Yoghurt: What you should know and how to choose the healthiest option

  • Yoghurt can be a healthy, versatile addition to diets
  • Unfortunately, many options are full of sugar
  • Our nutritional experts guide you on making the healthiest choice

Made from milk and gut-healthy bacteria, yoghurt is a popular and versatile food. Studies suggest that regular yoghurt eaters tend to make healthier food choices. In addition, they are also more physically active. This adds support to yoghurt as part of a healthy diet. Yoghurt can boost your health by combating obesity, improving heart and gut health, and by reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.

The South African food-based dietary guidelines recommend that we have milk, Maas or yoghurt every day, aiming for two to three servings. One serving of yoghurt equals two small 100g tubs of yoghurt, plain or flavoured.

However, with so many varieties on the market, some types are definitely healthier than others.  

Strained yoghurts and Greek yoghurt

Strained yoghurt refers to a product where the whey, the watery part of the milk has been removed. This results in a thicker, creamier yoghurt with a higher protein content.

While there is great praise for Greek yoghurt (which is traditionally strained), did you know that true Greek yoghurts are not widely found in retail stores in South Africa? This is because few yoghurt manufacturers in the country have the manufacturing technology to make true Greek yoghurt.

For this reason, South Africans will only find "Greek-style" yoghurts on the market. Should you prefer a yoghurt with more protein, compare the protein content on the label per 100g product. 

Yoghurt vs. dairy snacks

There is a difference between dairy snacks and yoghurts, and we are often tricked into thinking we are eating yoghurt when it's a dairy snack. To distinguish between the two, read the description on the label. Also check the table with nutrition information.

To be classified as a yoghurt, the product should contain a minimum of 2.0g of milk protein per 100g, whereas in dairy snacks, the minimum milk protein requirement is only 1.5g. 

Sweetened yoghurts

Some yoghurt is sweetened with sugar and/or fruit pulp. It is important to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars in the yoghurt (such as lactose) and actual added sugar.

In South Africa, the law requires food manufacturers to show the total amount of sugar – not indicating how much of the total sugar is lactose, and how much is added. For this reason, no yoghurt will ever be sugar-free, as by their very nature, every 100g of plain yoghurt will have at least 4g of naturally occurring sugar from lactose.

Plain yoghurt

Plain yoghurt has no added flavouring or sugar and is a good choice for those who prefer to limit sugar in their diet. When adding sugar or honey to sweeten the yoghurt, do this in moderation.

One study in France showed that consumers of plain (unsweetened) yoghurt actually added more sugar to yoghurt than when it was already sweetened. This teaches us that if you sweeten plain yoghurt yourself, be conscious of the amount of sugar or honey you add.

Lactose-free yoghurt

Yoghurt is simply milk with live bacteria cultures called Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. As the live cultures help to pre-digest some of the lactose in the yoghurt, all yoghurts are naturally lower in lactose than the milk they're made from. Lactose-free yoghurts are specifically made to have virtually no lactose at all.

Children’s yoghurt

Any yoghurt, whether low fat or full cream, sweetened or unsweetened, will be good to include as part of a child’s diet. Research has shown, children (8–18 years) who eat yoghurt regularly, such as once a week, have healthier diets. These children consume 10% more milk, 23% more fruit, 30% more whole grains, and have higher intakes of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

Children who eat more yoghurt also have lower levels of body fat and smaller waist circumferences. In addition, studies show that yoghurt does not contribute excess sugar to the child’s diet. The culprits are cakes, biscuits, sweetened breakfast cereals, sweets, chocolates, and sugar-sweetened cold drinks that contribute 50% of total sugar and 66% of added sugar in children’s diets.oghurt accounts for a mere 4–8.5% of added sugar in the diets of children. 

Yoghurt is a convenient food that can be eaten at any time of the day: as part of breakfast, as a healthy snack between meals or even as a healthy dessert alternative. It's the perfect food to partner with fruit, cereal, nuts, and even savoury dishes such as curries. 

READ | Why you should eat yoghurt, even when lactose intolerant

READ | The best yoghurts on the market

READ | Start with dairy swaps to lose weight 

Image credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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