Which Yoghurt Is Best?

Yoghurt & Fruit Bowl

“Which yoghurt is better for me”?

I’m going to start answering this by saying that no yoghurts are going to make you ill unless you are lactose intolerant. No yoghurts are truly ‘bad’ and we have to stop thinking like that when it comes to food. I usually eat yoghurt to fill a gap. Sometimes in a smoothie, always aware that it will contribute to my protein intake (especially as a vegetarian). But whatever your goals, if you are tracking your food for weight loss, health or performance, then ideally you should be looking at each meal in the context of your full day of food.

You may have seen on social media that yoghurts are often demonised for being full of rubbish if they are labeled ‘low fat’. I have seen people proclaim that they are full of chemicals when in fact they have added pectin or gelatin to thicken them. Of course there are some yoghurts with added colouring, extra flavouring etc – but these are easily seen in the labelling. So, here are some of the actual facts about yoghurt and how you might integrate this tasty snack into your day.

Liberté Yoghurt
Liberté Yoghurt

What Is Yoghurt?

Yoghurt is a food produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. The milk is first heated so that it does not split into curd and whey during the fermentation process. Once a culture is added, the fermentation process begins and within 6-12 hrs, fermentation occurs and the yoghurt is produced.

Ingredients for my Protein Smoothie
Yoghurt is a great addition to smoothies

Yoghurt is about 80% water but also contains a mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat and a multitude of vitamins and minerals such as B12, calcium, Vitamin C and A and phosphorous amongst others. Different types of yoghurts vary in their balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs/sugars, and fat) and for this reason, it is a good idea to be informed about what the label is actually telling you.

What is Greek Yoghurt

Cava, Prosecco, Champagne…….all “Bubbly” but all made in different places – and if it wasn’t produced in Champagne in France, you can’t call it Champagne. Well, thats the same as Greek Yoghurt.

Made in Greece, Greek yoghurt is strained and a portion of the whey removed. This results in a thicker consistency, a denser protein content and less sugars and fat. The eastern mediterranean version is ‘Labneh’ (has honey added and it’s bloody gorgeous), the Turkish version is ‘Torba’ and so on. There are many versions which have increased in popularity in recent years. As ‘clean eating’ has come into fashion, these yoghurts have proved popular with little to no added ingredients, higher protein content and reduced fat and carbohydrate amounts. [1].

Greek Yoghurt
Higher protein and lower fat and sugar than other yoghurts

Greek Style Yoghurts

Ok, here is where it gets a little fuzzy. Because of EU laws, a yoghurt cannot market itself as ‘Greek Yoghurt’ unless it was made in Greece. However, you may be familiar with ‘Greek Style’ yoghurts claiming to be exactly like Greek yoghurt. Some of these products are made in the same way as Greek yoghurt. They are thick and creamy with higher protein and lower fat and sugar content. But some products simply add a thickening agent to their product. Are you thinking ‘chemical fallout’ ? Yup – thought so! That is probably due to the latest influencer post you have seen on instagram telling you that chemicals and hazards are abound in the dairy industry. But hang on!!!!! Don’t jump to conclusions!

Protein yoghurt
76kcal /100g serving – containing 8.2g of protein per portion, 0g fat, 10g sugars.

Most thickeners will actually add to the nutrition profile of the yoghurt. Some companies add a little gelatin making the yoghurt more solid (think ‘Rolo Double Layer Chocolate and Toffee’ kind of consistency). There is some evidence to suggest that gelatin ingestion (paired with a good intake of vitamin C) can stimulate collagen synthesis and aid in repair or prevention of injury when given to those undertaking exercise programmes. While the studies involved express a need for further investigation, the results do look promising [2,3]. Imagine, for any of you playing sports, it may be beneficial to have one of those tasty treats with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice as part of your recovery!

Greek Style Yoghurt
140kcal/100 – BUT protein 2.2g/100g compared to 8.2g/100g in the ‘protein’ yoghurt above – sugars higher and fat 9.4g/100g

Some yoghurts will add pectin (a polysaccharide or sugar acid found in berries and apples) to create a thicker consistency. In terms of nutrition, it adds nothing unless you are looking for food to fuel an upcoming workout. This Glenisk salted caramel yoghurt with some berries and a little granola is my perfect pre training snack!

Choices, Choices…..

With all these alternatives, how do we know which to choose? Really, the choice is yours. If you are trying to add more protein into your diet without eating more meat, then a yoghurt higher in protein is ideal. Try going for a Greek yoghurt or a Greek style yoghurt with a higher protein content per 100g of product.

Yoghurt and fruit
I sometimes add probiotics to my smoothies

If you are looking for a snack to fuel a session in the gym, then a yoghurt with some protein and lots of sugars is ideal – perhaps try choosing one with fruit in it to add to the variety of sugars you are taking in. Remember, diversity is key when it comes to nutrition and the same is true for fuelling. Your body can utilise more fuel when it comes from different sugars, so make sure to mix it up – think fruit yoghurt and granola.

What About Dieting and the Calorie Content

First and foremost, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Its ok to want to change your body shape! The #selflove movement has taken off. But I’m also very much in favour of the #selflove #butwantmore movement too. Challenging yourself to be a healthier, fitter version of you is totally fine! Don’t let any #selflove guru tell you otherwise. Some of us do need to lose weight in order to be healthier. Having a lower calorie snack to help stay on track is a great strategy and can mean the difference between succeeding with a plan.

Which Strategy Works?

There are 2 trains of thought here. Some people find that texture is the key to feeling satisfied with a snack. I personally find that the runnier the yoghurt, the less satisfied I am with it. I prefer to eat my calories as opposed to drink them. Options like the one below don’t fill me and they don’t leave me feeling satisfied. However, they are a saving grace for others looking to cut down on energy intake whilst feeling like they are having a tasty snack.

This yoghurt uses pectin

With only 49kcal per 100g of product, this yoghurt is very low in calories for the volume of yoghurt. It also has almost 5g of protein/100g with very little fat and sugar. It uses aspartame as a sweetener and pectin as a thickening agent. All in all, it is a tasty product and there are no wild claims that will put me off having one of these once in a while.

Some feel that products with a higher fat content create a feeling of fullness. This can be true for many and it is a completely individual preference. There is no denying that our brains crave that dopamine hit from a mix of sugar and fat but in this era of plentiful food and convenience, there really is no need for very energy dense snacks. We are no longer living in an age where we have to go days without food while the hunter gatherers are out to bring back the spoils.

Why Are We Having This Conversation

We are becoming more and more aware of the foods we eat. That is a good thing! We are more conscious of air miles, use of plastics, false advertising, sneaky marketing and claims that say we are eating ‘better food’. A ‘healthy’ lollipop with added vitamin D is still a lollipop! We have to be more aware of what we need in our own diet and listen less to the marketers that sell us all the wonderful health foods (that may not be so wonderful).

Top Tips For Choosing Products

My favourite Top Tips for choosing a yoghurt are to choose a local product with as few ingredients as possible. Take a look at the ingredients and have a look at the additives. Also have a look at the split between sugars, fats and proteins – you will always see a higher sugar content on yoghurts with fruit in them. This doesn’t mean they are bad for you – it just means that you have to be a little more conscious of your sugar intake throughout the day. What are the worst claims you have heard about health foods? Did they include yoghurt? I would love to open up the conversation on ‘healthy’ food.

Yoghurt & Fruit Bowl
Non Dairy Option – Coconut Yoghurt
  • 1. J. Mellentin (2016) 10 key trends in Food. Nutrition & Health 2017, Vol. 22
  • 2. G. Shaw et al, (2017). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Jan 105(1): 136-143
  • 3. Lis & Baar, 2019. Effects of different vitamin C-enriched collagen derivatives on collagen synthesis. Int Journal of Sports Nutrition and Ex Metabolism. Sept 1;29(5):526-531.
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Fiona O'Donnell

Fiona has a background working in the health industry as a cardiac physiologist. Since leaving hospital work, she has worked as a Nutritionist following completion of her MSc in Exercise & Nutrition Science. Fiona is also qualified as a PT, Pilates instructor and lifeststyle coach. In 2017, Fiona received a kidney transplant and is now back to triathlon training.

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4 Comments

  1. January 21, 2020 / 11:21 am

    Hi Fiona, a very interesting look at yoghurt! We always count the ingredients and take whatever has least, but we are not trying to lose weight or build muscle. I read this aloud with our coffee and my bf is off to make some yoghurt now! Thanks!

    • January 22, 2020 / 8:26 am

      Thanks so much – You guys are like me, I just like a delicious snack that I know provides nourishment.

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