Greek, flavoured or fermented: How to make sure the yogurt you’re buying is actually good for you

Garlick: 'There is a yogurt for every food foible, nutrition trend and health concern'

Do you take yours Greek, flavoured, fermented, or packed with probiotics? Sucked from a pouch, spooned over compote, frozen into a pot or free from “bits”?

There is a yogurt for every food foible, nutrition trend and health concern. According to market researchers Mintel, it may even be the answer if you’re feeling blue since 25 per cent of Gen Z yogurt consumers in Britain eat it with a view to cheering themselves up.

Whether it is working for them remains unclear, but yogurt’s other health benefits are evident. “Yogurt generally retains high levels of calcium and is a good source of iodine, vitamins D, B2 (riboflavin) and B12, and zinc,” says the leading nutritional therapist Lucy Miller. It has been linked to lower risk of osteoporosis and higher bone mineral density and to improved immunity, due to its selenium, magnesium and more. Its fermentation leaves it easier to digest than milk, so its nutrients are more easily absorbed. It is cheap, easy (you do not even have to chew), and the world loves it.

According to Statista, the global yogurt industry is worth around $45.72 billion (£35.57 billion) and is expected to grow annually by 8.52 per cent. By 2028, the world will be swallowing 13.35 billion kilograms of the stuff. So, it is wise to know which pot to pluck from the supermarket shelf and why...

The best for gut health

You’ve seen the claims plastered over tubs – yogurt is good for your gut, which is turn is the key to almost every minute facet of your health. Is it true? Well, to an extent... “Anything that supports gut health will support immunity as approximately 70 per cent of our immune system is within the gut,” says Dr Emily Leeming, a microbiome scientist and author of forthcoming book Genius Gut. “In my own research, we found yogurt of any kind to be related to a more diverse microbiome and in another study, we found that those who ate lots of yogurt tended to have high amounts of the ‘good’ gut bacteria called Bifidobacterium animalis,” she says. That said, there are differences between brands.

Why? “Yogurts are made by fermentation of milk, so in principle they should contain a lot of lactic acid bacteria (probiotics),” says Simon Gaisford, a professor of pharmaceutics and probiotics expert at University College London. In practice, however: “One of the main problems with industrial-scale fermentation is the risk of contamination by a species you don’t want in the product. So a lot of times a yogurt will be pasteurised after fermentation – this sterilises the yogurt, so removes any probiotic effect.” If you are after a probiotic punch, you need to seek out naturally fermented, non-pasteurised versions, he says, such as kefir: “A fermented milk, produced using grains containing a mix of micro-organisms (usually bacteria and yeast), [which] should not be pasteurised. I think a kefir is the best for gut health other than a probiotic supplement.”

If you are sold on pasteurised yogurt, you could hunt for one that has had freeze-dried probiotics added to it afterwards. How can you tell? “If you are shopping for a yogurt, make sure that it still contains live bacteria,” advises Dr Leeming. “You can see this by looking at the label on the back of the yogurt pot, it should say ‘live cultures’ or similar.”

The probiotic strains should be listed, agrees Prof Gaisford, but the numbers are usually missing, making it hard to assess the potency of your pot. It may be a mistake to pin your hopes on your breakfast: “In my testing of yogurts, they don’t contain anywhere near the numbers of bacteria as an actual probiotic supplement,” he says.

But if you’re eating for your gut, be extra wary of artificially flavoured yogurts, says Prof Gaisford: “There’s evidence that artificial colourants are not good for us, and artificial sweeteners are not absorbed, so often cause bloating.” Added sugar can also counter some of the gut-friendly effects of your yogurt. In 2022, a study conducted on mice, and published in the journal Cell, found that high doses of sugar cause damage to the gut lining, triggering inflammation.

So when it comes to your gut, Gaisford recommends the unflavoured ones made by Tims Dairy, Yeo Valley and The Collective. He also rates Marks & Spencer’s new kefir “gut shot” developed with the nutrition company Zoe.

What to buy:

Yeo Valley Organic Natural Yogurt 450g, £2 

M&S x Zoe The Gut Shot 150ml, £2

Tims Dairy Greek Style Natural Yogurt 500g, £2.30 

The best for calorie counters

Natural yogurt is lower in fat than its Greek cousin. Though the figures vary widely between brands, the former has around 4-5g fat per 100g, compared with the latter’s 10g.

But pause before piling your trolley high. “The old train of thought was that low fat was the healthier option,” says Miller. “However, there is now evidence to suggest that full-fat yogurt poses no greater risk of causing cardiovascular disease. Full-fat yogurt helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, would likely curb your appetite for longer and tends to be more nutrient-dense than low-fat foods.”

In fact, when Swedish researchers followed the diets of 27,000 people for 20 years, they found that those who ate the most high-fat yogurt and cheese had a 23 per cent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least.

Reach for natural yogurts that are specifically labelled as “low fat” and there are other issues to weigh up. “Low-fat and fat-free yogurts can be made in a variety of ways, from using skimmed milk to employing a variety of milk powders, protein isolates, starches and emulsifiers to improve consistency,” explains Rhian Stephenson, a nutritional therapist and the founder of the Artah nutrition company. On balance: “Low-fat and fat-free options are typically more processed, with more additives and more sweeteners, and will also have an inferior nutrient profile.”

Low-fat yogurt is likely to contain slightly more calcium than its full-fat cousin, says Stephenson, but less vitamin A and fat. Meanwhile, “full-fat milk will have more of the fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, E and K, and more fat”, she says.

There’s more. Flavoured yogurts often boast of their low-fat content, while keeping conspicuously quiet about their high sugar levels. Once swallowed, the latter will be rapidly absorbed once, resulting in a blood glucose spike, then a crash and a craving for more food. Not a great recipe for weight loss.

How about the impact of low-fat yogurt on your gut? “Whilst the removal of fat can remove some of the good bacteria in the yogurt, the probiotic content is more dependent on the brand rather than the fat content,” says Stephenson. The good news is that it’s quite easy to tell good low-fat yogurt from bad, she suggests: “A good-quality yogurt will typically have milk and bacterial cultures as an ingredient. Other ones will have a long list, which you should avoid. If you look at a yogurt and see sugar added, I would put it away.”

On balance: “If you prefer low-fat yogurt, it’s important to look for brands that have only a few, natural ingredients.” Stephenson suggests Rachel’s Organic natural low-fat bio-live yogurt, Fen Farm’s natural Skyr yogurt or Yeo Valley Kefir natural yogurt.

What to buy:

Rachel’s Organic Greek Style Set Natural Bio-Live Yogurt 450g, £2.65

Fen Farm’s Natural Skyr 400g , £3.50

Yeo Valley Kefir Natural Organic Yogurt 350g, £2 

The best for protein

Wondering how they get Greek yogurt so luxuriantly thick? Greek yogurt is a strained yogurt which removes whey and lactose, leading to a thicker, creamier texture that contains less carbs and more protein than regular natural yogurt,” explains Miller.

It really is an excellent source of protein, notes Miller, containing approximately double the amount that you will find in regular yogurt, with about 10g of protein per 100g (by comparison chicken has around 20-25g per 100g, but you probably don’t want to eat it with compote).

Why does this matter when it comes to your health? “The high protein content in Greek yogurt helps to slow digestion, increasing satiety and keeps you feeling fuller for longer,” explains Miller. “The protein also helps to moderate blood-sugar spikes, making it a more stable energy source compared to regular yogurt, which has a higher lactose (natural sugar) content and potentially quicker impact on blood sugar levels.”

There’s more: “Greek yogurt contains less lactose than ordinary natural yogurt, so could be a better choice for people who are lactose intolerant.” A word of warning, however: “It’s important to choose the right brand as they can really vary in quality,” says Miller. “I like Fage yogurt as it has a good level of protein and you can choose from 2 per cent or 5 per cent fat depending on preference.” It all makes for a very modern tongue-twister: “Got to get a good Greek yogurt for your gut.” She also recommends Tesco Finest Greek yogurt and Waitrose Greek yogurt.

What to buy:

Fage Total 5% Fat Natural Yogurt 450g, £3.70 

Tesco Finest Greek yogurt 500g, £2.30

Waitrose No1 Greek yogurt 500g, £2 

Nutritional therapist Lucy Miller’s yogurt-topping prescriptions

To boost gut health

Add fruits that are high in fibre and support the gut. Apple is a good option as it is rich in soluble fibre and contains pectin, a form of soluble fibre that helps improve bowel function and has been shown to support irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Bananas are also full of fibre and contain a rich source of pre- and probiotics that will support the gut microbiome.

To boost immunity

Foods high in vitamin C, zinc and selenium can help to improve immune function. So, oranges, kiwi, and strawberries for vitamin C. Nuts and seeds (such as pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts) for zinc and selenium. You can even add a sprinkle of turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can also support immune health.

To boost skin health

Flaxseeds, chia seeds or walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation that may reflect in skin health.

To boost bone health further

Add foods rich in magnesium, such as Brazil nuts, chia seeds, cashew nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Magnesium works synergistically with calcium and protein to support bone health.

For sustainable energy

To ensure sustained energy levels, add healthy fats in the form of nuts and seeds. You can make a granola from jumbo oats that can provide long-lasting energy through their complex carbohydrate content.


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