The Food of the Month- October 2020:

YOGURT

By: Lynda Soberanes

Yogurt is a staple food in many houses all around the world, and it is constantly recognized as a healthy option even when the other dairy products keep getting bad reputation. Dairy is so controversial and it is nice to discuss individually with clients whether or not (and what type/how much) milk and cheese would be recommended for each one of them.
But somehow with yogurt the story seems to be different. For once, research has identified that it may be safe to eat by most people, and there are many options available that seem to fit the different likes and tolerances. The nutrient profile of yogurt can also help protect against some health conditions. Yogurt has a good amount of protein, is naturally lower in lactose than milk (and there are lactose free options), and is a good source of calcium and vitamin D. A combination like that can help with bone health, could decrease the risk of breast and other types of cancer and due to the protein and fat that yogurt contains, it could also help with satiety and glucose regulation. It is true that the fat found in milk is saturated, but a yogurt made with 2% milk will still have less saturated fat than bacon, with all the respect that bacon deserves ;)
Equally relevant to the nutrient profile it is the fact of yogurt being high in probiotics. I don’t intend to repeat here all the information about probiotics that is shared elsewhere. But I think it is important to highlight the importance of probiotic-rich foods in digestive health and its connection to mental health, mood and cognition, some types of cancer, weight management, insulin resistance and diabetes and even conditions like eczema, acne and yeast infections. While not all that research has conclusive results, it is exciting to see the many possible benefits of yogurt and other fermented foods.
With the many options available, it is difficult to decide which one to buy. I don’t think there is only one good answer, but I think it is important to consider the type, flavours and ingredients. I am summarizing below some of the discussions I have with my clients and that may help you make your own choice:

What type to buy? greek, balkan, skyr… which one is better?

I find that there is no right answer to this question, and I always go back to personal preference. Greek and skyr yogurt are thicker than unstrained or balkan. Greek yogurt may also be lower in lactose than regular yogurt, and can have higher protein content. Because of its consistency, greek yogurt works great for parfaits but also for dips and sauces. Does this mean that greek yogurt is better? Not necessarily, as you may eat less than someone eating a less-dense yogurt and at the end you may be getting similar nutrients. I personally don’t enjoy the thickness of greek yogurt, but know many people that do and as a dietitian I feel no concerns with a specific type of yogurt.

What flavour? With sugar/no sugar and fat/no fat?

I personally prefer plain yogurt and recommend choosing a plain yogurt to someone that is open to that. If you want, you can mix it with fruits, honey or other flavors, but at least you know that you are not getting extra additives and ingredients that you don’t need/want. In terms of the sweetened options, I think there is a moment and a place for everything. A sweetened mango yogurt could be a great dessert, or something like a low-fat vanilla yogurt could be a practical post-workout snack if you are still in the process of moving towards a plain yogurt mixed with honey and fruit. And of course, don’t forget the context: for example, if you are trying to decide between having a sweetened yogurt as lunch or skip that meal altogether- it may be better to get the yogurt, regardless of the sugar content. And for the fat: that is a big topic, but in general I recommend staying away from the extremes. Maybe don’t get the yogurt with 20% fat, but also avoid the one with 0% fat- there are many good options that are somewhere between 2-8% fat.

What about the ingredients?

The only ingredients that are needed to make yogurt is milk and bacteria cultures. Some yogurts may also have enzymes as an ingredient, and that is fine. But definitely prefer the yogurts with a small list of ingredients over the yogurts with 15+ ingredients. What about the source: cow’s milk yogurt vs. alternatives Nowadays, we can find yogurt made with cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, almond milk, coconut milk, soymilk, etc. Getting one or the other is also a personal choice, but maybe try to follow the same recommendations stated above: prefer a plain, unsweetened option with a small list of ingredients. One thing to note is that some yogurts like coconut or almond yogurt may be lower in protein, but you can enjoy it with some crushed nuts to increase the protein content of your meal. Other options are lower in lactose, higher in total and saturated fat, etc. If unsure, discuss with your registered dietitian the benefits of one or the other for your specific situation.

Kefir- is it the same?

Kefir is also a fermented drink that contains a good content and types of probiotics. It can also be made from different types of milk (cow’s, almond, sheep, coconut, etc.) and can be found plain or with flavor- I think by know you will know what option I would suggest. I LOVE both yogurt and kefir and every now and then I have the pleasure to find kefir grains to make kefir at home, and I enjoy a lot having it as part of my smoothies- Yum! But I also know that some people use yogurt and kefir for cooking… which leads me to my final comment about using yogurt (or kefir or any other fermented food) for cooking: even when some of the nutrients of the yogurt can stay the same, the probiotics may not survive the high temperatures. I am not saying that you shouldn’t cook with it, but just know that you may not get the full benefits.

The last piece that is important to mention when speaking about yogurt is the versatility! You can eat yogurt for breakfast, and you can use it to bake and as a base of savoury foods. Here are some ideas to use yogurt:
  •  Waffles or pancakes with whipped yogurt (greek yogurt, coconut cream, maple syrup and vanilla extract) and blueberries

  •  Yogurt parfait made with coconut yogurt, frozen dark cherries and cashews

  • Mango lassie: mango chunks + plain yogurt + water (extra sugar optional)

  • Smoothie: strawberry, oats, yogurt and almond butter.

  • Yogurt dips: just mix your yogurt with garlic, lemon and herbs of your choice OR a dip that can go nicely with your fruits: yogurt + peanut butter + cocoa powder.

  • Pasta with yogurt sauce and broccoli

  • You can use yogurt instead of sour cream for perogies or baked goods