The Healthy Athlete's Guide to Yogurt | STACK

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Take a Tour Through the Yogurt Aisle

March 22, 2013

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Is it just us, or does the yogurt aisle at the grocery seem a mile long? With over-packed shelves offering so many choices, all with seemingly healthy ingredients, it’s getting hard to make a selection. (Get Insider Tips on How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label.) Here’s a guide to help you on your next trip down the aisle.

Step One: Get to Know Your Yogurts

1. Greek Yogurt. Food manufacturers are scrambling to put this Mediterranean stud in everything from ice cream to granola bars. Noted for its creamy flavor and thick texture, Greek yogurt tastes different because of its straining process, in which the yogurt is pressed through a cloth. Producing Greek yogurt requires three to four times more milk, so it offers more protein per serving than most other yogurts.[1] It’s also lower in carbohydrate and sodium, making it a good choice for people watching their carb intake.

2.  Regular Yogurt. This old standby seems like it’s getting left in the dust. Regular flavored yogurt typically contains artificial coloring and significant amounts of sugar, making it a poor nutritional choice. However, before you throw in the spoon for good, regular yogurt does beat out the Herculean Greek in terms of its calcium content. Greek yogurt's straining process also removes some calcium, so regular yogurt contains about 10% more calcium than Greek.

3.    Non-Dairy.  As more people ditch dairy products, dairy alternatives such as soy, almond and coconut milk are gaining in popularity. The fermentation of these diary alternatives requires extra sugar and thickeners to improve texture, knocking them down a notch or two on the nutritional scale. They also contain less protein than dairy yogurts.

4. Kefir: A fermented milk product, Kefir is a more liquid and naturally aerated diary product. Since it uses yeast in addition to bacteria, it contains more probiotics—up to 12 strands compared to only two in regular yogurt.[2]

Live and Active Cultures Seal

Live and Active Cultures Seal via National Yogurt Association

Step Two: Look for the Live and Active Cultures Seal

The good news is that all yogurt varieties contain probiotics.[3] Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract, helping your body break down food and boosting your immune system.[4] From yogurt, you're getting at least two strains of probiotics: L bugaricus and S thermophiles. To ensure you're getting the recommended dose, look for the National Yogurt Association's Live and Active Cultures seal.

Step Three: Read the Nutrition Label

  1. Protein: Extra protein keeps you feeling full longer, especially when you eat it for breakfast.
  2. Low-fat: Removing fat boosts calcium levels, so lower-fat varieties contain up to 30% of the recommended daily serving of calcium.
  3. Low in sugar: An individual serving of around six ounces has 12% natural sugar. Adding fruits and flavors increases the sugar level, so aim for a brand with less than 17 to 20 grams.[4]

Step Four: Get in the Kitchen

Yogurt doesn’t just have to be eaten out of its plastic container with a spoon. P.J. James of Fit to Fat and Back provided us with two of his favorite recipes that incorporate Greek yogurt. (See also Protein-Packed Smoothies Without Protein Powder.)

PJ’s Oatmeal Kickstarter


  • ½ cup oats (quick oats can be used if preferred)
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 1 tablespoon crushed walnuts
  • ½ banana (cut into thin slices)


  • Place oats, yogurt and water in a saucepan over a medium heat. Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring the mixture occasionally to avoid a gluey consistency. When desired consistency is reached (approx. 5 minutes), remove saucepan from the heat.
  • Stir in agave nectar and cinnamon.
  • Spoon mixture into a serving bowl and top with an extra dollop of Greek yogurt, crushed walnuts and banana slices.

PJ’s Protein Powder Pancakes


  • 1¾ cups plain (all purpose) flour
  • ¼ cup protein powder (flavored or plain)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Mixed berries (quantity according to taste)


  • In a bowl, combine the flour, protein powder, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. In a separate bowl, use a whisk to combine the eggs, flaxseed oil, yogurt and water. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and use a large spoon to combine to batter consistency. If mixture is too thick, add small amounts of water until desired consistency is achieved.
  • Fill a ladle with the pancake mixture and slowly pour onto a pre-heated (medium heat) flat pan coated with a small amount of cooking spray. Wait for bubbles to form on top. Use a spatula to flip the pancakes over and cook until the second side is golden.
  • To prepare a simple mixed berry sauce that can be refrigerated, place frozen or fresh berries in a saucepan and add a small amount of water. Place saucepan over low heat and slowly simmer. Gently stir the berry mixture until it forms a sauce consistency. Pour over pancakes and enjoy!

PJ’s Top 10 Uses for Greek Yogurt

  • Stir Greek yogurt into warm pumpkin soup for an amazing creamy texture.
  • When making scrambled eggs, whisk eggs vigorously and combine with a dollop of Greek yogurt before cooking.
  • Fruit salad goes very well with Greek yogurt. For something a little different, freeze the yogurt beforehand and spoon on top of the fruit salad before serving.
  • Greek yogurt can also be used as a dip because of its thick consistency. Keep a jar of roasted red pepper puree in the fridge and add a few teaspoons to Greek yogurt for a super quick and tasty dip. Grab some crackers, carrots or celery sticks and enjoy!
  • Yogurt is a nice accompaniment to a main meal. It goes really well with spicy (or mild) Indian curry.
  • Greek yogurt and wild berry smoothie is an all-time favorite. Place 1 cup of Greek yogurt and ½ cup of mixed blackberries, blueberries and cranberries in a blender and mix until all ingredients are blended evenly. Scoop into a tall glass, add some chopped mint and a teaspoon of agave nectar for taste. Great during summer.
  • Greek yogurt makes a great marinade. Coat skinless chicken breasts with a generous amount of Greek yogurt. For a twist, add in a small amount of turmeric powder. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. When ready to use, remove the excess yogurt from the chicken, leaving a thin layer, and grill or bake the chicken to your liking. Always a winner and very juicy.
  • Add a dollop of yogurt to warm mashed potatoes and stir through until smooth. For a bit of indulgence, stir in a teaspoon of butter before serving.
  • Greek yogurt and peanut butter go really well together. Combine the two and freeze for an amazing frozen yogurt dessert.
  • If you’re into Mexican food, add some Greek yogurt to your tacos or nachos and feel your taste buds come alive!

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[1] Isabel Celigueta Torres, Thomas Janhøj, Bente Østergaard Mikkelsen, Richard Ipsen. “Effect of microparticulated whey protein with varying content of denatured protein on the rheological and sensory characteristics of low-fat yoghurt,” International Dairy Journal, 2011, 21, 9, 645

[2] Ying Huang , Fei Wu , Xiaojun Wang , Yujie Sui , Longfei Yang , Jinfeng Wang. “Characterization of Lactobacillus plantarum Lp27 isolated from Tibetan kefir grains: A potential probiotic bacterium with cholesterol-lowering effects.” Journal of Dairy Science, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 14 March 2013, Page

[3] ^ Schlundt, Jorgen. "Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria." Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria. FAO / WHO. Retrieved 17 December 2012.

[4] Parvez, S., Malik, KA., Ah Kang, S., et al. Helix Pharms Co. Ltd, Kyung-Hee University, and Department of Biological Sciences of Oriental Medicine, Graduate School of Interdepartmental Studies, Institute of Oriental Medicines, Kyung-Hee University, Dongdaemoon-gu, Seoul, Korea. “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial to health.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 2006 Jun;100(6):1171-85.

[5] Michael B. Zemel1,*, Warren Thompson2, Anita Milstead1, Kristin Morris1, Peter Campbell1. “Calcium and Dairy Acceleration of Weight and Fat Loss during Energy Restriction in Obese Adults.” Article first published online: 6 SEP 2012. DOI: 10.1038/oby.2004.67. 2004 North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO)

Samantha Jones
- Samantha Jones is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her bachelor's degree in communication and information sciences. Throughout her scholastic career,...
Samantha Jones
- Samantha Jones is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her bachelor's degree in communication and information sciences. Throughout her scholastic career,...
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