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The Truth About Yogurt

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Don’t be fooled by these 5 common misconceptions…

Yogurt has long been a favorite of Europeans, but this creamy treat is now a staple in more American households than ever before.

Trap to watch out for: With yogurt’s increasing popularity in the US, consumers must now be alert for trumped-up claims about the food’s healthfulness.

It’s true that researchers are uncovering more and more reasons to consume yogurt. For example, a study recently presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association found that women who consumed five or more servings of yogurt weekly lowered their risk of developing high blood pressure by 20% compared with those who ate one serving of yogurt per month.

But anyone who has shopped for yogurt recently knows that the dairy aisle is chock-full of options ranging from Greek yogurt and “yogurt-style” drinks like kefir to coconut and soy yogurts—and even “desserty” yogurts with candy toppings. So how do you know what to believe about all these products? Beware of these misconceptions…

Misconception #1: Greek yogurt is always healthier than regular yogurt. Yogurt is produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk (usually cow’s milk). Greek yogurt takes it a step further by straining out whey (the watery part of milk) and lactose (milk sugar) so that the result is a thick, creamy texture not unlike sour cream.

For the same amount of calories, most Greek yogurt has about twice the protein of regular yogurt…and less carbohydrates, sugar and sodium. Greek yogurt, however, has more saturated fat than regular yogurt. (For more on saturated fat, see below.) With regular yogurt, you also get more bone-strengthening calcium, which is partially lost from Greek yogurt when the whey is strained out.

Important: Even though Greek yogurt’s processing leaves it with less sugar to start with, some products still add in generous amounts of sugary flavoring. For example, plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt typically contains about 6 g of sugar per eight-ounce serving—thanks to the remaining naturally occurring lactose sugar. When you see a Greek yogurt with 20 g or 25 g of sugar per serving, that means extra sugar has been added, typically in the form of honey or fruit purée.

Best bet: Buy plain yogurt (Greek or regular), and mix in fresh fruit—you’ll get an extra serving of produce without all the sugar of a purée. If you like crunch, sprinkle in some seeds (sunflower and pumpkin work well) or nuts (like pistachios). Check labels for sneaky sugar aliases like “evaporated cane juice,” date or coconut sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Misconception #2: Low-fat yogurt is a better choice than full fat. A 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study made headlines when researchers found that people who ate the most high-fat dairy products had lower rates of type 2 diabetes.

As it turns out, it’s not the amount of fat we consume but the type that’s important. Full-fat yogurt is high not only in saturated fat but also in conjugated linoleic acid, which may have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes. Also, the full-fat yogurt’s rich, thick mouthfeel sends a message to the brain that says, “I’m satisfied. I don’t need to keep eating.” Once in the stomach, the fat takes time to digest and, as a result, you feel full longer.

So feel free to include a daily serving of full-fat yogurt, but balance it by cutting back on other forms of saturated fat, such as fried foods, meat, eggs and/or butter.

Misconception #3: Yogurt has the most probiotics of all dairy. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that can enhance digestion, relieve constipation and bloating and even improve immune functioning.

While yogurt usually contains a few strains of probiotics, kefir, which is similar to yogurt but drinkable and more tart, offers far more. In fact, some kefir products contain 10 to 12 strains of probiotics! Don’t ditch your yogurt entirely, but go ahead and switch things up with some kefir. Try it in a smoothie, swirled in oatmeal or in hummus recipes.

Misconception #4: People with lactose intolerance should avoid yogurt. The good bacteria in both Greek and traditional yogurt actually predigest some of the lactose in dairy products, lessening the odds of troubling symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. (Greek yogurt is especially low in lactose due to the straining process.)

In fact, research suggests that these bacteria are so potent that the enhanced lactose digestion may last for weeks following regular consumption. However, the bacteria must be alive for this to happen, so be sure to select products with the words “live and active cultures” on the label.

Helpful: Start out eating only a couple of tablespoons and watch for gastrointestinal symptoms. If there are none, slowly increase your intake over a period of days.

If you still cannot tolerate dairy, there are non-milk-based yogurts, such as soy and coconut. But be aware that they don’t have nearly as much protein as Greek yogurt and can be high in sugar (natural and/or added).

Coconut yogurt, with about 4 g of saturated fat per one-half cup, contains fats called medium-chain triglycerides—research suggests that the body may prefer to use these fats for energy versus storing them as fat.

Misconception #5: Yogurt is just a breakfast food. With the right mix-ins, yogurt (Greek or regular) is a delicious treat any time of day.

To use plain yogurt: Make a higher-protein version of Brie or Rondelé cheese by emptying a large container of unflavored Greek yogurt into a strainer lined with a coffee filter and set over a bowl. Let it drain, refrigerate overnight, mix peppercorns and chives into the resulting yogurt “cheese” and use it as a spread with whole-grain crackers and crudités…or as a higher-protein cream cheese substitute.

Plain (regular) yogurt has a runnier consistency—use it to lighten up mac and cheese, mashed potatoes or your favorite stroganoff recipe (just cut back a bit on the milk, butter and cream, respectively).

For an indulgent-feeling, lower-calorie dessert, top one-half cup of full-fat vanilla Greek yogurt with one-quarter cup of chopped strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate balsamic vinegar. At just 130 calories and 11 g of sugar, this is a refreshing treat with an intense, not-too-sweet flavor.

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Source: Leslie Bonci, RD, CSSD, MPH, owner of the Pittsburgh-based nutrition consulting company Active Eating Advice by Leslie. The former director of sports nutrition for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Bonci is the author of numerous books, including The Active Calorie Diet and the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion. Date: August 1, 2016 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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