Yogurt is produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. Doesn’t sound so appetizing, does it? Despite this, yogurt is enjoyed in households all over the world as a fruity, refreshing snack or dessert. And it’s one of our personal favorites, too. This is because yogurt is simply delicious, and no amount of live bacterial cultures swarming inside it is going to change that.
In fact, when it comes to yogurt, the more bacteria the better. Yogurt is filled with healthy bacterial cultures that aid in digestion by providing your intestinal flora with the fuel they need to survive. With them, your body would lack the ability to effectively break down food. This makes yogurt an all-important addition to any diet.
Think all yogurts are the same? They are certainly not. Many varieties of yogurt have gained popularity in recent years as healthier substitutes to traditional yogurt. Leading the pack is Greek yogurt, a variety with a thicker texture and super high in protein content.
It’s no surprise, then, that Greek yogurt has become a smash hit since its arrival on the market, with sales rapidly increasing in the last decade. Today, Greek yogurt enjoys the majority of market share in the U.S. yogurt market, an industry with nearly $8-billion USD in sales in 2016. And unlike some other trendy foods, Greek yogurt has the nutritional profile to back up the hype
Why ‘Greek’ is Great
The distinctive feature of Greek yogurt is that it is strained to remove whey, whereas regular yogurt is unstrained. Whey is a liquid byproduct that gets left behind after milk has been curdled. This gives Greek yogurt its uniquely thick consistency while maintaining the normal sour taste of natural yogurt. Typically, Greek yogurt is made from strained low-fat yogurts.
Greek yogurt’s straining process causes the yogurt to become dense with casein, a natural and slow-digesting form of protein. Thanks to its casein density (pronounced “kay-seen”), Greek yogurt contains far more protein than normal yogurts. This has made it a favorite among bodybuilders and those looking to recover after a hard workout.
Casein vs. Whey Protein
Greek yogurt contains casein, whereas regular yogurt features small amounts of whey. Although both are forms of milk protein, whey is fast-digesting and casein takes far longer to digest. In the stomach, casein converts into a sort of gel-like substance which slowly moves through the digestive tract. As a result, the protein’s amino acids are gradually released into the body over time.
By contrast, whey protein is globular and moves quickly through the body and into the bloodstream. This is why it has found popularity among those looking for a super-fast delivery of protein to help recover from a workout or a sports game.
While neither is superior to the other, each have their unique benefits in digestion speed. For general health-conscious eaters, we recommend opting for Greek yogurt’s casein because it provides longer lasting nutrients than the more sports-specific whey.
The Showdown: Greek vs. Regular
The kind of protein found in Greek yogurt is not the only difference from its conventional counterpart. There is also a stark contrast in the quantity of protein. In fact, there are many differences in Greek and regular, natural yogurt nutrition. For your convenience, we’ve detailed each of them below:
Greek yogurt contains 15-20 grams of protein per serving (6 oz.), compared to regular yogurt’s 9 grams. This makes Greek the more satiating option and the optimal choice for those looking to build muscle or shed fat.
Greek yogurt has 5-8 grams of carbs per serving compared to regular yogurt’s 12-20 grams of carbs. The exact number depends on the kind of added sweetener or fruit used. For those watching their carb intake, or limiting sugar in their diet, Greek is your go-to.
Greek yogurt contains roughly half the amount of sodium as regular yogurt. This makes Greek yogurt ideal for weight loss and for those who are trying not to retain excess water in the body.
Non-fat varieties of both Greek and regular yogurt contain the same amount of calories. However, regular yogurt is more often infused with added fruits and sugars that can drastically increase the calorie count.
It’s rare that you find a creamy, dense substance like Greek yogurt that’s also healthy for your diet. This makes Greek yogurt far more appropriate as a substitute for fats in baking, or as an alternative for sour cream. Plus, fruit smoothies can be made far thicker if made with a Greek yogurt base—almost as thick as your typical milkshake, but with none of the guilt.
What Are Probiotics?
Both Greek and regular yogurt are equally probiotic. This literally means pro- bacteria—that is, they provide an environment hospitable for healthy bacteria to live and grow. In fact, the average serving of yogurt contains upwards of 60 million colony-forming bacteria. Once consumed, these microorganisms become your intestines’ natural defense system.
Healthy bacteria help flush out the bad bacteria in your gut. You know, the kind responsible for indigestion, diarrhea, and stomach pain. This makes Greek yogurt a saving grace for those suffering from common digestion issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotics can also provide relief for excess bloating.
Our Favorite Greek Yogurts
Now let’s get down to it, and list off our favorite brands of Greek yogurt. Try any of these delicious, nutritious varieties to satisfy your next bout of cravings. Since Greek yogurt needs to be kept chilled, we do not recommend ordering online. Instead, look for these trusted brands at your local supermarket.
Danone Oikos Greek Yogurt, Plain
There’s no dairy product on the market that can compete with the protein in plain Greek yogurt. Danone’s Oikos brand packs a whopping 20 grams of casein protein per serving (8 oz.). Weighing in at only 190 calories, and boasting only 9 grams of carbs, this is a classic, natural Greek yogurt that is light and refreshing. Enjoy it as a smoothie base, or all on its own.
Wallaby Organic Greek Yogurt, Plain Low-Fat
Wallaby Organic is the ultimate health-conscious yogurt option. Every 6-ounce serving packs 17 grams of protein while having only 4 grams of sugar. Its ultra-low carb content makes it the healthiest option for more dedicated dieters, and small increments can even be included in a Paleo or ketogenic diet plan.
This is the best low sugar Greek yogurt, hands down. However, what you gain in nutrition you might have to sacrifice in taste. We recommend serving with a helping of low-sugar fruit, or a spoonful of natural Stevia sweetener.
Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt
Fage Total yogurt is the perfect middle-ground option. For every 7-ounce serving, you get 20 grams of high-quality protein. This makes Fage Total the right choice for athletes or fitness junkies, or simply those looking to maximize their protein intake. While it contains a relatively high 8 grams of sugar per serving, this means it also comes with a sweet and refreshing taste.
Our Favorite Greek Yogurt Smoothies
Now that you have all your go-to brand figured out, here are some of our personal favorite smoothie recipes based with Greek yogurt. We love these not only for their rich nutritional profile, but also their perfectly thick consistency. If you didn’t know any better, they could pass as milkshakes. They’re that creamy!
Mixed-Berry Medley Smoothie
When you think “fruit smoothie”, this is the one that probably comes to mind. Its pink and seedy appearance is the aftermath of several superfood berries blended into one delicious beverage. Best of all, its Greek yogurt base makes it high in protein and as thick and melting strawberry ice cream.
- 1 cup blackberries, frozen
- 1 cup raspberries, frozen
- 1 cup blueberries, frozen
- 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
- 2 ½ cups skimmed milk or almond milk
- 2 tbsps. organic honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
The Apple Pastry Smoothie
This smoothie is a family favorite of ours. Its taste resembles liquid apple pie, only if it were loaded with healthy probiotics and heaps of long-lasting protein.
- 1 sliced apple, Gala
- 1 banana, frozen
- 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, plain
- 1 tsp organic maple syrup
- ½ cup almond milk, or skimmed milk
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Nutmeg to taste
The Green, Greek Monster
This gooey green monster puts a healthier spin on the traditional fruit smoothie. Two cups of spinach makes this smoothie full of hard-to-get vitamin K, which is essential for bone and arterial function. And best of all, it still tastes great as the sweetness of the banana and the sourness of the yogurt overpower the bitter flavor of the spinach.
- 2 cups spinach leaves
- 1 large banana
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into pieces
- ¾ cup low-fat Greek yogurt, plain
- ½ cup ice
- 2 tbsps. organic honey