How to choose a healthy yogurt

Sainsbury’s sell about 400 different yogurts, with two aisles at my local one devoted to a  technicolor of the tubs, pots and bottles.Unknown-11

So what’s the difference between them all. How do you choose a good one? What is the Confuseddifference between plain and natural, Bio and live cultured, Greek and Greek Style, are low fat yogurts always loaded with sweeteners and thickeners, why does natural yogurt have sugar on the nutrition label? I’m an avid nutrition label reader (it’s part of my job), and I have to admit to being left confused and overwhelmed.

Yogurt is big business. In 2014, 80% of us bought it – that’s almost 42 million British stocking up on the (mostly) good stuff. 57% of British adults have yogurt as a dessert. Natural yogurts are the only variety that men are more likely to buy than women.

What makes yogurt ‘yogurt’??

Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with two very specific types of harmless bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermopiles (these are the only 2 cultures required by law to be present in yogurt).

The bacteria that are added to milk convert the naturally occurring sugar in milk Unknown-2(lactose) into lactic acid, which causes the milk to thicken, giving yogurt its characterised consistency and tangy taste. People who have difficulty digesting lactose in milk are generally able to tolerate yogurt better: this is because some of the lactose in yogurt has been broken down by the harmless bacteria used to make the yogurt.

Extra bacterial cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria may be added to yogurt as probiotic cultures. These probiotic cultures benefit human health by improving lactose digestion, gastrointestinal function, and stimulating the immune system.

In the UK, yogurt is most commonly made from cows’ milk and can be made using full-fat or lower-fat milk. New variations are also available: soy, coconut, sheep’s, goat.

  • Plain/natural: yogurt at its simplest, with no additional ingredients. Just milk and the bacteria
  • Flavoured: with added sugar, honey, fruit juice, natural flavours, sweeteners, syrups, whole or puréed fruit and/or cereals.
  • Low-fat: contains no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Fat-free: contains no more than 0.5 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Light: contains 30% less of a specific nutrient (for example, sugar or fat) compared to a range of similar products.
  • Greek yogurt (not Greek Style yogurt): genuine Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt, removing the liquid whey and resulting in 2 to 3 times higher protein content.Unknown copy 7  Greek yogurt is available in full fat, reduced fat and 0% fat. Even the 0% fat Greek yogurt is much thicker than regular yogurt. Total by Fage is a popular one.
  • Live yogurts:  The majority of yogurts sold in the UK are ‘live’ yogurts – this means that they contain live bacteria, even if not stated on the label. Some yogurts have extra beneficial bacteria added e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria. To identify if there are these extra biocultures added, you need to look on the ingredients label (due to EU legislation a manufacturer can not claim on the front of the pot that it contains ‘probiotics’)
  • Calcium: Yogurt made from milk is one of the best absorbed dietary sources of calcium. Calcium is needed for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth and is also important for blood clotting, wound healing and maintaining normal blood pressure. Most yogurts also contain varying amount of vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium.
This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

Sugar: This is where it can get confusing. Many people ask me about yogurts and sugar, or make the comment that all yogurts are high in sugar. Because yogurt is made from milk, it will contain some naturally occurring sugars (lactose), from 3g/100g to 7g/100g; the amount of lactose depends on how much of it the bacteria has turned in to lactic acid.  So although a plain/natural yogurt does not have added sugar, on the nutrition label you will read that there is sugar……confusing!

However, many manufacturers load their yogurts with sugar and very sweet fruit purees or juice. Unfortunately, the label does not differentiate between the naturally occurring lactose and this added sugar.

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is added sugar (not good)

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is about 2 teaspoons of added sugar (not good)

How to choose a healthy yogurt

Ideally, choose a plain/natural yogurt and if you  want flavour or sweetness, add your own e.g. fruit, puree, vanilla extract, jam, sugar or honey. That way, you have more control over the amount of added sugars. One teaspoon of honey, jam or sugar is approximately 5g of sugar.

If choosing a flavoured yogurt, look for one that has below 12g/100g of sugar. This generally indicates that there has been less than a teaspoon of sugar added.

 

 

Below is a comparison of just a few of the most popular yogurts in UK supermarkets. I’m a fan of the Total Greek Unknown-10yogurts, due to the high protein, low sugar and extra bacteria probiotic bacteria Unknown-6added (high protein yogurts have been shown to make you feel full up for longer and reduce appetite). I must give St Helen’s Goat yogurt a try, nutritionally I would award it second Unknown-9place, but I’ve never tasted it! Onken Naturally Set also has a great nutritional profile, although lower in protein than Total.

 

All amounts are per 100g (about half a cup)

Calories Sugars Protein Fat Extra Probiotic bacteria added
Sainsbury’s Greek Style 120 5 4 9
Yeo Valley Full Fat Plain 82 7 5 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium
Onken Naturally Set 68 3 4 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium
Yeo Valley Greek Style 150 14 3 8 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium
Total Full Fat 96 4 9 5 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Total 0% 57 4 10 0 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Danio flavoured 100 12 7 2
Activia Strawberry 99 13 4 3 Bifidobacterium Lactis (Bifidus ActiRegularis®)
Yeo Valley Fruity Favourites 107 13 5 4 Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus
Alpro Soy Cherry 73 9 4 2
Muller Crunch Corner Choc & Vanilla balls 148 18 4 5
Co Yo (coconut yogurt) 183 1 3 19
Woodland Sheep Natural 92 5 5 6 Lactobacillus acidophilus

 

St Helens Goats Natural 105 3 6 7 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium

Children’s yogurts are a WHOLE new ball game which deserve a post all of their own……watch this space!

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2 thoughts on “How to choose a healthy yogurt

  1. justchunty says:

    Very interesting post. I have read that vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. However I have found only one brand that adds vitamin D. Is it necessary to find a yogurt fortified with vitamin D?

  2. sarahdietitian says:

    You are right that vitamin D is required to absorb calcium. Vitamin D does not naturally occur in milk/yogurt. There are two sources of vitamin D, it is made in the skin by exposure to sunlight and there are a few dietary sources, such as oily fish, eggs, and fortified foods including margarine (which is required by law to contain vitamin D), some yogurts (usually kids yogurt) and breakfast cereals. Here is a post I wrote all about vitamin D
    https://sarahdietitian.com/2013/03/30/vitamin-d/
    Hope that helps!

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