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What’s The Deal With Yogurt?

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I feel like I need to come clean with you guys before I write this post.  I am a Registered Dietitian and I do not love yogurt.  It’s a texture thing (now FroYo…that I can get behind).  I may not be a big fan but my family members and the rest of the world seem to love yogurt so what’s the deal with it? Is it healthy for your sprout or loaded with sugar?  Is Greek better than regular?  Does it make a good face cream (because that’s pretty much what G uses it for)? And what about those tube deals?  Anyone else remember having frozen yogurt tubes in their lunch boxes?

If you’ve walked by the yogurt section of your local grocery store recently, you may have noticed that we have a plethora of options in this department, but let’s get down to the basics:

What is Yogurt?

Although much of America has recently jumped on the yogurt bandwagon, yogurt has actually been around for thousands of years, which indicates that there must be SOMETHING redeeming about this milky substance, right?  And it definitely has some good qualities.  Yogurt starts as milk and then live bacterial cultures are added to it, giving yogurt it’s sour taste and thickened texture.  Thanks to the bacterial cultures, yogurt contains less lactose than other dairy products, like milk or ice cream, and may be more friendly to our lactose intolerant sprouts (just be sure to start with small amounts and serve with something else like fruit or nuts).

What is the difference between Greek and Regular?

Greek yogurt is just strained yogurt (in fact you could make your own at home, just take some yogurt and sit it in cheesecloth over a strainer for a few days).  Thanks to the straining, Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier and contains up to 2x the protein of regular yogurt.  No thanks to the straining, Greek yogurt is lower in calcium than regular yogurt (much of the calcium is in the whey or the liquid that is strained off).   Either way (Greek or regular) it is best to opt for the low-fat or fat free variety (unless you’re looking to put a little weight on your kiddo, then go full-fat, baby!).

What is the nutritional value of yogurt?

So why the buzz surrounding yogurt? Probably because yogurt is a veritable cornucopia of nutrients in a cute little cup.  We discussed the protein and calcium above (protein = muscles, calcium = strong bones), but there are other nutrients in there as well.  Probiotics, for starters, are the “good bacteria” in yogurt that help keep your gut healthy.  Yogurt also contains vitamin D (strong bones), potassium (electrolyte) and B vitamins (lots of good things).  All important for keeping your little ones healthy and strong.  

What about the sugar?

We’ve discussed that kids needed a limited amount of added sugar each day and if you’ve ever looked at a yogurt container you might not consider the amount in there “limited”.  Yes, yogurt contains sugar, and some yogurts contain added sugar (and a lot of it).  Keep in mind, however, that much of the sugar in yogurt comes naturally!  Milk contains sugar called lactose.  If you look at your nutrition panel on the milk in your fridge you might be surprised to find that a glass of milk contains about 12 grams of sugar (more or less depending on the fat percentage).  Even with all that sugar, because it is naturally occurring, milk is healthy for your sprout and yogurt is too.  Another source of sugar in yogurt is fruit, which contains the naturally occurring sugar fructose.  If you account for these 2 ingredients, your yogurt may have less added sugar than you thought!  Beware the added sugars though! Check your ingredient list for corn syrup, cane sugar, regular sugar, and any other added sweetener.  If you’re concerned about the sugar content for your babe, buy plain yogurt and add your own flavors like fruit, extracts, and spices.  My favorite (if I can have a favorite for a food I’m not too fond of) is to buy plain greek yogurt add a scoop of unsweetened frozen berries and let them thaw over the top of the yogurt, naturally sweetening things up with their own juices.  My other rule of thumb (if that seems like too much work/effort) is to check the ingredients.  If fruit is listed before sugar, I feel pretty good about buying it and feeding it to my guys.    

What else can I do with yogurt, other than eat it plain?

When it comes to using yogurt, the world is your oyster.  My child likes using it as a face cream (he does have some pretty soft cheeks…), but I love adding it to smoothies to provide a little protein boost to said meat-hating 18 month old.  Make your kids a fruit and yogurt parfait (everybody likes parfaits) for breakfast.  Use it on pancakes or waffles instead of syrup.  Replace sour cream with plain yogurt in recipes and as a topping.  More protein, less fat, and your kids will never know the difference.  I also love to bake with yogurt.  Swap out half the oil in many recipes with the same amount of greek or regular plain yogurt and no one will be any wiser.  Less fat and more moisture.  It’s a win-win.  Yogurt is also perfect as-is for a snack anytime (pre or post sport practice, after school, before bedtime…you get the idea).  

Hopefully I’ve answered a few of your questions about this dairy delectable, and helped inspire you to stock your fridge with a few varieties.  Keep an eye on the added sweeteners and your kids and yogurt will be fast friends!

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