Cool, creamy, and just a little bit tart – yogurt almost feels like an indulgent treat. Top it with a bit of fruit, maybe some almonds, and it’s like having dessert for breakfast. And while we’ve always known that yogurt is good for your health, it turns out it’s also good for your waistline.
A recent review of multiple studies that looked at yogurt and its health effects found that people who eat more yogurt are more likely to have slimmer waists and to weigh less or have healthier body composition.
Researchers surmised that because yogurt is fermented, it may affect the gut microbiome positively by adding and encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy weight.
They also noted that yogurt contains several macronutrients such as calcium that may promote fat metabolism.
People who eat yogurt regularly are generally healthy eaters, too, eating more fruit and whole grains and less fast food, fried foods, junk food, and alcohol. But with so many types, brands, and flavors of yogurt, knowing which one is best can be a challenge.
Here are 6 things you need to look for when choosing the best yogurt for weight loss or weight maintenance:
Live, Active Cultures
Yogurt is the product of milk inoculated with several types of beneficial bacterial species like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus which convert pasteurized milk to yogurt via fermentation. These cultures are probiotics that can help increase beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract, inhibit growth of harmful bacteria, and boost your immune system.
Some yogurts are heat-treated after the fermentation process, however, and that kills the “good” bacteria. Look for the words “Live & Active Cultures” on the package, as these products will contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture for refrigerated yogurts and 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture for frozen yogurt.
Non-organic yogurts can come from dairy cows that have been given growth hormones like rBGH and rBST to help them produce more milk. However, these hormones also increase levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), a hormone that has been linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers in some studies.
Look for brands like Horizon that offer an organic line of dairy products, including yogurt. When you choose organic yogurt, you can feel good knowing that no artificial growth hormones or antibiotics were given to the animals that produced the dairy, and the food they ate was free from harmful pesticides or genetically engineered crops. They also help you avoid harmful artificial sweeteners and colors, too.
Low Fat or Non-Fat
Full fat dairy products are high in saturated fat, the kind of fat associated with cardiovascular disease. A good rule of thumb is to limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total fat intake or 16 grams a day. By choosing a non-fat yogurt, you get the benefits but skip the downside of having saturated fat.
Plain, Not “Naturally” Sweetened
All of the yogurts that have fruit added also have more added sugars, which rack up the calories. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
If you want to sweeten your yogurt, add some strawberries, blueberries or raspberries. These berries not only add color and fiber, but are also chock-full of phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
Add Crunch With Nuts & Dried Fruits
Some refrigerated yogurt comes with granola (e.g. Yoplait and YoCrunch), and when you order a yogurt parfait at breakfast, it often comes topped with granola. Unfortunately, most granolas pack a large number of calories, fat, and sugar in just a small ¼ cup portion. Opt for a handful of mixed nuts with a few raisins, figs, or cranberries thrown in. That way you get added crunch, flavor, and fiber without all the other stuff you don’t want.
Go for Greek
Greek yogurt gets a lot of hype and with good reason – it’s nutritionally superior to regular yogurt and especially good for people watching their weight. It has nearly twice the protein of regular yogurt, making it much more satiating, keeping you full longer. It also has less sugar and fewer carbs, and that creamy texture just can’t be beat.
If you’re going to go Greek, make sure it’s real Greek yogurt, which is strained, and not “Greek-style,” which doesn’t offer the same nutrition and has added ingredients to mimic the texture.
If you’re looking for something healthy and delicious to help keep you trim, take these tips and treat yourself to some yogurt, whether it’s at breakfast, as a snack, or as an after-dinner dessert. Your waistline and your gut will thank you!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.