By Annie Bell
If you’ve browsed the dairy section of the grocery store in the past year or so, undoubtedly, you’ve seen the fastest growing segment of the dairy industry lining the shelves – Greek yogurt. “Fitness fanatics” and “carb counters” choose it for its high protein content, while “foodies” choose it for its tart/sour flavor and thick texture…and “health nuts” choose it for its array of immune-boosting probiotics.
But what makes Greek yogurt “Greek”? As it turns out, there’s no official definition of Greek yogurt. Traditional Greek yogurt is made the same way that “regular” yogurt is made, but with an additional straining process that removes the whey (the liquid that is present after the milk has curdled). The yogurt that’s left after the whey is strained out is “Greek” yogurt – it’s thicker in consistency, and generally higher in protein, and lower in carbohydrate, sodium, and calcium.
But since there are no rules about what can and cannot be called “Greek yogurt”, some companies skip the straining process and add other ingredients (like modified corn starch, carrageenan, or guar gum) to create a yogurt product that is similar in texture to traditionally-made Greek yogurt. To replicate the “high-protein” touted as a health benefit of “Greek yogurt”, some companies add additional protein ingredients (like soy protein isolates, whey concentrates, or milk protein concentrate). These added ingredients aren’t necessarily harmful or bad, but they just aren’t “Greek yogurt”, in the traditional sense. If you are wondering if you’ve been eating yogurt with these added “extras”, simply check the label of your favorite brand of Greek yogurt – if they are in your yogurt, they’ll be listed in the ingredient list. If you want “Greek yogurt”, in the purest sense, you should choose yogurt that lists “milk” and “life active cultures” as the main ingredients, while trying to avoid brands with “modified corn starch, carrageenan, guar gum, and/or gelatin, which are all added ingredients used to mimic traditionally made Greek yogurt .
Another misconception about Greek yogurt is that all of it is “high protein”. It’s true that traditionally made Greek yogurt is higher in protein than the “regular” variety, but you have to check the label to make sure your brand is significantly higher. Differences in the straining process can dramatically affect how much protein is in the final product. The protein content can vary from 10-18 grams per single-serving container.
Have you found Greek yogurt to be more expensive? Some of the high pricing is due to marketing hype – Greek yogurt is hot and hip – and if people are willing to pay more for it, manufacturers certainly won’t hesitate to charge! The other (more practical) reason Greek yogurts may be more expensive is that it takes more milk to create a smaller cup of yogurt (since so much volume is lost in the additional straining process).
Is Greek yogurt healthier than the regular kind? “Greek yogurt” is certainly good for you, but so is the regular kind. Compared to its regular counterpart, Greek yogurt is generally higher in protein (so it may make you feel fuller and feel full longer) with fewer carbohydrates/sugar. Both types of yogurt provide gut-friendly probiotics, bone-building calcium and phosphorus, and the blood pressure-friendly/electrolyte potassium. From a calcium-standpoint, regular yogurt generally is a winner – some brands of Greek yogurt only have . the amount of calcium as regular yogurt (though all yogurt provides SOME calcium). Health-wise (for both kinds of yogurt), it’s best to choose plain yogurt, as the flavored varieties can have large amounts of sugar (though even flavored Greek yogurt has less sugar than regular). Be sure to choose the “low fat” or “fat free” variety of any type of yogurt to keep your intake of artery-clogging, saturated fat, low. The consistency and flavor of plain Greek yogurt mimics that of sour cream, allowing it to be a higher protein, more nutrient dense, lower fat substitute for topping baked potatoes and/or making dips and creamy sauces. A quick Google search will bring up all kinds of interesting, tasty recipes that include Greek yogurt. The healthiest way to enjoy yogurt (either type) is to eat it plain or sweeten it on your own using real fruit (and perhaps a drizzle of honey, or another sugar substitute if you are strictly watching sugar/carb grams).
So, bottom-line: enjoy yogurt – it’s good for you. Buy the Greek kind if you like the texture and flavor and are looking for ways to increase the protein in your daily diet. If you are concerned about the calcium-content of your diet and prefer yogurt with a more fluid-consistency, it’s fine to go with the regular kind. Just be sure to check the ingredient lists (of both kinds) to avoid too many added sugars and artificial flavors.