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What's the healthiest yogurt? Dietitians share their favorites

With benefits for your heart, gut and muscles, it's no surprise experts love yogurt.
/ Source: TODAY

Yogurt is a delicious, creamy, slightly tangy way to start your day. But some varieties are better for you than others. And, when choosing the healthiest yogurt, experts have a clear favorite.

It's probably no surprise that dietitians love yogurt — and they have good reason to. "It's a lovely food and it offers a number of health benefits," Caroline Susie, a registered dietitian based in Dallas, tells

"There's a lot of research suggesting that yogurt can improve your gut health by increasing the good-for-you bacteria (in your gut)," explains Susie, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating yogurt is also associated with lower blood pressure, she adds.

And, depending on the type of yogurt you're eating, it can contain a hefty amount of protein and fat, which contributes to satiety and may "help people that might be managing their weight," Susie says.

"Yogurt is also a good source of other micronutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D," Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., assistant professor at Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells

Together, the nutrients in yogurt support gut health, heart health, weight management and the condition of your bones and muscles. But some types of yogurt are healthier for you than others.

What makes yogurt healthy?

All yogurt will provide some nutrient benefits, like calcium and vitamins. But some yogurts can contain a surprisingly high amount of added sugar — or surprisingly little protein.

Walking down the dairy aisle can be "like a geography lesson" when looking at yogurt, Susie says. And your first step should be looking at the nutrition label, she adds.

Minimal added sugar

First, check the label for added sugar, Linsenmeyer advises. “What you want to look out for is the added sugar because it’s just sneaky,” Susie agrees.

The American Heart Association recommends minimizing the amount of added sugar you eat in a day, limiting intake to 25 grams for women and 36 for men. Yet a single serving of flavored yogurt can easily contain a dozen grams of added sugar or more, Linsenmeyer explains. “It can add up real fast when you’re looking at flavored yogurt,” Susie says.

For this reason, Linsenmeyer generally sticks with plain yogurt. But some major brands do sell flavored yogurt without added sugar, Susie says. Bottom line: Just check the label!

Some yogurts also contain artificial sweeteners, which can be an important tool for people who need to monitor their blood sugar. But be aware that consuming too many of these sweeteners, particularly sugar alcohols, can cause some "gastric distress," as Susie puts it.

High in protein

From there, take a look at the protein content.

"Yogurt is mostly made up of milk that's been fermented, so it's going to provide a good, complete protein," Linsenmeyer explains, meaning it has all the essential amino acids that we need.

Regular yogurt contains about 5 grams of protein per serving. Some types of yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, naturally contain more protein — even double that of regular yogurt.

That's because Greek and Icelandic varieties are strained to remove the liquid. "It just becomes more concentrated," Linsenmeyer says, "so it has all the same benefits of traditional yogurt, it just has that higher protein content."

Fat content that works for you

Finally, you'll have to choose the amount of fat you want in your yogurt: nonfat, low-fat or full-fat. But, generally, this choice is going to come down your personal preferences, the experts say.

The fat that's in dairy is saturated fat, Linsenmeyer explains, "and we know that we should be limiting our overall saturated fat intake." People with cardiovascular issues are likely paying especially close attention to that, she says, and may want to go with low-fat or nonfat yogurt for that reason. (As explained previously, the evidence for possible heart-health benefits of consuming reduced-fat dairy rather than full-fat dairy is mixed.)

However, we need the fat in yogurt to help our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins D and A, Linsenmeyer says.

Yogurt with a higher fat content will also have a thicker texture (which you may or may not enjoy) and it will aid in satiety, meaning it will keep you feeling full for longer. Fat is "really one of those key nutrients that tells our brain that we've had a meal and we're feeling full," Linsenmeyer explains.

"I like a creamier consistency, so I usually opt for 2% to 4% milk-fat yogurts," Susie says, adding that she feels like it "sticks to my ribs a little bit longer."

When choosing a healthy yogurt, look for:

  • Minimal added sugar. Susie recommends no more than 10 grams, but less is always better.
  • A good amount of protein, at least 5 grams, Susie says.
  • Fat content that makes sense with your goals and preferences.

What's the healthiest yogurt you can buy?

Greek yogurt

Food and health experts really do love Greek yogurt.

In fact, when asked 17 health professionals for their favorite breakfasts, neurologists, oncologists and dentists said they eat Greek yogurt regularly.

"It's thick and it's creamy because it's been strained to remove the (liquid) whey," Susie says. It's also packed with filling protein. "Most Greek yogurts have about twice the protein as regular yogurt," she says.

When choosing a yogurt to call the healthiest, Linsenmeyer says “anything unsweetened” would be a top contender. And, with its extra protein punch, “Greek yogurt is going to take the gold medal.”

Icelandic yogurt

Like Greek yogurt, Icelandic yogurt is strained, which gives it a thicker texture and higher protein content than regular yogurt. "I think sometimes it's even creamier and thicker than Greek yogurt, to be honest," Susie says. Also called skyr, Icelandic yogurt is traditionally considered a type of cheese.

Non-dairy yogurts

If you prefer or need to avoid dairy, there's a plethora of non-dairy yogurts in the store these days, including those made with soy, cashew, coconut and hemp milks. Of those, soy is the most nutritionally comparable to dairy yogurt, she advises.

However, the same guidelines apply here, Linsenmeyer says, especially when it comes to limiting added sugar.

Don't be afraid to add healthy toppings

You can always add other healthy ingredients to your morning yogurt to make it a little more exciting — and to boost the nutrition even more.

Try walnuts, sliced almonds or fresh fruit, for instance. You can even try crushing up freeze-dried fruit and mixing it into your yogurt. "It gives a degree of sweetness and also that bright color that we might be used to seeing," Linsenmeyer says.

However, be wary of adding packaged granola, Susie cautions, because many varieties contain added sugar — exactly what you're trying to avoid in yogurt.

And feel free to eat yogurt at any time of day! Not only is it a great breakfast, it's also a good high-protein snack option, smoothie ingredient and substitute for sour cream or mayo. "It's really a wonderful food," Susie says.