Monday, April 20, 2015

Nourishing Your Family Series: Greek Yogurt

As you may have noticed, Greek yogurt is threatening to overtake the dairy case at your local market. It's fast, convenient, and very healthy, so this is one bandwagon you can get on with confidence.

Over in Greece they strain yogurt (called straggisto) and use it as a key ingredient in other foods, such as tzatziki dip. However, they don't use the term "Greek yogurt", which has become a hit in Europe and America.

Before we discuss the specific benefits of Greek yogurt, let's go over some comparisons.

How does it stack up to regular yogurt? Pretty well, with less sodium, far less sugar, much more protein, and only slightly less calcium. Greek yogurt is made by separating out the liquid whey, so it contains less lactose, making it a good alternative for people with lactose-sensitivity or allergy.

Just beware of the fat and buy the non-fat or low-fat version. I've been consuming non-fat dairy for decades and believe me, you'll get used to the taste quickly and afterwards, even low-fat dairy won't appeal to you.

If you can handle sour cream, you can handle non-fat, plain Greek yogurt. I drizzle a tiny bit of maple syrup or raw honey on mine. Don't stir in the syrup or honey because it won't add much overall taste or sweetness that way. Just use it as a topping.

Another alternative is to add dried cranberries, raisins, or fresh blueberries or strawberries--the list is endless.  If you must have more flavor and sugar (our your kids want it), try Chobani flavored non-fat Greek yogurt, which is a good, natural brand with less sugar than regular yogurt.

Sugar Content Comparison:
1 cup non-fat, plain Greek yogurt = 9 grams sugar (naturally-occurring sugar, not added)

1 cup Chobani non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt = 20 grams sugar (evaporated cane juice adds sugar)

1 cup Chobani non-fat strawberry Greek yogurt = 23 grams sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 cup Activia peach low-fat yogurt (regular yogurt, not Greek) = 38 grams sugar (sugar and fructose)

Maximum recommended daily added (not naturally occurring) sugar for women is 25 grams or 6 teaspoons (100 calories).

A nutritional note about adding honey or dried fruit to non-fat, plain Greek yogurt:

1 T. honey =  17 grams sugar

60 raisins (1 oz) = 17 grams of sugar

1/4 cup of dried cranberries (Craisin brand) = 29 grams sugar (find a brand with less added sugar than Craisins)

Dried cranberries contain antioxidants and can help regulate blood sugar for Type 2 diabetics, but it's important to find a brand with lower added sugar--and Craisins isn't one of those brands!

How does honey compare to table sugar as an additive? Honey contains the same basic sugar units as table sugar--glucose and fructose. But granulated table sugar, or sucrose, has glucose and fructose hooked together, whereas in honey, glucose and fructose remain in separate units. Fructose does not convert to energy as efficiently as glucose, so foods containing granulated sugar high in fructose convert to fat stores more easily than honey.

1 tsp. table sugar = 16 calories
1 tsp. honey = 22 calories (but people use less of it. It's sweeter and denser.)

Here we go: The health benefits of Greek yogurt:


Protein is necessary for cell growth, building muscle, and repairing tissue. As we age we need more protein to keep our skin and our immune system healthy.

1 cup of non-fat, plain Greek yogurt = 23 grams of protein 
1 cup non-fat, plain regular yogurt = 13 grams
1 cup of non-fat milk = 8 grams protein
4 oz. grilled chicken breast = 36 grams protein


Greek yogurt is packed with B-12, which we need for energy level and healthy brain function. In the American diet, the other significant source of this vitamin is meat.


Our bodies must have a balance between sodium and potassium--especially important in American diets, which tend to be high in sodium from processed foods. Greek yogurt is high in potassium and helps with this essential balance.

Iodine (helpful for weight loss)

Greek yogurt is full of iodine, which is essential for proper thyroid function and as such, is necessary for a healthy metabolism and a healthy weight.

Calcium (and limiting fat production)

Not only is calcium necessary for bone health, but also for limiting fat production. Here's how: Cortisol is a hormone whose release can cause the body to store more fat (stressed much? Wondering where that fat is coming from?). Calcium is linked to the regulation of cortisol output. 

Here's the science surrounding the stress hormone, cortisol, excerpted below:

"In scientific lingo, the stress response system is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). After perceiving a stressor, a small brain area called the hypothalamus sends a chemical message to the pituitary gland. From here a new chemical message is sent out of the brain through our blood, to the producers of stress hormones called the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. This message says “secrete cortisol”."

Thus, by consuming a diet high in calcium, you can partially limit fat production. One cup of non-fat, plain Greek yogurt contains 30% of your daily calcium.  We're encouraged by nutrition experts to get calcium from dietary sources, rather than from supplements.


Greek yogurt is packed with probiotics, which are microorganisms (good bacteria) that normally live in our intestines. Without a proper balance of good bacteria, bad bacteria build up and damage our immune systems. A healthy digestive system is especially important for those with disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Do you eat Greek yogurt? How do you like it? 

Along with a slice of homemade wheat/flax bread, it's my favorite lunch treat, and I also sometimes use it in place of meat to reduce our grocery bill (in place of meat just for me, not the others). Peter loves it too, and Beth is acclimating to it, but she misses her vanilla Activia, which I quit buying due to the additives and sugar. My husband, Mary, and Paul have never liked any kind of yogurt.



Anonymous said...

I make my own dairy-free yoghurt sometimes. We received a yoghurt maker for a wedding present. The dairy-free yoghurts are expensive to buy, so it makes sense to make it, I just wish I could recreate the wonderful taste and texture of Provamel sugar-free coconut yoghurt. It is the closest thing to dairy-free Greek yoghurt that I have come across and it is yummy.

Christine said...

A yogurt maker would be awesome! I didn't realize non-dairy yogurts even existed. What are they made of?

Tesha Papik said...

Yes we LOVE it. I love making tzatzik and dipping veggies and pita bread! Great info post!