The word "superfood" gets thrown around a lot these days, but Greek yogurt definitely qualifies. Here's why nutritionists and protein fiends alike have fallen head-over-heels for yogurt's creamier, tarter cousin.
It's more nutritious than regular yogurt.
Yogurt gets its "Greek" label when it has been strained to get rid of whey, which is the liquid that's left over after the curdling process. Without whey, yogurt takes on a thicker, creamier consistency with a higher concentration of protein and good-for-your-gut probiotics (another bonus: less sugar). Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt, for instance, has 22 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar in a one-cup serving, which trumps the 7 grams of protein and 13 grams of sugar in the same amount of the brand's regular nonfat vanilla yogurt. That high protein count is one of the benefits of Greek yogurt for vegetarians.
It helps you feel fuller, longer.
Digging into Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack can reduce hunger pangs and keep you from feeling ready for dinner when it's only 5 p.m., finds a study published in the journal Appetite. Study participants snacked on Greek yogurt with varying amounts of protein three hours after lunch for three days straight. The group that ate yogurt with the highest amount of protein (24 grams per serving) reported feeling fuller and didn't feel hungry enough for dinner until almost an hour later than the group who ate lower-protein yogurt.
Fat-free versions offer about the same nutrients as full-fat options, but only a fraction of the calories.
While nutritionists may warn you against fat-free and reduced-fat foods, as they often amp up their sugars to make up for lack of flavor from the fat, Greek yogurt is an exception. If you're watching your calorie intake, reach for Greek yogurt with 0 percent fat. It generally has a comparable amount of protein, sugar, probiotics, and calcium, but usually just a fraction of the calories. You might have to sacrifice a bit of the thick consistency, though. Full-fat versions tend to be denser than those that are low in fat or fat-free, according to a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science.
It keeps your digestive system running smoothly.
You can thank the probiotics for that. The beneficial microorganisms are naturally found in Greek yogurt and have been shown to keep your tummy happy by easing lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, and IBS. Yogurt also helps more serious gut issues like Chron's disease and ulcerative colitis. Search for the phrase "live and active bacteria cultures" in the ingredient list or look for the National Yogurt Association's Live & Active Cultures seal, which means the product has at least 100 million live cultures per gram (which is a good thing). Probiotics aside, there are plenty additional benefits of Greek yogurt. Check out 10 more of them here.
It can help keep your weight in check.
A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology tracked the diets, weight, and waist circumferences of more than 3,000 people and found that while everyone's weight and waists increased over time, those who ate yogurt tended to stay trimmer than those who avoided it.
There are some imitators out there.
The ingredient list on a real Greek yogurt might look complicated because of the hard-to-pronounce probiotics, but it should generally be short and include just milk and the bacteria names. Some brands try to side-step the straining process and just throw in a bunch of thickening ingredients instead. If you're looking for real Greek yogurt made the traditional way, beware of fakes that have ingredients lists that include things like pectin, cornstarch, and xanthan gum.
It can be used as a healthy substitute in recipes or enjoyed on its own.
You might not be a fan of the tangy, slightly sour taste of plain Greek yogurt, but that's exactly what makes it a seamless substitute for condiments like sour cream and mayo. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt to soup or chili, or use it to create a healthy but creamy dressing or dip. (You'll see just how versatile it is as a cooking ingredient in these 10 yogurt-based recipes.) Greek yogurt also adds a creamy protein punch to your smoothie (as in these 11 tasty Greek yogurt smoothie recipes). Or you could eat it solo and spoon natural sweeteners like honey or berries on top for a healthy treat that tastes surprisingly decadent.
Some studies suggest too much high-fat dairy can threaten your health.
A 2013 study from Kaiser Permanente researchers found high-fat dairy could negatively affect breast cancer patients, likely because dairy products contain high amounts of estrogen. The study followed breast cancer patients for an average of 12 years and found those who ate one or more servings of high-fat dairy (such as yogurt, milk, ice cream, or cheese) a day had a 64 percent higher chance of dying from any cause. Low-fat versions, however, appear to be OK.