You may want to add yogurt to your diet for its health benefits, such as live cultures to improve your intestinal health, but when you look at the yogurt section, the choices are overwhelming. Yogurts with fruit on top or on the bottom, custard-style yogurt, Greek yogurt, low-fat or no-fat -- which one is best for you? All yogurt starts with milk that has live organisms called Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, added to it. The live cultures change milk into yogurt during fermentation. Different incubation methods create different yogurt consistencies.
The healthiest yogurt is yogurt without added ingredients that contains live and active cultures, which help maintain the necessary balance of bacteria in the gut. Yogurt that contains at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture can be identified with the National Yogurt Association's Live and Active Cultures seal. Use of the seal is voluntary, but without it, you can't be sure your yogurt contains live cultures. If a yogurt says it's heat-treated after culturing, it means the product was pasteurized after the organisms were added, which destroys the bacteria. This negates one of the biggest benefits of eating yogurt.
Yogurts with different names often have different consistency because of the way they were fermented. Greek yogurt is thicker than most yogurts because some of the water or whey was removed, making it thicker. Set yogurt, which is also a thick yogurt, is poured into containers and then incubated. Yogurt with fruit on the bottom is set yogurt. Custard-style yogurt, also called Swiss yogurt, cooked in a large vat and then poured into containers, is thinner and creamier. Commercially made Swiss yogurt may have fruit added. Swiss-style yogurt may contain thickeners to give it its custard consistency.
Fat and Sugar Content
Yogurt is made from whole, low-fat and fat-free milk. Choosing a low-fat or fat-free variety will save calories and reduce your fat intake. Many yogurts also contain fruit along with added sugar. While pure fruit can be a healthy addition, added sugars often accompany the fruit and negate the health benefits of yogurt.
One of the benefits of yogurt is that it's a good source of calcium, necessary for strong bones and teeth. A healthy yogurt supplies 35 to 40 percent of your daily calcium requirement per 8 oz. serving, reports author and pediatrician William Sears, M.D. If the calcium is below 30 percent per serving, the yogurt most likely contains large amounts of unhealthy filler, he states. Plain yogurt without added ingredients gives you the best calcium bang for your buck.