Greek Yogurt Nutrition, Health Benefits and Tips

Dairy product
Dairy product

Greek yogurt has become one of the most popular yogurts in the dairy aisles. It is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than traditional yogurt, all while offering a similar nutrient profile. You might think it sounds too good to be true. 

Because of that, many people wonder, “is Greek yogurt actually good for you?” 

This article will take a look at Greek yogurt nutrition, facts, and the potential health benefits it can provide.

What Is Greek Yogurt? 

Greek yogurt is a nutrient-packed variety of yogurt that offers many health benefits. It is commonly considered a healthy snack, simply because it provides more protein than regular yogurt. In fact, Greek Yogurt typically has around twice as much protein as regular yogurt! To put that into perspective – a single serving of Greek yogurt can contain the same amount of protein as 3 oz of meat.

There’s certainly a significant difference in nutrition. So, how do Greek-style yogurts come to contain so much more protein? To understand what Greek yogurt is and how it is different from other types of yogurt, let’s first discuss how regular yogurt is made.

The first ingredient in yogurt is milk. Yogurt can be made from any kind of milk – cow, sheep, goat, and even coconut milk, all make delicious yogurts. After the decision is made as to what type of milk will be used, the milk must be “pasteurized,” or heated to a high degree in order to kill off any potentially dangerous bacteria that may be present, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Once the milk is slightly cooled, a variety of live bacteria are added to pasteurized milk. 

You might be thinking, “What is the purpose of removing bacteria if they will ultimately be added back?” Good question! The bacteria added after pasteurization do not pose a risk of foodborne illness. In fact, they are beneficial and necessary to the yogurt making process. The bacteria break down lactose to produce lactic acid, which coagulates the proteins in the milk. This process thickens the milk into yogurt and gives it that slightly acidic and sour taste. Without these helpful bacteria, there would be no yogurt! 

At this point in the process, we have made regular yogurt. However, to make it ‘Greek”, there is one more crucial step. No, the yogurt does not have to be flown to Greece. The yogurt must be strained of the liquid whey in order to become the thick, creamy snack we know as Greek yogurt.

What Is the Difference Between Greek Yogurt and Regular Yogurt?

Greek yogurt’s claim to fame is that it contains more protein than regular yogurt – and this is true! The reason for this is because the final strained yogurt is more concentrated. In other words, greek yogurt contains nearly all of the same nutrients as regular yogurt, just in a smaller volume.

Greek Yogurt Nutrition Facts

Take a glance at the nutrition facts below comparing plain, non-fat Greek yogurt to the same amount of plain, non-fat regular yogurt.

Chobani (Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt, 5.3 oz)

  • Calories: 80
  • Total fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 10 milligrams
  • Sodium: 55 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 4 grams
  • Protein: 14 grams

Ingredients: Cultured nonfat milk

Active Cultures: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. casei and L. rhamnosus

Stonyfield Organic (Nonfat Plain Regular Yogurt, 5.3 oz)

  • Calories: 70
  • Total fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: <5 milligrams
  • Sodium: 105 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 10 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 8 grams
  • Protein: 7 grams

Ingredients: Cultured pasteurized organic nonfat milk, pectin, Vitamin D3

Active Cultures: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. paracasei and L. rhamnosus

As you can see, both yogurts were made with cultured nonfat milk and 6 different types of bacteria. The Greek yogurt contains two times the amount of protein and half the amount of sodium and sugar than the regular yogurt, while the regular yogurt contains more calcium and potassium. This is because when the whey (water) is removed during the straining process, some of the calcium and potassium are lost, along with the sodium and sugar.

Is Greek Yogurt Good for You?

Yes and no. Generally speaking, Greek yogurt is considered to be a healthy food with plenty of good-for-you nutrients. However, not all Greek yogurts are made the same. The recipes, flavors, fat contents, and added ingredients between brands can range quite a bit. 

For example, let’s compare two types of strawberry Greek Yogurt.

Chobani (Strawberry Nonfat Greek Yogurt, 5.3 oz)

  • Calories: 110
  • Total fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 5 milligrams
  • Sodium: 65 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 16 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 13 grams, including 9 grams added sugar
  • Protein: 11 grams

Ingredients: Cultured nonfat milk, strawberries, cane sugar, water, fruit pectin, locust bean gum, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate, fruit and vegetable juice concentrate (for color)

Active Cultures: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. casei and L. rhamnosus

Fage (TruBlend Strawberry Low Fat Greek Yogurt, 5.3 oz)

  • Calories: 110
  • Total fat: 2.5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 15 milligrams
  • Sodium: 45 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 10 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 5 grams, including 0 grams added sugar
  • Protein: 13 grams

Ingredients: Strained yogurt (Grade A pasteurized skimmed milk and cream, cultures), water, strawberries, strawberry puree, chicory root fiber, corn starch, contains 2% or less: natural flavor, lemon juice concentrate, fruit pectin, black carrot juice (for color)

Active Cultures: L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus and L. casei

Both of the strawberry yogurts shown above have the same amount of calories, however, they vary in other nutritional content such as fat and added sugar. Chobani yogurt contains fewer ingredients and more active cultures. The Fage yogurt contains no added cane sugar, but rather is sweetened with chicory root fiber. When choosing between Greek yogurts, it comes down to a matter of preference and personal health goals (and reading nutrition labels, of course!)

8 Benefits of Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is a versatile food that may help to promote health and prevent disease when consumed as part of a healthy diet. Here are 8 potential health benefits of eating Greek yogurt.

1. Protein

Proteins, which are made up of chains of amino acids, are required for nearly every metabolic reaction that occurs in our bodies. They are used to transport nutrients in our bloodstream, function as enzymes to break down molecules, help maintain fluid balance, and repair damaged tissues (such as muscle tissue after a workout). 

Greek yogurt provides a whopping 15 grams of protein in a single serving, making it a quick and easy breakfast or post-workout snack. A few examples of other foods containing 15 grams of protein are 3 large eggs, 3 ounces of smoked salmon, or 1 cup of bean salad.

2. Fullness Factor

Research shows that eating a snack with about 15 grams of protein can delay afternoon hunger and improve appetite control. This is because protein provides us with the feeling of being full, also called “satiety.” In other words, Greek strained yogurt may leave you feeling more satisfied than another snack with a similar amount of calories. For example, one container of Greek yogurt contains 80 calories and 15 grams of protein, while two tablespoons of hummus have 60 calories and only 2 grams of protein. While both are excellent snacks, the yogurt is better able to subdue future hunger pangs.

3. Vitamin D and Calcium

Dairy products are well known for being good sources of calcium and Vitamin D, and Greek-style yogurt is no exception. Vitamin D and Calcium are used in a variety of ways in our body, most notably for our bones and teeth. Vitamin D is required to absorb calcium, so if either of these nutrients is low, your body will respond by borrowing calcium from your bones, which can lead to osteoporosis. One serving of Greek yogurt contains 15% of the daily recommendation for calcium.

Because Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, nonfat yogurt will not contain any naturally occurring vitamin D. Some brands may choose to fortify their nonfat yogurt, which means adding Vitamin D. If fortified, one serving of nonfat Greek yogurt can provide around 8% of the daily recommendation.

4. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the production of red blood cells, and without enough of it in our diet, we are at risk for developing anemia. Since Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, yogurt made from dairy is a good source of Vitamin B12. One 6 ounce serving of nonfat plain Greek yogurt contains 1.3 micrograms of Vitamin B12, which is over half of the daily recommended amount for an average adult. For comparison, this is nearly the same amount of B12 found in 3 ounces of beef. 

5. Heart Health

Sodium has always been the mineral we associate with heart health, and for good reason. A diet that is too high in sodium can raise blood pressure, ultimately causing the heart to work harder to do its job. Since Greek yogurt is strained, about half of the sodium is removed along with the liquid whey. 

Not only does Greek yogurt contain less sodium than regular yogurt, but it also contains potassium, another mineral that plays an important role in heart health! Potassium helps to eliminate excess sodium from the body, therefore decreasing blood pressure. So, if you are looking to make a few heart-healthy changes in your diet, simply switching over to Greek yogurt would be a good start.

6. Glycemic Control

During the straining process, some of the sugar present in the milk is removed, causing Greek yogurt to have less sugar content than regular yogurt. While naturally occurring sugars such as lactose are not bad, it can certainly be a benefit to patients with diabetes or other conditions that require counting carbohydrates.

One serving of Greek yogurt contains nearly half the amount of carbohydrates as in regular yogurt. Just remember, if you are counting carbohydrates, keep in mind that anything except plain flavored yogurt is likely to contain added sugars.

7. Probiotics

The beneficial bacteria added to pasteurized milk before it technically becomes yogurt are called probiotics. Probiotics help to keep the good and bad bacteria in your digestive system in check – approximately all 100 trillion of them!

The bacteria in our digestive system can become disturbed when stressed, taking antibiotics, drinking alcohol, or eating a limited diet. Yogurt can help to restore balance to your digestive system by providing probiotics. As long as the yogurt is not heated again after the bacteria are added, the yogurt will contain live cultures (the types of bacteria used will be listed on the container).

8. Lactose Intolerant Friendly

Greek yogurt may be tolerated better than regular yogurt by people who have mild lactose intolerance. This is because some of the lactose is removed when the yogurt is strained. According to American Dairy, one 6 ounce serving of Greek yogurt only contains 4 grams of lactose, while one cup of milk contains 12 grams.

Probiotics may also play a role in mediating a lactose intolerance. If you have lactose intolerance and think Greek yogurt may be worth trying, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian. 

Is Greek Yogurt Good for Weight Loss?

While any type of yogurt can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, Greek yogurt packs an extra punch in the protein department, which helps to increase our fullness factor. It also provides a satisfying thick texture you don’t get with regular yogurt, making it a great choice to have on hand if you are trying to lose weight.

To avoid unnecessary calories, choose nonfat or low-fat plain flavored variety without any added sugar or flavors. You can dress it up with berries, nuts, and granola. Greek yogurt can also be blended into smoothies or added into overnight oats for an extra creamy texture. You can even use it as a substitute in savory dishes and dips, helping to reduce your calorie intake and stay low fat without compromising on flavor! 

For example, use it in place of mayonnaise in egg salad and tuna salad, or for cream cheese in spinach artichoke dip. Marinate meat in a mixture of greek yogurt, garlic, and herbs for the Mediterranean inspired dinner. However, my favorite way to have greek yogurt is dolloped on a stack of whole wheat pancakes with raspberries, sliced almonds, and a drizzle of honey. 

Final Words

Greek yogurt has made its way into our homes and bellies for over a decade. It has a nutrient profile similar to regular yogurt in that it provides a healthy dose of probiotics, vitamins, and minerals. However, it is those few extra perks, such as more protein, more potassium, less sugar, less sodium, and that trademark thick, creamy texture, that make Greek yogurt a winner in my book. 

Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women

American Dairy Association North East. “Greek Yogurt for the Lactose and Gluten Intolerant: American Dairy Associa.” Www.americandairy.com, American Dairy Association North East, 9 Mar. 2015, www.americandairy.com/news-and-events/dairy-diary/food-and-recipes/greek-yogurt-for-the-lactose-and-gluten-intolerant.stml.

“Are You Getting Enough Calcium?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Oct. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097.

C. Piernas, BM. Popkin, et al. “Effects of High-Protein vs. High- Fat Snacks on Appetite Control, Satiety, and Eating Initiation in Healthy Women.” Nutrition Journal, BioMed Central, 1 Jan. 1970, nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-97.

Harvard Health. “The A List for Vitamin B-12 Sources.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-a-list-for-vitamin-b-12-sources.

Tsevdos, Natalie. “A Food Production Wiki for Public Health Professionals.” Food Source Information, fsi.colostate.edu/yogurt/.

Walle, Gavin Van De. “9 Important Functions of Protein in Your Body.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/nutrition/functions-of-protein#section9.

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