Culture 101: How to navigate the yogurt aisle

Sales are way up, and shelves are sagging with choices (Greek-style almond-milk yogurt?). But some are packed with fat. Here, a tour.


Small producers favor fewer preservatives, grass-fed milk. Prices are higher. Fat runs from none to lots: "Natural" doesn't automatically mean low-fat. Some niche producers are playing up the rich, cream-on-top angle. Read your labels.


A hot category. Soy, almond, and coconut milks have less protein and require extra sugars to promote fermentation-as much as 16g. As with some dairy yogurts, plant-derived thickeners (starches, gums, etc.) are added to improve texture.


Big tang and thick texture kicked off the yogurt boom: Strained milk, with less water, has more protein and milk solids. Tangy doesn't mean extra-light, though. We saw 11g sat fat in one (6-ounce) version.


Bigger containers only seem expensive. Unless there's a four-for-$5 deal on the small cups, you can get up to 32 ounces for the same price as three (6-ounce) containers. Bonus: They're usually plain with no added sugars-or calories.


Kefir is a more liquid and naturally effervescent dairy product that uses yeast in addition to bacteria for fermentation. It's good for smoothies, and the extra probiotics -- as many as 12 strains (versus the 2 required in yogurt) -- aid in digestion.

What to look for

Protein: Keeps you full longer

Strained yogurts--like Greek and skyr--require three to four times more milk to produce than regular, meaning 15g to 20g more protein per 6 ounces (equivalent to 3 ounces of meat!).

Healthy bacteria

The FDA requires at least two strains of bacteria in all yogurt, L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus. Yogurt makers can add more. Look for the National Yogurt Association seal: It ensures 100 million cultures per gram (i.e., lots).

Low-fat, for a calcium boost

When fat is removed, calcium gets concentrated. Lower-fat yogurt contains more—30 percent of your recommended daily intake. Some calcium is lost in the straining process for Greek, but it's still a great source at 20 percent.

Limited added sugar

Six ounces of plain yogurt have about 12g of naturally occurring sugars from the milk. Fruit and honey add more. Kid-centric yogurts come in cute 4-ounce containers, but some have more sugar (as much as 17g) than "adult" 6-ouncers.

More calories in the morning

If you're eating yogurt as breakfast, you'll need more oomph to keep you fueled until lunch--about 200 calories, but no more than 4g sat fat. Keep snacks less hefty--about half that.

Our faves

Fage Total Plain 2%

"My daily breakfast companion. Add a handful of blueberries, and I'm set."

-Sidney Fry, Nutrition Editor

Atlanta Fresh

"My hometown! I love the vanilla caramel. And pretty packaging doesn't hurt."

-Rachel Lasserre, Art Director

Smari Organic Icelandic

"Nonfat, less tangy than some Greeks, creamy and light texture. Try the blueberry."

-Scott Mowbray, Editor

More from Cooking Light:

The ultimate guide to yogurt

15 ways to cook with yogurt

10 things to know about yogurt