Ask Mickey: How to Speak Greek Yogurt

What’s the difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt? Is one better for you than the other?

The yogurt aisle can be one of the most overwhelming parts of grocery shopping these days. The number of brands, styles, and flavors — and the myriad marketing techniques — can frustrate even a well-educated consumer. Greek yogurt sales, along with the similar Icelandic or skyr yogurt, have exploded in recent years, and for good reason.

All yogurt, no matter what style, starts with milk and bacterial cultures (think good-for-the-gut probiotics), which are fermented and then the whey is strained off. The style of the yogurt depends on how it is strained. Greek and Icelandic yogurt are strained more times than regular yogurt, removing more whey, and creating a creamier and thicker texture and a slightly stronger flavor. Because the straining yields a more concentrated product, more milk is required to make these yogurts. This is why they are often more expensive than regular yogurt. Each brand of yogurt might go through a slightly different straining process, which is why the thickness and texture vary slightly between brands.

The straining process also affects the nutrition content of yogurt. The following chart outlines the differences between 1 cup of low-fat regular, Greek, and Icelandic yogurt.

Low-Fat Regular Yogurt Low-Fat (2%) Greek Yogurt Low-Fat (2%) Icelandic/Skyr Yogurt
Calories 120 170 160
Fat 2g total/1.5g saturated 4g total/3g saturated 4g total/3g saturated
Carbohydrates 16g 9g 8g
Protein 10g 23g 23g
Sodium 160mg 85mg 90mg
Calcium 35% Daily Value (DV) 25% DV 30% DV

Note: nutrition content may vary slightly between brands.

Greek and Icelandic yogurts have more protein, fewer carbohydrates, and about half the sodium of regular yogurts. They also have less lactose (the form of sugar naturally found in dairy products), which can be beneficial for those who are sensitive to lactose.

Greek-style yogurt is different from Greek yogurt in both the straining and ingredients. Instead of using the authentic straining process that makes Greek yogurt Greek, food companies may add thickeners and protein concentrates (usually whey or milk protein concentrate) to create a similar texture, but different product.  This version tends to be higher in calories, because the carbohydrate content is similar to regular yogurt and the protein content is greater.

The higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate content of real Greek or Icelandic yogurts make them a filling yet low-calorie breakfast or snack, which is why many dietitians recommend them to those trying to manage their weight. There is also some research indicating that full-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, may offer benefits in regards to satiety and possible reduction of cardiovascular disease risk. While the research is fairly new, it does suggest that if you prefer the flavor and texture of full-fat yogurts, it is fine to enjoy them in moderation. (Children under age 2 are recommended to stick with full-fat dairy to support their healthy development.) Beware of flavored yogurts of any style, as the flavored versions can have up to 15 grams (about 4 teaspoons) of added sugar (about half of the recommended daily limit). Instead of purchasing flavored yogurts, add fresh fruit and/or 1 teaspoon of honey per cup of plain yogurt.

Greek yogurt is a versatile food, and the thick texture makes a healthy replacement in all or part for mayonnaise or sour cream in savory dishes. It’s also an excellent protein boost in a smoothie and can be used in baking instead of oil or butter. If you don’t love it at first, give a few different brands a try, as textures and flavors vary between brands. And of course, regular yogurt remains a fine choice, too.

12-3790_bamco_askmickey_web-157x300About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company registered dietitian nutritionists offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answer your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com.