Ask the Nutritionist: How Healthy is Your Yogurt?

Ask the Nutritionist: How Healthy is Your Yogurt?

written by Fresh 20 Nutritionist, Allison Arnett

Yogurt is one of many foods which often carries a health halo–meaning most people overestimate the nutritional value of all yogurts because we believe it to be a healthy food. In fact, the US Census reported a 400% increase in yogurt consumption in this country over the past 30 years. But, the truth is, many commercially available yogurts are sugar-laden, or use artificial sweeteners, food coloring and other unnecessary ingredients. In its pure form, both traditional and Greek, yogurt can be a very healthy food. So, let’s put your yogurt to the test.

Carbohydrates and Sugar

Yogurt has naturally occurring carbohydrates, approximately 15gm in regular and 5-8gm in Greek-style yogurt per cup. Greek tends to have less due to the skimming process, which increases the protein concentration while lowering carbohydrates. These carbohydrates come from lactose, which is naturally occurring milk sugar. So, a traditional yogurt will contain approximately 12gm natural sugar and Greek will typically contain anywhere from 4-8gm of sugar.

But, many yogurts sold commercially contain 20, 25 or 30gm of sugar, which means that there may be 5-15gm of added sugar in many of these cups. Even if it’s masked as a fruit flavor, don’t be fooled–the majority of this is added sugar or corn syrup.


Traditional yogurt has approximately 7-10gm protein and Greek style has about 15-20gm protein. One of the great features of a good quality yogurt is the balance of nutrients with naturally occurring calories from protein and carbohydrates.


Traditional yogurt, like all dairy products is 4% milk fat. Choose low fat, and that number is cut in half. Since much of the fat does come from saturated fat, I generally recommend a low fat or fat free yogurt. Many yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin; so add a Tablespoon of chopped raw nuts to fat free yogurt to help your body absorb this valuable nutrient.

Calcium and Potassium

Calcium is an important mineral for bone and teeth strength, and also for muscle control and nerve function. Yogurt is an excellent, natural source of calcium. Regular yogurt contains 30% of the daily recommendation for calcium. Due to the skimming process used to make Greek yogurt, a cup meets about 20% of the daily recommendation. Both are great sources of calcium.


Yogurt contains probiotics, which can potentially help promote a healthy digestive and immune system. These cultures also make yogurt easier to digest than other dairy products. There is no need to look for a specific brand of yogurt for these benefits, just make sure your yogurt contains probiotics or “live active cultures.” Most commercially available yogurts do.


Yogurt should have two or three ingredients: milk, cultures and vitamin D. Yogurt does not need any added sugar, artificial sweetener or coloring. It is naturally a stable food so any added stabilizers are also unnecessary. Added salt is also unnecessary, though there is a bit of naturally occurring sodium in dairy.

Make your own Flavored Yogurt

Select a cup of plain low fat or fat free yogurt, either regular or Greek style. Add ¼ to ½ cup of fresh or frozen fruit (without added sugar) to sweeten. If you prefer a strong flavor, use a drop of all natural vanilla or almond extract, or a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you are using fat free yogurt, you can add a Tablespoon of raw nuts to help your body absorb all of the important fat-soluble vitamins.

Allison ArnettAllison is a Registered Dietitian with a MS in Clinical Nutrition. When Allison is not working with clients on healthy eating strategies or delivering a nutrition presentation, she is frequently found making smoothies with her 3 and 1 year old.  Allison believes that food should be wholesome, unprocessed and delicious and is excited to work with The Fresh 20 to help others enjoy balanced, nutritious meals.