)
Look for labels that have a simple ingredient list. Some brands have a laundry list of thickeners, stabilizers and other additives. My policy is, if I can't pronounce it, I don't buy it.
These days, the two most popular options in the yogurt section are traditional yogurt and Greek yogurt. As most shoppers have come to learn, traditional yogurt has a more watery consistency. But it also provides about double the calcium (when comparing nonfat plain varieties). Because Greek yogurt is strained, it has a thicker, creamier texture. It also has less sugar, less sodium and twice the amount of protein compared with traditional yogurt. In addition, it has less lactose, making it potentially more amenable to those who are lactose-intolerant.
Most traditional and Greek yogurts come in low-fat and nonfat varieties. (A handful of companies produce full-fat Greek yogurt.) Don't get me wrong: Full-fat yogurt is fabulous, but the extra fat comes from saturated fat, which may raise "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. Save the full-fat yogurts for an occasional treat and lean toward nonfat or low-fat varieties for regular eating.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition and is also the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day. She is a consultant for the National Dairy Council and other food associations.