Nutrition Articles

How to Buy the Best Yogurt

Navigate the Dairy Case with Confidence


Fillers and Extras Other ingredients that you may find on the ingredients label include:
  • Additional dairy products, such as nonfat dry milk solids, casein, and whey protein are added to boost the nutrition profile (especially calcium or protein), and to improve the flavor and texture or reduced fat yogurts.
  • Colorings are added for aesthetic reasons only.
  • Gelatin and/or pectin act as stabilizers. Vegetarians should keep in mind that gelatin comes from animals (unless otherwise stated on the label), but pectin comes from plants.
  • Caloric sweeteners, such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Some yogurts contain multiple types of sweeteners. Most low-fat and fat free yogurts contain more sweeteners than full fat yogurts, in order to improve taste and flavor.
  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium, or neotame. These are common in "diet" yogurts and "sugar free" or "no sugar added" varieties.
  • Inulin (chicory root) is a fiber extracted from chicory roots. Humans don't have the enzyme necessary to break it down, so it's poorly absorbed and acts as fiber (indigestible plant matter). Research has shown that inulin may boost the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon, and is therefore considered a prebiotic. However, research is limited regarding inulin and health and some people can experience adverse digestive reactions when they consume too much of it. Do not rely on yogurt fortified with inulin to have the same health benefits as a high fiber diet.
  • Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that help promote a healthy digestive system. Two such bacteria cultures, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are used to make all yogurts. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) developed a “Live and Active Cultures” seal to identify a yogurt that contains 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacturing. Yogurt companies must pay several thousand dollars each year to use this seal on their products. Smaller yogurt companies may not participate due to the high cost of using the seal, even though they may contain live and active cultures. These days, several yogurt companies are now putting additional probiotics and cultures (such as Bifidobacterium BB-12) into their yogurts and making claims regarding immunity and digestive health. These cultures are safe for consumption and some research shows that they may improve the health of the immune and digestive systems. Keep in mind that eating a yogurt with added probiotics could be one of many ways to enhance your immune system or improve digestive function. Research has shown that regular yogurt (without additional probiotics) can enhance the immune and digestive systems, too.
  • Omega-3's, such as DHA, are added to some yogurts, but there is very little evidence that DHA prevents memory loss or boosts your intelligence as the yogurt label and advertising may indicate. Furthermore, the amount of DHA added to these yogurts is minimal (about 32 milligrams). Don’t be taken in by this slick marketing. Continued ›
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

    I like Costco's Kirkland brand of Greek Yogurt. Plain, non-fat, its only ingredient is milk and live/active cultures. It's creamy & fits all the requirements listed above. If I want sweet, I add small amount of honey or my fav jam and/or some fruit.

    I wish it was in low-fat option, but that's what they have.

    And the price is substantially lower than any other Greek yogurt out there. - 11/7/2014 2:08:13 PM
    the non-fat and low-fat yogurts aren't a better choice. This only means they are more processed. If you are looking for "clean" eating yogurt, is it better to go for the full fat - less processed. Anything that says low-fat is a more processed version. the more processed something is the less healthy or good it is for your body. - 11/7/2014 12:53:34 PM
  • The "light" yogurts all have artificial sweetener in them, and I can't eat them since they replaced the good old-fashioned aspartame with sucralose.

    That stuff gives me horrendous, painful gas.

    I switched to the stuff with real sugar in it, and I find it works better anyway because it's more filling. - 11/7/2014 9:03:24 AM
  • I love homemade and you can make greek as well. - 7/8/2014 1:21:55 PM
    Siggi's is delicious yogurt, only a couple of stores in my area carry it. My favorite is Stonyfield Organic nonfat greek in vanilla. Only 100 calories per carton - I add fresh fruit, currently strawberries, blueberries, and/or peaches. A couple of tablespoons of wheat germ, and my favorite lunch - yogurt parfait! - 7/8/2014 12:27:03 PM
  • Really surprised that Siggi's yogurt isn't on that list... - 7/8/2014 12:07:23 PM
  • love the chart, won't need my glasses in the dairy aisle next trip! - 4/22/2014 1:51:59 PM
  • Making yogurt, Greek yogurt and skyr is so easy... Skyr comes out thick like cream cheese. You can create your own flavors (lemon ginger, cinnamon, almond cherry
    ) and Dutch processed cocoa; I still buy yogurt for convenience. This article doesn't mention that the culture feeds on sugar, so the actual lactose content is a little lower that that of the milk from which it was made. This stuff is a nutritional power punch. I also put in PB2, which is peanut butter powder without the fat, and it's SO yummy!!! Like peanut butter pie without the fat. (Assuming you start with nonfat milk.). The skyr is so thick, you don't miss the fat. I prefer to make my own so that I know exactly what is in it. It's great for dessert; so healthy. There's a reason people have been eating it since the dawn of time. =) - 4/22/2014 3:26:48 AM
  • Making - 4/22/2014 3:14:44 AM
  • If yogurt contains sugar, is it really good for you - 2/22/2014 10:58:35 AM
  • I also make homemade Greek yogurt with 1% milk, flavored with vanilla and a bit of honey. I put it on a pile of frozen rasp/black/bluebe
    rries with a bit of granola for breakfast most mornings. Delicious!

    I am disappointed that the article fails to mention something rather important, though. Fat-free yogurt does you almost no good when it comes to the vit D and calcium - fat is needed to absorb the vit D, and the vit D is needed to absorb the calcium. It's a Fat-D-Calcium triangle.

    Even if you're trying to lose weight, a 6oz serving of Dannon whole-milk plain yogurt is 120 cal, only 40 cal more than the fat free - it's easy enough to cut those 40 calories out elsewhere if you need to (or burn them off). The low-fat is 100cal, so only 20 cals to cut or burn there.

    As to the 6g fat - well, again, Fat-D-Calcium triangle. The fat-free diet has been debunked, so since you need some fat anyhow, may as well get it from yogurt. And the low-fat Dannon is only 2.5g fat so you get the benefit without as much of the ...whatever scares people about dairy fat.

    Lastly, a word on Greek yogurt and calcium: There is calcium lost in the straining process, but by my calculations (subtracting what is in the resulting volume of whey [http://ndb.nal.u
    oods/show/101] from what was in the original volume of milk), you retain about 60% of the calcium that was in the milk to start with. However, since it is condensed, you actually (or should, anyhow) wind up with more calcium in the Greek yogurt than in the starting milk on a volume for volume basis (ie. 6oz volume of Greek yogurt has more calcium in it than a 6oz volume of the milk it was made from). (addl. refs.:
    ods/show/107 and
    ods/show/78 - each adjusted to/based on a 6oz serving, with 13g protein per serving required to be considered Greek yogurt. And which makes me wonder how it is that Fage, Chobani, and others only have 20%DV calcium when - purely on the maths - they should have 30% or more. Between that and the expense of i... - 12/31/2013 5:30:52 PM
    Amen to the person who mentioned skyr or Icelandic style yogurt. It is delicious, very thick and creamy. Saw Siggi's in the Target a couple of weeks ago and glad I tried it. Their berry flavors have only 110 calories and 11 grams of sugar. Love mine with extra berries and a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ! - 10/27/2013 3:26:37 PM
  • I had a cup of Yoplait with granola for breakfast. It's regular ol' red and white carton Yoplait (apple crisp flavor!) and it fits within the guidelines given in this article, which makes me feel better about not buying light. :) - 10/10/2013 2:37:58 PM
  • I ate yogurt and enjoyed it until i found out how much salt it contains I will still eat it but be more careful how often. - 9/29/2013 11:53:08 PM
  • YAHOO95
    Even though this is an older article it popped up in my email so thought I'd comment. I love real Greek yogurt but the junk in the stores is nothing like it (at least 99% aren't). It's so easy to make your own in the old days we put it in a cheap styrofoam icechest (in jars of course) and it kept it warm enough. The crockpot method is great also. I just use organic plain (no fillers) as a starter. If you get one with pectin gelatin etc it won't work as well. Once it's ready just drain it and it's very close to traditional Greek. Drain it more and you have yogurt cheese. Also I use lowfat - not only is it firmer and more flavorful, there are some studies indicating that dairy fat (in moderation) has benefits. (Of course if you are dairy adverse this doesn't apply to you - I know there will be comments about avoiding dairy). I make enough for my dogs and me and it costs about 10% of prepared yogurt. For nonGreek, it's almost 1:1, ie 1 quart of millk makes about 1 quart of yogurt. Check the price for 32 oz yogurt versus 32 oz milk and you'll be shocked. If you compare to individual serving pricing, switching to homemade saves a ton of money. If you want flavored use real fruit (not preserves), a little honey if you need it sweet. I find homemade is not as tart so no need for additions - you'll need to experiment with temp and times to finetune the flavor strength and texture. - 9/29/2013 7:15:15 PM

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