Greek yogurt, one of the fastest-growing foods on the market, is rapidly lining grocery store shelves across the country. In fact, retail sales of Greek yogurt within the U.S. have increased more than 50 percent in 2012 to reach upwards of $1.6 billion. The higher protein content and micronutrient profile are touted to be the most common reasons for its popularity.
What differentiates Greek yogurt from the traditional varieties is the process in which it is made. The yogurt is heavily strained, removing the liquid whey and lactose, leaving behind a tangy, thick, rich product. In addition, the removal of whey results in a yogurt with 40% less sugar, 38% less sodium and more than twice the amount of protein than traditional yogurt. In addition, each spoonful is packed with nutrients and provides numerous health benefits.
Greek yogurt is a great source of dietary protein. A single 6 ounce serving has between 15 and 20 grams of protein, the same as a 2-3 ounce serving of meat. This makes it a very appealing option for vegetarians looking to increase their intake of the nutrient. In comparison, one serving of regular yogurt contains an average of 9 grams. Protein is essential to maintain and promote new muscle growth, as well as tissue repair and immune health. It also helps to keep you feeling full longer, starving off the mid-meal hunger pains and the urge to indulge later on.
Going Greek is a smart choice for those looking to decrease their carbohydrate intake. With 5-8 grams per serving, it contains about half of the carbohydrates as its regular counterparts at 13-17 grams. In addition, the additional straining process removes more of the milk sugar, lactose, making Greek yogurt less likely to cause GI distress for those with mild lactose-intolerance. However, it is important to note that not all brands are created equal. Some brands or varieties of Greek yogurt, if sweetened with sugar, can contain significantly higher amounts of carbohydrates than others.
Regular yogurt supplies about 30 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium. While Greek yogurt loses some of its calcium through the straining process, one 6-ounce serving typically still supplies about 20 percent of the daily recommendation. One 6 ounce cup supplies about 20 percent of the RDA of calcium. Calcium is an important mineral for optimum bone health, in addition to blood clotting, cell signaling and muscle and nerve function. Greek yogurt also provides important nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, which work together with calcium to promote strong, healthy bones.
Vitamins and Minerals
A single cup serving of Greek yogurt contains significant amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. B vitamins such as riboflavin, vitamin B-12, pantothenic acid, thiamin and vitamin B-6, are vital for energy metabolism as well as the health of the immune, neurological and cardiovascular systems. Pairing Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, granola or nuts creates an easy and quick snack or simple breakfast that packs a nutritional punch.
Greek yogurt contains a number of live probiotic cultures which can help to protect against potentially harmful bacteria. The probiotics found in Greek yogurt may help to treat digestive disorders like diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other urinary and intestinal tract infections.
So for someone who wants an edge of protein and less sugar, going Greek is definitely not all hype. While both Greek yogurt and low-fat regular yogurt can both be a strong component in a healthy diet, brands can vary widely in terms of the amount of fat, carbohydrates and other ingredients. Take a look at the nutrition label to make sure you're getting the most out of your yogurt.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.