Perhaps no food has enjoyed a greater boom in popularity during the last half decade than Greek yogurt. Once a rarity inside U.S. supermarkets, Greek yogurt now makes up roughly half of all yogurt sales nationwide.
One reason for the rapid rise in demand is the notion that Greek yogurt is significantly healthier than most other types of yogurt. But is this really true? Does Greek yogurt deserve its reputation as a superfood, or do the nutrition facts reveal that it’s little more than an exotic dessert? STACK investigates.
What is Greek Yogurt?
Traditional Greek yogurt is made by straining the whey out of regular yogurt. Whey is the liquid that remains after milk has curdled. The straining gives Greek yogurt a thicker, creamier texture than regular yogurt, but Greek yogurt also has less sugar and more protein.
However, the FDA doesn’t currently have regulations in place for what can and cannot be labeled “Greek yogurt.” This means that companies can use additional ingredients or alter the recipe while still marketing their product as “Greek yogurt.” Real Greek yogurt contains only two ingredients—milk, and “live and active” cultures. The more a brand adds to these two ingredients, the worse the yogurt’s nutritional value will typically be.
Protein and Probiotics
According to the USDA, a six-ounce serving of nonfat Greek yogurt contains 100 calories, less than a gram of fat, 61 mg of sodium, 240 mg of potassium, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 6 grams of sugar and 17 grams of protein. It’s also high in calcium and vitamin B-12. Six grams of sugar is not an insignificant amount, but none of it qualifies as “added sugar,” because it all comes from lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar in milk.
Perhaps the best thing about Greek yogurt is its ridiculously high protein content. Greek yogurt typically contains twice the amount of protein found in regular yogurt.
One example of a high-protein greek yogurt is Fage Total Greek Yogurt. A seven-ounce serving contains 18 grams of protein. For comparison, an equivalent serving of Dannon All-Natural Plain Whole Milk Yogurt contains roughly 8 grams of protein. In this comparison, the Greek yogurt contains more than twice as much protein as the regular yogurt. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with every brand. A six-ounce serving of Zoi Vanilla Greek Yogurt, for example, contains just 8 grams of protein. The differences in protein content often come down to differing preparation methods or ingredients.
Generally speaking for athletes, the more protein, the better. Protein not only helps build muscle mass, it also plays an important role in satiety and weight management. A 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal found that a high-protein yogurt snack helped healthy women stay fuller for longer and consume fewer calories throughout the day better than a high-fat snack with an equal number of calories.
The type of protein found in Greek yogurt (casein) makes it especially attractive for those who want to pack on lean muscle, as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be produced by the body—we must get them through food.
Another big benefit of Greek yogurt is its high probiotic content. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that live inside your gut. When you ingest probiotics, they enter what’s known as the “gut microbiome.” The gut microbiome consists of yeasts, fungi and roughly 3 to 4 pounds of bacteria. More than 5,000 species of bacteria live in…