Is Greek Yogurt Healthier Than Regular Yogurt? Dietitians Explain
Greek yogurt is not exactly a new product popping up on store shelves nor is it a shopping list staple that's suddenly having a moment (à la cottage cheese). But what the dairy product might lack in novelty or trendiness, it makes up for in nutrition and benefits — and no amount of virality on TikTok can make up for that.
ICYDK, yogurt is made by combining heated milk with bacteria, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. When this product, which is essentially fermented milk, is strained to remove whey (a liquid), you're left with a thicker, tangier type of yogurt known as — drumroll, please — Greek yogurt.
The straining process completely removes whey and, in doing so, significantly reduces lactose (i.e. milk sugar, which is largely found in whey), explains registered dietitian and therapist Krystal George, RDN, AMFT. "Because of this, Greek yogurt is not only denser, drier, and more concentrated than the traditional variety, but it's also higher in protein and lower in sugar and carbohydrates."
But that's just skimming the surface (eh?) of the dairy product's perks. Keep reading to learn about the nutrition and health benefits of Greek yogurt.
Greek Yogurt Nutrition Facts
Greek yogurt is known for its standout protein content, packing 20 grams (a hefty chunk of your daily recommended protein intake) in just one 200-gram serving. Greek yogurt also contains essential nutrients, such as calcium, B vitamins (including vitamin B12), and magnesium, says Valerie Agyeman, RD, dietitian and host of the women's health podcast Flourish Heights. "These nutrients are vital for energy metabolism, cell function, nerve health, and red blood cell production." And, of course, Greek yogurt is packed with probiotics, which have the potential to support overall gut health and immune function, Agyeman adds.
Here's a snapshot of the nutrition facts for one container (200 grams) of plain, low-fat Greek according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Calories: 146
- Protein: 20 g
- Fat: 5 g
- Carbohydrates: 8 g
- Sugar: 7 g
- Sodium: 68 mg
Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt
As mentioned above, Greek yogurt ranks above traditional yogurt when it comes to certain macronutrients. But how do they compare, exactly? And how much protein is in Greek yogurt? While the specific amount of protein differs across brands and varieties (e.g. low fat versus whole fat, flavored or unflavored), Greek yogurt contains three- to four-fold the amount of protein as regular yogurt, according to research.
Take, for example, a 3/4 cup serving of Chobani Greek Yogurt Nonfat Plain, which has 16 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of sugar, George notes. For reference, 3/4 cup of nonfat, plain yogurt from Stonyfield Organic has 7 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of sugar.
Health Benefits of Greek Yogurt
Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
"Greek yogurt, as well as regular yogurt, may help improve glucose and insulin responses in the body when consumed daily," George says. "This is due to its low glycemic index as well as its high protein content." Protein takes a longer time to digest, promoting satiety and allowing for a slower, more gradual rise of blood sugar, so you don't experience a spike, such as when you eat carbs solo. What's more, probiotics — such as those in Greek yogurt — have been shown to improve fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. And on that note. . .
Supports Gut Health
Each spoonful of Greek yogurt delivers a generous dose of probiotics, aka "good" or "helpful" bacteria that can "restore balance of gut bacteria, promote a healthy gut microbiome, and help maintain optimal digestive function," Agyeman says. Research suggests that eating yogurt (including Greek yogurt) regularly can promote a positive GI system by increasing bacterial diversity in the guts of some folks. "Our gut naturally has this bacteria, but through digestion, sickness, and various medications, our levels of healthy bacteria can vary and sometimes decrease," George explains. "By consuming Greek yogurt, this helps to maintain healthy levels of probiotic bacteria in the gut."
Boosts Bone Health and Formation
Greek yogurt is rich in calcium, an essential mineral for promoting bone health. The key to reaping the potential bone-boosting rewards of Greek yogurt's calcium, however, is to consume the dairy product in tandem with vitamin D and maintain regular physical activity, George explains, adding that an overall "nutrient-dense eating pattern" is also essential. What's more, Greek yogurt might also help promote bone formation. A small study of young men found that consuming Greek yogurt daily while following a resistance-training program for 12 weeks helped increase bone formation and decrease bone breakdown when compared with a placebo. "This is [likely] due to the increase in calcium and protein intakes necessary for the growth and maintenance of the skeletal system," George explains.
Increases Muscle Mass
Similarly, Greek yogurt can increase muscle mass when it's paired with strength training, according to pros and research. "The amino acids in protein, like that in Greek yogurt, help to rebuild muscle after a workout," George says. "Because Greek yogurt has a higher protein content, and it's a complete protein (which means it has all nine essential amino acids), this makes it a great vehicle to provide your body [with] what it needs to rebuild muscle tissue that has been broken down during a workout."
Potential Risks of Greek Yogurt
Despite all of the aforementioned perks of this dairy product, there are some instances in which Greek yogurt might not be as beneficial as hoped or a fit for your diet. For example, "many flavored varieties often contain added sugars, which can impact blood sugar levels," Agyeman notes. So, if you're monitoring these levels or looking to limit the amount of the sweet stuff you consume, you might want to stick to eating plain Greek yogurt. And you can always add sugar by way of, say, fresh fruit if you want to tweak the sour taste.
That being said, Greek yogurt can easily become less healthy if you add tons of sugar and refined carbs, such as granola, George says. "The key to reaping the benefits of Greek yogurt is to be mindful about the total package of the meal. If you desire a sweetness to the yogurt meal, maybe add fruits, and use less honey. If you desire texture to your yogurt, consider using granola that is lower in sugar but is still tasty."
Another downside of Greek yogurt (at least to some people)? It's not dairy-free. As mentioned above, Greek yogurt is technically lower in lactose than traditional yogurt as a result of the straining process. But that doesn't mean it's entirely free of the milk sugar and dairy overall. So, if you're lactose intolerant or cannot consume dairy, you might want to consider nondairy versions. Both regular and dairy-free Greek yogurt "can offer the same benefit of protein and lower carbohydrates and sugar," George says. "However, the calcium percentage may be lower in dairy-free products." So, if you're looking to score a certain amount of calcium (or even protein), it's always a good idea to check out a product's label to make sure it's the best fit for you and your eating style.
So Is Greek Yogurt Good For You?
It sure can be! "It's a versatile food item that can be eaten as a meal, snack, topping or sauce, or addition in a smoothie," George says. "It has a good amount of protein and calcium that can be paired with other carbohydrates and fats for a balanced meal."
What's more, it also offers nutrients such as B vitamins and phosphorus, which support many bodily functions and overall health, Agyeman adds.
Still, it's important to keep in mind that Greek yogurt can easily lose its "good-for-you" status when it's loaded with sugars and/or carbohydrates. That's why experts often recommend opting for the plain variety and adding your own sweetness and texture to taste — just remember to be mindful about those additions, too, as too much, say, granola or honey can take Greek yogurt's health potential down a peg.
And remember, Greek yogurt doesn't always have to be sweet to score its perks. "Consider using Greek yogurt as a salad dressing, sauce topping on veggies, protein boost in a smoothie, etc." George says. "When you diversify the way Greek yogurt can be used, you make room for a varied dietary pattern," a key element to an overall healthy lifestyle.