The basic concept of weight loss — whether belly fat or total body fat — is that you have to create a calorie deficit to shift your body from fat-storing to fat-burning. To do this, you need to lower your calorie intake below your calorie needs. The foods you choose to eat play major roles, not only for their per-serving calorie counts, but also for the way they affect your appetite and satiety. While no specific food can banish belly fat, certain foods have nutrient compositions that can help. Yogurt is one of those foods.
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Choose high-protein, low-sugar yogurt and add in nutrient-rich ingredients like fresh berries and almonds.
Benefits of Yogurt
Like all foods, yogurt contains calories that contribute to your daily calorie intake and your ability to remain in a calorie deficit for fat loss. However all calories are not created equal, and it depends where the calories come from. A cupcake contains calories, but they are mostly from sugar, which has no nutritive value.
The calories in plain yogurt, however, come from protein, carbohydrate and fat, all of which contribute important nutrients to your diet. According to USDA data, yogurt is an especially rich source of protein, with 8.5 grams in a cup of whole milk yogurt, 13 grams per cup of low-fat yogurt and 10 grams per cup of non-fat yogurt.
Protein is often touted as the perfect weight-loss food, and for good reason. Due to its complex chemical structure, the body breaks it down slowly. According to Harvard Health T.H. Chan School of Public Health, slow stomach emptying keeps you feeling full for longer, which can help you control your calorie intake and lose belly fat.
In addition, protein has a high diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) value. DIT is a metabolic response to food that results in increased energy expenditure during digestion. According to an article published in Nutrition and Metabolism in November 2014, protein has the highest DIT value of the three macronutrients, increasing energy expenditure by 15 to 30 percent. Carbohydrate and fat produce energy increases of 5 to 10 percent and 0 to 3 percent, respectively.
Finally, yogurt is a rich source of probiotics, which are live microorganisms that have beneficial effects on the "gut microbiome." Researchers have become interested in the relationship between gut microbiota and obesity and, according to a research review published in Nutrition and Metabolism in February 2016, intestinal microflora may play a role in energy metabolism and body weight regulation.
The mechanisms behind this are still being researched; however, several theories have been proposed, including that the production of short-chain fatty acids by microflora may help regulate satiety and food intake and protect against insulin resistance. While findings are as yet inconclusive, the many other proven benefits of probiotics make yogurt a worthy addition to your diet.
Full-Fat or Non-Fat?
Most people would probably agree that yogurt made with whole milk is tastier, creamier and more satisfying than non-fat or low-fat yogurt. But with 9 calories per gram — compared to protein and carbs, which have 4 calories per gram — fat content affects the calorie count. But it's not as significant as you might think.
Plain, whole milk yogurt has 8 grams of fat and 149 calories, and non-fat yogurt has 115 calories per cup — a fairly minor difference of 39 calories. Low-fat yogurt has 154 calories — more than whole milk — but only 3.8 grams of fat. Its extra calories come from a higher protein content.
Greek yogurt, which is strained regular yogurt with a richer, thicker consistency, has the most protein. Per cup, whole milk Greek yogurt contains a whopping 22 grams of protein, but it also provides 238 calories. Plain low-fat Greek yogurt is an even better option, with only 146 calories and 20 grams of protein. Non-fat Greek yogurt provides 20 grams of protein and 164 calories per cup.
Low-Sugar Yogurt Choices
Yogurt also has a dark side, because it can be a hidden source of sugar that contributes to abdominal fat. While yogurt naturally contains lactose, a milk sugar, manufacturers also add sugar to flavored yogurts. This is the sugar you need to watch out for. A cup of sweetened, fruit-flavored yogurt has double the amount of sugar than plain yogurt — and the calorie count to match.
Plain yogurt can be a bit boring, but there are tons of ways to dress it up with natural ingredients that also provide other belly fat-fighting nutrients. Fresh raspberries and blackberries are low in sugar but high in dietary fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods your body can't digest. As such, it moves slowly through your digestive system — much like protein — and helps fill you up and keep you feeling full.
For a hunger-busting breakfast or snack, top a cup of Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup of fresh berries. Add an ounce of almonds to increase the protein content and healthy fats. Or, try a savory Indian raita made with Greek yogurt, chopped cucumbers and mint, lemon juice, cumin, cayenne pepper and a dash of salt. Serve it atop a fiber-filled veggie curry with brown rice.
- USDA: Basic Report: "01116, Yogurt, Plain, Whole Milk"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45342757, Light Non Fat Yogurt, Upc: 070038615835"
- USDA: Basic Report: "01117, Yogurt, Plain, Low Fat"
- Harvard Health T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein, Carbs, and Weight Loss"
- Nutrition and Metabolism: "A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats"
- Nutrition and Metabolism: "Probiotics in Prevention and Treatment of Obesity: A Critical View"
- USDA: Basic Report: "01293, Yogurt, Greek, Plain, Whole Milk"
- USDA: Basic Report: "01287, Yogurt, Greek, Plain, Lowfat"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "01064, Yogurt, Greek, 2% Fat, Apricot, Chobani"
- Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fiber: "Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): "45220844, Grade a Greek Non Fat Yogurt, Upc: 086854060223"