Did you know that the dairy aisle in your local supermarket is home to one of the healthiest foods in the grocery store? That’s right, we’re talking about yogurt—not frozen, heat-treated, or heavily sweetened varieties; but plain, simple, deliciously natural yogurt. Whether you’re whipping it into a smoothie, substituting it as a low-cal option into your favorite recipes, or simply enjoying it on its own, this healthy treat has become wildly popular with snackers of all ages—and for good reason. Doctors, researchers, and nutritionists have long regarded it as a powerhouse of nutrition for the whole family, and a growing amount of research continues to prove this. Just a single serving contains a veritable goldmine of power-boosting nutrients and bone-building vitamins that are known to assist your body in combating common medical conditions.
Grab a container of yogurt after a workout for extra hydration and faster muscle repair; sip it as part of a smoothie when you’re feeling under the weather to help strengthen your immune system; and indulge in at least one serving a day for a healthier colon; quicker vitamin absorption; protection against gastrointestinal infections; potentially reduced risks of osteoporosis, high cholesterol, and hypertension; and an increased ability to lose weight and keep it off.
With so many prospective health benefits, it’s easy to understand why reaching for a brightly colored container is a smart idea. But don’t be fooled—not all yogurts contain equal amounts of nutrients. Your best bet is to stick with plain yogurt, which contains more calcium, twice the amount of proteins, no added sugar, and half the calories than other varieties that have added fruit or other sweeteners. It also contains good bacteria, or probiotics, that are responsible for most of the health benefits associated with yogurt consumption. Check the container to make sure the label says “live and active cultures,” or that live cultures are listed among the ingredients before you buy.
Now that you know just how much your body will benefit from eating yogurt, we thought we’d make it easy for you to get started. Try out a few of these delectable recipes and let yogurt become an important part of your daily diet today.
Tips for Buying the Healthiest Yogurt
You’re standing in front of that large, refrigerated wall in the dairy aisle of your local grocery store—the one displaying every flavor, color, brand, and variety of yogurt imaginable. With so many options to choose from, we know this can feel slightly overwhelming. How can you tell the difference between which yogurts are best and which are just OK? It’s actually not as difficult as you might think.
Live and Active Cultures
What makes yogurt so good for you (besides the generous doses of calcium, protein, and B vitamins) is the presence of probiotics—a good kind of bacteria that, if consumed live and in sufficient quantities, is responsible for most of yogurt’s manifold health benefits. However, if yogurt is heat-treated post-fermentation in order to ensure a longer shelf life, these good bacteria will die, reducing yogurt’s benefits to your body. The National Yogurt Association has developed a “Live and Active Cultures” label that appears on containers where significant levels of this good bacteria are present; but since this seal doesn’t appear on every brand containing these probiotics, check the ingredient list for references to living or active yogurt cultures. (But take note—the words “made with active cultures” doesn’t necessarily mean the cultures are currently active.)
Apart from probiotics, there are several other ways to tell whether or not you’re buying the most nutritious yogurt. For example, those flavored with fruit and other novelties can be high in sugar, fat, and artificial preservatives. Some highly sweetened varieties dish out more calories in the sweetener than in the yogurt itself. Be sure to read the protein and sugar-content values on the label; the higher the protein and the lower the sugar, the more actual yogurt you’re consuming.
Displaced by Fruit
Yogurt with added fruit also contains less calcium, as the fruit in the cup takes up precious space and minimizes the amount of yogurt in the cup. To be fair, none of these yogurts are technically bad for you, but many are healthier than others—and generally speaking, the fewer the ingredients, the healthier the yogurt. Plain varieties, made with milk and live cultures only, are among the healthiest kinds you can choose.
If you find the taste of plain yogurt too tart for your palate, mix your own flavors at home. Sweeten plain yogurt yourself by mixing in fresh or frozen fruit, a dash of vanilla extract, or a sprinkle of ground cinnamon—a much healthier way to add flavor than prepackaged kinds. For a little extra crunch, toss in some almonds, pecans, dried fruits, raisins, coconut, and other trailmix favorites as tasty toppings.
Swap It Out
Yogurt is not only tasty—it’s a versatile, low-cal substitute for sour cream, mayonnaise, whipped cream, and more. Make your favorite meals even more nutritious by swapping yogurt into your recipes. Need inspiration? Check out some of these suggestions.
- Add a dollop of plain yogurt in place of sour cream as a healthy topping for tacos, fajitas, and other Mexican specialties.
- Create a delicious cheesecake by replacing 11/2 pounds of cream cheese with 6 cups of plain, drained yogurt.
- Replace half the amount of mayonnaise in potato or macaroni salads with plain yogurt.
- Garnish bean soups or chili with a tablespoon of plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Make a tasty party dip by replacing sour cream with 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt blended with 1/2 a cup of ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup chopped herbs, and salt and pepper.
- Forget the whipped cream and top your favorite desserts with 1 to 2 tablespoons of a low-fat or nonfat vanilla-flavored yogurt.