What to Look for in Yogurt

By Lynn Dugan, MS, RD
yogurt and berries

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What is cool, creamy and delicious? Yogurt! Even better, it is a great part of a healthy diet for kids. Yogurt is rich in protein and calcium and contains potassium. One cup counts as one of the three dairy servings recommended for children 9 years old through adulthood by USDA's MyPlate. For 2- and 3-year-olds, two cups of dairy is recommended and 2½ cups for 4- to 8-year-olds. Yogurt can also contain live, active bacteria cultures, as indicated on the label. These cultures, or probiotics, are considered "good bacteria" for the gut and can help maintain healthy digestive systems.

Yogurt comes in an array of flavors and styles. On a single trip to the supermarket, a shopper could easily see more than a dozen different brands with multiple varieties of each. Between low-fat, fat-free, fruited, flavored, plain, Greek and traditional — the choices can be overwhelming. Tweet this Here is a breakdown to help you select what's best for you and your family.

Whole Milk, Low-Fat or Fat-Free?

Overall, it is best to choose low-fat or fat-free yogurt as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. There are many delicious low-fat and fat-free options to choose from.

Fruited, Flavored or Plain?

Added sugar is a common ingredient in fruited and flavored varieties of yogurt. Skip the added sugars by choosing plain yogurt and adding your own fruit or flavors such as cinnamon and vanilla. You should note that when you read the Nutrition Facts label on plain yogurt, you still will see that it lists "sugar" even though no sugar has been added. This is because even plain yogurt contains lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk.

In 2016, the FDA announced updates to the Nutrition Facts label. The new labels, which manufacturers will need to use by July 2018, will make it easier for consumers to know the added sugars in packaged foods.

Greek Yogurt or Traditional Yogurt?

Greek yogurt is strained. This process makes it thicker, creamier and smoother than traditional yogurt. It also has double the protein of traditional yogurt, but reduced calcium. In both traditional and Greek yogurts, bacteria cultures help break down lactose, so yogurt is sometimes an easier dairy food to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. Greek yogurt has less lactose than traditional yogurt, so lactose-sensitive individuals may tolerate it even better than traditional yogurt.

Whether low-fat or fat-free, Greek or traditional, there are many ways to enjoy yogurt. Try these easy breakfast, snack or dessert ideas with your family:

  • Yogurt parfaits (layer yogurt, whole-grain cereal and fruit, such as bananas or berries)
  • Yogurt smoothies (blend equal parts fruit and juice with 2 parts yogurt)
  • Yogurt dip (perfect for your favorite fruits — including apple slices, orange sections or fruit kabobs)

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