How to choose a healthy yoghurt – 5 things a dietitian looks for

Creamy and delicious yoghurt – it’s one of the most versatile foods in your refrigerator! Whether you love savoury or sweet dishes, yoghurt can make a tasty accompaniment, full of nutrients and gut-friendly probiotics.

Yoghurt contains a range of essential vitamins and minerals and it’s a good source of protein and calcium,- which is fantastic for bones, teeth, muscles and brain health. Research has also found that yoghurt may assist with some gastrointestinal conditions, including reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease.

But deciding on the best option can be daunting, especially when faced with a wall of yoghurt options at the supermarket. Natural, fruity, protein, oat, coconut, pot-set – just what’s best? We ask Sanitarium dietitian Trish Guy just what she looks for:

1. Check for vitamins and minerals

Nutritionally, yoghurt really packs a punch as the vitamins and minerals are more concentrated than in milk. Dairy-based yoghurt provides calcium and B-group vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.

There are now a growing number of plant-based yoghurts to choose from, too. Be sure to look for one that is fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and probiotics. My tip is to choose a yoghurt that is high in calcium (at least 100mg per 100g) and is ideally a source of protein. I also recommend a plant based yoghurt that is low in saturated fat, with 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g. 

2. Pick plain when you can

Plain yoghurt without added sugar is my first choice, such as a natural or Greek-style yoghurt. However, flavoured or fruit yoghurt can be nutritious, too. It still provides the benefits of calcium, protein, B-group vitamins and probiotics.

Pot-set yoghurts can be a good choice, but pot-set doesn’t automatically equal healthier, so be sure to check the nutrition panel and ingredient list.

3. Full fat vs low fat – choose for your heart 

The answer is not straight forward. According to the Heart Foundation, the evidence overall suggests that dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheese) has a neutral effect on heart health.

However, the Heart Foundation does recommend for people with heart disease or high cholesterol to choose reduced fat dairy foods including low fat yoghurt, because dairy foods contain saturated and ruminant trans fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol. 

Whichever you choose, remember that some yoghurts may have additional sugar or sugary inclusions like cookies or chocolate. Check the nutrition information panel - less than 12g of sugar per 100g is best.

4. Go for gut-loving probiotics  

The benefits of probiotics have been heralded for some time now and researchers at Harvard University believe they not only support good gut health but may help improve mood, brain function, stress and anxiety.

All dairy-based yoghurts contain live cultures. Adding these “live-cultures” helps the milk ferment and set. However, the probiotics must survive the yoghurt production process and still be there at the end of the use-by date.If you are specifically looking for a probiotic yoghurt, choose one that lists the amount of probiotics either on the Nutrition Information Panel or ingredient listing.

It is not always the case for plant-based yoghurts so check the ingredient list for “probiotics” or “live cultures”. You may also spot Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium as these live bacteria are most highly regarded as beneficial for gut health.

5. Be wary of over doing the protein 

There is a growing range of very high protein yoghurts on the market, with some including up to 20g of protein per tub. These protein packed yoghurts can help meet your protein goals especially at breakfast but if you don’t like the taste, or the added cost, then stick to regular yoghurts as these still provide a nutritious source of protein.

Remember eating too much of any food or nutrient, healthy or not, can provide more protein and kilojoules than you need.

For some tasty ideas for using yoghurt check out our delicious recipe collection.