There are so many kinds of yogurt in the dairy aisle these days, it can be tough to know which to choose! That's a great problem to have; many of the yogurts that have hit store shelves in the past decade offer nutritional benefits including higher protein levels, more calcium and additional choices for people who want to enjoy the benefits of yogurt, but with less added sugar -- or who want to find dairy alternatives that offer similar benefits.
However, it's wise to know what you're buying before facing that aisle, as many types of yogurt contain more sugar than you'd like to eat for breakfast or a quick snack.
Here's a guide to help you identify the main varieties, discover some popular options, and learn what to look for when shopping for the healthiest choice.
Try traditional yogurt.
The yogurt you grew up eating is unstrained (still contains whey), which means it's thinner than Greek and Icelandic styles. Nutrition-wise, it has more calcium and natural milk sugar than other varieties.
Get more protein with Greek yogurt.
This thick, strained yogurt now makes up more than a third of all yogurt sales in the United States. Straining removes some lactose, calcium, milk sugars and minerals but results in a higher protein content. One cup of Greek yogurt can have up to 20 grams of protein; traditional yogurt has 11 to 13 grams.
For the most protein-rich choice, try Icelandic yogurt.
This is the thickest of all varieties: 1 cup of this strained yogurt is typically made with 4 cups of milk. Because of that, Icelandic yogurt often has the highest protein content. It also has the longest incubation process, so it's the tartest of all varieties and has the lowest amount of milk sugar.
If creamy is your thing, choose Australian yogurt.
Creamy and unstrained, this yogurt is commonly made with whole milk so it will be higher in fat than the traditional variety, but otherwise has a similar nutritional profile.
Don't do dairy? You have options.
Yogurt can be made from nondairy milks, such as coconut, soy and almond. For the same health benefits as regular yogurt, look for calcium on the Nutrition Facts label -- a serving should provide at least 15 percent of your daily calcium dose. And also make sure the yogurt has been cultured -- you should see probiotics listed on the label.
Check these three things.
Probiotics: Look for the Live & Active Cultures seal on the label of dairy and nondairy yogurts. It means that your choice contains the highest amount of probiotics. No seal? L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus should be listed as ingredients.
Sugars: Plain yogurt with 9 grams or less of natural sugar per serving is the healthiest choice. For flavored yogurts, opt for ones with less than 15 grams of sugar. Anything higher than 17 grams has the same sugar content as two fun-size Snickers bars!
Fat: Full-fat yogurts can be a creamier, healthy choice; just figure their higher saturated fat and calories into your overall daily saturated fat intake, which should be less than 7 percent of your total daily calories.
(Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine and website devoted to ideas and improvement projects for your home and garden, plus recipes and entertaining ideas. Online at www.bhg.com.)