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Greek Yogurt Information and Recommendations

Do you love Greek yogurt (Greek-style yogurt)? It’s all the rage these days…pushing regular yogurt to the back of the shelf. In fact, it accounts for 1/3 of the yogurt in a typical grocery store. It’s thick and creamy, satisfying and, if you choose wisely, a very healthy snack choice or meal accompaniment. That said, don’t go crazy just yet – there is a huge difference among brands. Educate yourself before you buy. Greek yogurt brands are NOT all equal when it comes to taste, quality or nutritive value.

Greek Yogurt: Traditional versus ‘Faux’

Greek yogurt is traditionally made by straining regular yogurt to remove some of the liquid whey, leaving behind the thick, concentrated solids. This process increases the protein content significantly (15 to 20 grams per 6-oz. serving) but slightly decreases the calcium content (15 to 20% of the Recommended Daily Value or 150 to 200 mg of calcium per serving). Strained Greek yogurt is very similar to Icelandic-style skyr.

Faux Greek-style yogurt is made by adding thickeners to regular yogurt, such as inulin, cornstarch, gelatin and/or pectin. Manufacturers may add whey protein concentrate to bump the protein content up. If not, it will offer the same amount of protein as traditional yogurt, about 6 to 8 grams per 6-oz. serving. More protein per serving is one of the main benefits of choosing Greek yogurt! Unstrained yogurt with added thickeners also contains the same amount of calcium as regular yogurt (25 to 30% of the Recommended Daily Value or 250 to 300 mg per serving).

Greek Yogurt: General Nutrition Information

Greek yogurt can vary in calories, particularly depending upon whether or not you choose sugar-sweetened. Personally, I recommend steering clear of artificially sweetened Greek yogurt, which tastes a bit ‘too’ sweet. Most light varieties are usually made with a combination of artificial sweeteners. These days, folks are second-guessing whether loading up on artificial sweeteners is wise as new research emerges. You can stay conservative on calories, without limiting yourself to only light Greek yogurt varieties.

Most Greek yogurt varieties range from ‘bite-sized’ 3.5-oz servings all the way to generous 8-oz servings. Therefore they range in calorie content, starting at 90 calories and going all the way up to 280 calories. Per serving, Greek yogurt also varies in saturated (bad) fat content, ranging from 0 to 12 grams; a protein content of 6 to 20 grams; a calcium content of 100 to 350 mg and a sugar content of 1 to 4 tsp (includes natural and added sugars). In general, Greek yogurt is lower in carbohydrate than regular yogurt (comparing plain, non-flavored varieties). Stay tuned for ‘Best Picks.’

Our ‘Best Picks’ piece will include a review of dairy-free, lactose-free Greek yogurt substitutes, made with cultured almond, rice or soy milk.

Drawbacks? For those who do not like Greek yogurt and prefer traditional yogurt, particularly more exotic flavors as well as ready-to-eat puddings, etc., may be in a bind. Companies, such as Danone (makers of Oikos) and Stoneyfield Farm are being forced to limit production and eliminate less popular flavors of traditional yogurt to keep up with the Greek yogurt craze…to read more on this in an article published online (Wall Street Journal).

Snacks: Best Low Calorie Dairy Snacks

Snacks are no longer considered to be ‘bad’ or a diet taboo. These days, as long as you watch your calorie intake and choose wisely, you can graze on small meals and low calorie snacks several times daily and still maintain or even lose weight. So, what is the criteria for ‘healthy’ snacks? Keep the following in mind when choosing your snacks:

  • Offer between 100 and 200 calories
  • Are fat-controlled, providing 0g trans fats and 3g saturated fat or less per serving
  • Are relatively low in sodium; strive to limit the sodium in your low calorie snacks to 400mg or less
  • Are nutrient-rich: a good food source of protein, dietary fiber and/or key vitamin and minerals (such as iron, vitamins A, C or calcium)
  • Offer a little something extra: are available in calorie-controlled portions, contain no high-fructose corn syrup and little added sugar; are gluten- or lactose-free, have added omega-3 fatty acids, etc…

There are low calorie snacks for every craving: sweet, smooth and creamy, crunchy and salty and everything in-between. For part 1, we will concentrate on those that fall under the ‘dairy’ category, such as cheese, milk, puddings, etc. Unless you are lactose intolerant, or have an allergy to milk, there is no reason to avoid dairy products. These snacks are all about convenience – they are widely available and take no preparation time/work.

Dairy: Top 5 low calorie snacks

Cheese snacks

  • Cabot 75% reduced-fat sharp cheddar (block) or Laughing Cow mini Babybel light cheese rounds (individually wrapped, comes in small bags). These cheeses offer less fat but lots of flavor without being rubbery. Cheese is rich in both protein and calcium. A 2-oz. serving of the 75% reduced-fat Cabot sharp cheddar (lactose-free) provides 120 calories, 5g fat, 3g saturated fat, 18g protein and 400mg sodium. Two Babybel cheese rounds provide 100 calories, 6g fat, 3g saturated fat, 12g protein and 320mg sodium.

Fermented dairy snacks (yogurt & kefir)

  • There aren’t many snacks that compare in texture and flavor to Greek yogurt. Though more expensive than other varieties, the difference is substantial. Choose plain or flavored, non-fat varieties and you’ll stay under 150 calories and take in more protein that you would choosing regular yogurt. If you like a little crunch try YoGreek vanilla + granola. It comes in a 4.6-oz. cup with a little ‘sidecar’ of granola. The snack provides 140 calories, .5g fat, 11g protein, 22g carbohydrates and is a good source of calcium.
  • Kefir is a thick dairy beverage (like ‘drinkable’ yogurt) made by fermenting milk with kefir grains (lactic acid bacteria, yeast and polysaccharides). It’s a tangy, slightly effervescent drink that promotes digestive health and supports a healthy immune system. Choose non-fat or low-fat plain or flavored for snacks that are high in protein and  calcium. This fermented dairy beverage also contains magnesium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. One cup of low-fat strawberry kefir provides about 140 calories, 2g fat, 11g protein and 20g carbohydrates.

Sweet snacks

  • All Kozy Shack puddings are made with only all natural ingredients. They come in a variety of sizes (including ‘snack’ packs) and many flavors though the original rice pudding was the first and is a favorite. A 1/2 cup serving provides 130 calories, 2.5g fat, 4g protein and 24g carbohydrates. It’s also a good source of calcium and is a treat. They also make ‘no added sugar’ puddings that are sweetened with Splenda and offer only 70 calories per serving.
  • Who doesn’t love chocolate milk? It was good for you when you were a child and is still a great choice, especially as a post-workout snack. Obviously regular chocolate milk does have lactose and sugar…to cut back on the sugar try Nesquik ready-to-drink no sugar added reduced-fat chocolate milk (comes in 8-oz. bottles). One serving provides 100 calories, 2g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 8g protein, 13g carbohydrates and less than 200mg sodium.

Snacks are back in vogue – stay tuned for best low-calorie snacks part 2!