How to Choose the Best Greek Yogurt

The Best Greek Yogurt10 years ago no one had even heard of Greek yogurt, but in 2015 it’s as ubiquitous and trendy as kale and chia seeds. While Greek yogurt is touted as a protein-rich and lower-fat alternative to traditional yogurt, not all Greek yogurt is created equal in terms of nutrition. Different brands, and even different varieties within a brand, vary widely in terms of sugar content, artificial ingredients, and production processes.

First of all, until recently, Greek yogurt was known only as “strained yogurt.”  There is no magical formula or super-charged cows that make your yogurt the “Greek” variety. Greek yogurt is simply REGULAR yogurt that has been strained of the whey protein, leaving the thicker, creamier 100% casein protein.

And yes, you can make this easily at home. All you need is some traditional yogurt, a bowl, and a cheesecloth to strain it through.

greek yogurt

But if you don’t make your own (and judging from the billion-dollar commercial Greek yogurt industry, not many people do), there are nearly limitless brands, varieties, and flavors on the shelves of any local supermarket.

Do you know the difference between different kinds of Greek yogurt?

Here is all you need to know to make an informed choice at the supermarket:

 First, lets talk processing.  Details of each brand’s production process is a highly guarded proprietary secret. But there are basically two ways that large brands make creamy Greek yogurt:

1.  Producers can concentrate the milk to be used in the yogurt by removing water and adding yogurt cultures later.

2. After culturing, the yogurt may be strained through some sort of industrial membrane to remove the whey.

3.   Thickeners and milk protein concentrate can be added to traditional yogurt to mimic the taste and consistency of Greek yogurt.  This is “fake” Greek yogurt, to my way of thinking, but it’s important to know that what is called “Greek” or “Greek-type” yogurt might have these added ingredients.

 What else is in your Greek yogurt?

greek yogurt milk

Plain Greek yogurt should have no flavors and  be composed of nothing but milk and yogurt cultures. The primary concern here is what kind of milk the yogurt contains. Ideally, and this holds true for all dairy, USDA-certified organic milk is best.

The second consideration, once we move past plain Greek yogurt, is what sweeteners does the product contain? And how much?

Types of sweeteners you may see are:

  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Sugar
  • Fructose
  • Sucralose
  • Cane Sugar
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Fruit Syrup
  • Aspartame

Optimally, your flavored yogurt (and vanilla counts as flavored!) should contain less than 20g of sugar per serving. In my opinion, under 15g is best. Personally, I prefer real organic sugar if I NEED a sweetener.  If nothing else, PLEASE, do not choose artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. They are devoid of any nutrition and can be harmful to some people.

The best option is to choose plain, unsweetened yogurt, and sweeten it yourself with honey or maple syrup and fruit. One of my favorite things to make is Yogurt Parfait with Fruit and Granola.

What other additives are in my Greek yogurt?

  • Thickeners
  • Artificial Flavors
  • Preservatives
  • Coloring – natural and artificial

As with everything else, some of these are fine, and some are. . .less good.  Let’s start with thickeners. Corn starch is a pretty common thickener. You’ve likely used it when making gravy on Thanksgiving.  The best choice is organic, non-GMO corn starch. Other thickeners include the “gums” – guar gum, locust bean gum, and xanthan gum.

Believe it or not, many yogurts marketed directly towards children, who especially need clean ingredients, contain artificial coloring, preservatives, and flavors.

Bottom Line- Read the Label!

A good greek yogurt contains:

  • As few ingredients as possible: milk, yogurt cultures, fruit, sugar. That’s it.
  • Less than 19g of sugar per 6 oz serving
  • At least 13g of protein per 6 oz serving Greek Yogurt

My Top Greek Yogurt Picks

 

What to Avoid:

Without calling out any specific brands, there are words and phrases used in marketing that almost always mean that the product contains artificial ingredients, especially artificial sweeteners like aspartame:

  • “light”
  • “100-Calorie packs”
  • Anything with “mix-ins” like granola or fruit or cereal
  • brightly colored formulas – real strawberries are not cotton candy pink, so if your yogurt looks like that, it probably has something artificial in it

 What do you look for when choosing a Greek Yogurt? What is your favorite kind?

 Disclosure: While I do work on a freelance basis for Stonyfield, this post is based on my independent research and contains my own opinions, only. 

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Comments

  1. This is SO helpful! Thank you for the awesome information! I used to eat a lot of regular yogurt, but a year or 2 ago I switched to Greek yogurt, and now I have a hard time with the sweetness of the other.

  2. Sadly we are limited on stores and even more limited on what most carry (joys of living in the sticks). We get the Zoi greek, either plain or honey. I like to mix in my own fruit or a little honey into the plain one…oh, and graham crackers as ‘sprinkles’…my kids love it.

    • I love adding graham crackers as sprinkles! I never thought of that!

      • I teach a nutrition education class to grade school students in low income areas and for one of their ‘tastes’ we do fruit parfaits using yogurt, pureed fruit, and graham crackers as the sprinkles. Its much healthier using the graham crackers than something like candy, etc. We just throw a sleeve of graham crackers into a food processor and grind them down and the kids love it. I have a little girl still talking about it a year later. :)

  3. I love plain Greek yogurt and had been adding it to my smoothie every morning until my hubby started drinking smoothies with me and he hates yogurt. :( I really despise those brands that add all kinds of super sweet and fake-tasting extras. I sampled one at a conference last summer and could only take two bites of it.

    • My hubby won’t drink my smoothies if their is yogurt in them. I’m going to learn how to make my own soon and I’m hoping he will change his mind.

  4. Your title is useful. I love it. I dont know we can identify many kind of Greek yogurt like that. Thanks :)

  5. Amazing issues here. I’m very glad to peer your post.
    Thanks so much and I am taking a look ahead to touch you.
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  1. […] How to Choose the Best Greek Yogurt – Mindfully Frugal Mom says: June 2, 2015 at 7:50 pm […]

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