Ingredient 911: Greek Yogurt
You may have noticed that Greek yogurt is everywhere these days. Although it’s long been a favorite ingredient for chefs and foodies, it’s only recently become mainstream. Greek yogurt, which is a staple in other parts of the world such as Europe and the Middle East, is richer and creamier than traditional yogurt. Now its popularity has spread to the US, and sales of Greek yogurt have skyrocketed in this country. Multiple brands of Greek yogurt are popping up in grocery stores, and many major yogurt manufacturers are introducing lines of Greek yogurt to get in on the competition.
So why is Greek yogurt so popular? Is it really healthier than its traditional counterpart?
Both types of yogurt are made with milk that has had live bacterial cultures added to it, causing it to ferment. The fermentation process thickens the yogurt and gives it a tangy flavor. The yogurt is then strained to remove the liquid whey. The difference between the two types of yogurt is that Greek yogurt is strained much more extensively to remove most of its whey. Because it’s strained so much, it takes a lot more milk (up to four times as much) to make the same amount of Greek yogurt as regular yogurt. The result is a thicker, creamier texture similar to sour cream.
Here’s how Greek yogurt stacks up compared with regular yogurt:
Protein: Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt—almost double the amount. The high protein content helps keep you feeling full longer. It’s a great option for breakfast to give you long-lasting energy throughout the morning. It can also be a good source of protein for vegetarians.
Carbohydrates: Greek yogurt has less (roughly half) carbohydrates than regular yogurt because a lot of it is lost during the extensive straining process. This makes it a great option for anyone watching their carbs, including diabetics. But be careful because the carbs can add up if you add a lot of sweeteners to your yogurt.
Fat: Greek yogurt actually has more saturated fat than traditional yogurt. Saturated fats in your diet should be limited because they raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. So if you’re going Greek, choose the fat-free or low-fat varieties instead of full-fat. The good news is that the lower-fat versions are so creamy and thick, you won’t miss the fat.
Sodium: Greek yogurt has less sodium than traditional yogurt because a lot of it is lost in the straining process. This makes it a great option for anyone watching their sodium intake.
Calcium: Greek yogurt has less calcium than regular yogurt because, once again, some of it is lost through the straining process. Although Greek yogurt still contains a good amount of calcium, if you’re worried about your calcium intake, make sure you get adequate amounts from other sources.
So what’s the final verdict? With more protein combined with less sugar and sodium, Greek yogurt does have a nutritional edge over regular yogurt—just be sure to choose fat-free or low-fat varieties. But with this said, keep in mind that both types of yogurt are good for you and provide probiotics that are beneficial for digestive health—just make sure the label states that it contains live, active bacterial cultures.
If you’re looking for an easy recipe using Greek yogurt, try my “Grilled Peaches with Greek Yogurt and Honey.” Grilling fruit caramelizes their sugars and brings out their natural sweetness. In this recipe, I top grilled peaches with a dollop of tangy Greek yogurt, a drizzle of honey for sweetness, a pinch of cinnamon, and some heart-healthy almonds for texture. This dish makes a great, light dessert or can even be served for breakfast.
Makes 4 servings
4 peaches, halved and pitted
1 1/2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat a grill pan over medium heat.
Brush the peaches with the oil. Place them on the grill, cut side down, and cook until grill marks develop, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the peaches over and cook another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side.
To serve, place a tablespoon of yogurt on each peach half and drizzle with 2 teaspoons honey. Sprinkle the almonds and a pinch of cinnamon on top.
One serving: Calories, 190; Fat, 5 g (Sat. Fat, 0 g); Protein, 5 g; Carb, 35 g; Fiber, 2 g