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Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt: Is One Better?

We break down the difference


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It's important to choose the right yogurt to get the full nutritional benefit.
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Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the endless options in the dairy aisle? Here’s a suggestion: Make plain low-to-no-fat yogurt a staple on your grocery list. Not only is it a versatile ingredient or a standalone snack, it also packs a punch of nutritional benefits. Whether you prefer the thicker, tangier Greek yogurt or the timeless appeal of regular yogurt depends on your culinary preferences and dietary needs.

“Nutrition-wise, yogurt is probably one of the best ways to take in your dairy,” says William Lendway, a dietitian, chef and assistant professor at Johnson & Wales University, a school whose specialized degrees include culinary arts and nutrition. “It’s an easy source of protein and vitamin D because of its fortification and calcium.”

Regularly enjoying yogurt can make it easier for your body to digest lactose and help you tolerate it better. And it’s not just about digestion. Foods like yogurt and kefir might also lower your chances of getting breast or colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart problems, a recent review of over 100 studies found. Plus, yogurt may help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your bones strong and support a happy gut.

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Greek yogurt vs. regular yogurt: key differences

How is yogurt made?

Broadly speaking, yogurt is a fermented dairy food made with milk and live active cultures, often referred to as “good bacteria.”

Making yogurt starts by adding beneficial bacteria to pasteurized milk. These bacteria thrive on lactose and transform it into lactic acid, which infuses the yogurt with its distinctive tangy flavor. Over the course of six to eight hours, the mixture continues to ferment until it turns into yogurt, says Erin Coffield, a dietitian and vice president of health and wellness communications for the National Dairy Council.

Regular yogurt is turned into Greek yogurt by straining it with a cheese cloth or a stainless-steel sieve for 24 to 36 hours until its volume is reduced by half.

Consistency

You’ll notice that Greek yogurt is thicker. That’s because whey, the watery liquid you see at the top of regular yogurt, is removed from the Greek variety through the straining process. That extra step gives Greek yogurt a creamier consistency.

Nutritional benefits of yogurt

Both Greek and regular yogurt have a distinct nutritional profile, and the choice between them depends on your nutritional goals.

“From protein to things like calcium and vitamins, they are going to be in both regular and Greek yogurt,” says Coffield. However, the specific quantities of those nutrients may differ between the two.

Whether it’s Greek or regular, yogurt can be a healthy part of your diet. It’s a good source of protein, calcium and B vitamins, and also improves your gut microbiome. One analysis of studies published in Nutrition Reviews found links between eating yogurt and lower risk of breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Studies also linked yogurt consumption to healthy weight.

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Protein

If your focus is on incorporating more protein in your diet, you’ll want to steer towards Greek yogurt. On average, low-fat Greek yogurt contains as much as 10 grams of protein, compared to 5 grams in regular low-fat yogurt. That’s double the protein! More protein in your diet is beneficial for muscle recovery and growth, and it helps keep you feeling fuller longer.

Sugar

Yogurt is one of those healthy foods that can easily be made less healthy because of the sugar content. Some yogurts taste like dessert.

Just a cup of strawberry flavored yogurt can have 15 grams of sugar, 12 of which are added to make it taste sweeter. Instead of buying yogurts with added sugar, choose plain yogurt and customize it at home with your favorite fruit or nuts.

Carbohydrates 

Lactose inherently contains carbohydrates, and it’s present in whey, that watery layer you find on top of regular yogurt. While both yogurt varieties contain carbohydrates, Greek yogurt tends to have less. This is due to the straining process, which eliminates water containing carbohydrates, ultimately reducing the yogurt’s overall carb count.

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Fat

Nutritionists usually suggest choosing nonfat yogurt. Do that and you’ll find both regular and Greek yogurts with less than 1 gram, as they’re made with skim milk. But if you go full fat, regular yogurt has fewer fat grams. A 100-gram serving of full-fat Greek yogurt has 5 grams of fat, half of it being saturated. Conversely, the same portion of regular yogurt made from whole milk contains 3 grams of fat, with 2 grams of saturated fat.

“A little disclaimer that goes along with promoting dairy products is that we usually suggest that people get a lower fat version of it,” Lendway says. U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that adults eat three servings of dairy a day and that saturated fat be limited to less than 10 percent of your daily calories.

However, some studies suggest full-fat dairy may be better for weight loss and heart disease, despite its high calorie count as long as there is a focus on fermented dairy products and limiting butter and cream.

Calcium

Regular yogurt has more calcium than Greek yogurt because the straining of Greek yogurt removes some of the original calcium. However, in both instances, yogurt is an easy way to get calcium, because you don’t have to eat as much of it compared to green vegetables.

“I’m all for eating green vegetables, but sometimes it’s a little bit hard to get your calcium and iron from these vegetable sources. You just have to eat more of it,” Lendway says.

For example, even though cooked kale boasts 150 mg of calcium, it falls short of the 183 mg found in an equivalent serving of low-fat regular yogurt. Opting for full-fat yogurt doesn’t provide any additional calcium compared to its low-fat counterpart either.

Probiotics

“When it comes to the best bang for the buck, yogurt is one of our best dairy sources. And one of the biggest pros in that is having those probiotics,” Lendway says.

Probiotics play a crucial role in digestion, supporting the immune system and absorbing essential vitamins. Certain medications like antibiotics can kill a lot of those essential bacteria. Lendway recommends repopulating what’s lost by having multiple servings of yogurt (or other fermented foods), especially after a round of antibiotics.

Lactose

Thanks to its straining process, Greek yogurt has less lactose than regular yogurt. But even regular yogurt has less lactose than milk due to the fermentation process that eats away at the naturally occurring sugar. Therefore, some people with an intolerance to other dairy products might be able to eat yogurt without complications and may eventually begin to better tolerate lactose in general.

How to incorporate yogurt into cooking

Plain yogurt can act as a blank canvas in recipes, as it is capable of transforming into both sweet and savory creations. Whether it’s eaten straight from the container or incorporated into various dishes, it’s a protein-rich option that requires neither knife nor fork, making it particularly well-suited for individuals with hand mobility issues or dysphagia, where swallowing poses a challenge.

“It’s an ancient food that delivers on modern 21st century wellness needs,” Coffield says.

Baking: Make pizza crust, pancakes and cheesecakes with yogurt as a healthier alternative in baking. Doing so makes traditional baked goods more nutritious.

Marinade: Use yogurt as a marinade for meat to enhance tenderness.

Appetizers: Create diverse appetizers, such as ranch dip and homemade yogurt cheese (labneh).

Substitution in recipes: Swap out mayonnaise with yogurt in dishes such as potato salad, dips, macaroni salad or coleslaw for a healthier twist. You can also use yogurt to replace cream in foods like soup by adding it to the dish during the final stages of cooking.

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