Today’s yogurts promise a range of benefits, from lowering heart risk to aiding digestive health. But how do they stack up?

Skinny delights: spooning up the healthiest yogurt: today’s yogurts promise a range of benefits, from lowering heart risk to aiding digestive health. But how do they stack up?

Yogurt, celebrated for centuries in many cultures as a health tonic, is one of those foods that approaches dietary perfection.

“I love yogurt. There are many benefits from eating yogurt; it is high in protein and calcium, and the live cultures are good for digestive health,” says Barbra A. Heller, RD, clinical nutritionist at the Weill Cornell Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center.

Calcium and bacteria boost

Indeed, there is a lot to love about yogurt. First of all, it’s a skinny way to get your calcium fix. An 8-ounce serving of plain, fat-free yogurt can yield 488 grams of calcium–more than one-third of the recommended intake for adults over 50–for a slim 137 calories and 0 grams of fat, with an added bonus of 13 grams of protein. Calcium is not only important for maintaining bone health; it also has been linked with lowering blood pressure and colon cancer risk. Even lactose intolerant individuals, who are challenged to get adequate calcium, often can tolerate yogurt.

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And that’s not all. “The number-one benefit for many people is the live, active cultures,” says Libby Mills, MS, RD, a Philadelphia-based nutrition consultant. It’s all about yogurt’s lactobacteria, friendly probiotic bacteria that promote the natural balance of microflora in the intestines. Research indicates that yogurt’s probiotics can prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics and treat stomach ulcers and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics are also being studied for their beneficial role in a number of health conditions, including reducing colon cancer risk and boosting immune function.

What to look for

So now that you’re convinced that yogurt is a good thing, how do you know what to select when you’re faced with yards of yogurt choices in the supermarket dairy aisle? It’s a tough task with so many yogurts offering special live cultures, plant sterols, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids to help meet your health needs.

When it comes to selecting the best yogurts for digestive health, “Look for live active cultures on the label,” urges Heller, who reports that such cultures in any yogurt product can offer benefits similar to specially formulated digestive-health products like Activia. Mills suggests that you look for the National Yogurt Association’s “Live Active Cultures” seal. Some yogurts also contain inulin, a naturally occurring plant fiber that also helps feed good bacteria in the intestines.

“I recommend yogurt that does not contain sugar, since sugar can feed the bad bacteria in the colon,” says Heller. Beware of “fruity” yogurts that contain sugar and artificial flavorings in lieu of real fruit. Some even add candy and cookies to the mix. Read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list to look for hidden sugar in the yogurt carton; just 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.

And while you’re at it, look for fat. Whole-milk yogurts can contain 5 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat per serving. Greek yogurts take the cake for fat content, racking up 12 grams of fat and 9 grams of saturated fat in a single serving in some products. Yogurts that earned our Sleuth Superstar award for their healthy nutritional profile included Dannon Activia Light and Yoplait Fiber One.

YOGURT GETS COOKING

Yogurt is not only great for breakfast and snacks, you also can mix it into your favorite foods and cut down on fat while powering up on nutrients. Try replacing sour cream, cream cheese, and milk with plain nonfat yogurt in your favorite recipes.

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Something extra?

Yogurts with functional ingredients can provide benefits. For instance, plant sterols found in Promise activ Supershots have been proven to reduce elevated blood cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals all offer specific health advantages, but many health experts stress that you should get these benefits from whole foods that offer the synergy of a wide range of nutrients, rather than as a supplement added to the food or diet.

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In the end, what’s the perfect way to do yogurt? “Get plain, fat-free yogurt and mix it with fruit,” Heller suggests. It’s simple; start with plain, fat-free yogurt, top it with unsweetened fruit, a sprinkle of oat bran, and maybe a handful of nuts. The sky’s the limit to how healthy and tasty yogurt can be.

LEMON-GINGER YOGURT DIP

This nutritious yogurt dip suits fresh fruit

perfectly.

1 cup plain fat-free yogurt

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. pure lemon extract

1 tsp. ground ginger

Mix ingredients together and serve with

fresh fruit.

Yield: 1 cup (8 servings).

nutrition information per

2-tablespoon serving:

26 calories, 2 g protein,

24 mg sodium, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat,

4 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber.

MORE HEALTHY OPTIONS

Creamy potato topper: Mix one teaspoon of tarragon into one cup of plain fat-free yogurt. Use instead of sour cream to top baked potatoes. Herbal veggie dip:

Mix 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, one teaspoon of your favorite herbs (basil, oregano, dill, thyme, and rosemary are tasty choices), and a dash of black pepper into one cup of plain fat-free yogurt. Serve as a dip with fresh veggies.

SUPERMARKET SLEUTH: YOGURT

(Based on individual serving sizes) Cal Prot Sodium Fat/Sat

Dannon Light & Fit, Blueberry 60 5 g 85 mg 0 g/0 g

(6 ounces)

Dannon Light & Fit 0% Plus, 60 3 g 50 mg 0 g/0 g

Strawberry (4 ounces) *

Dannon Activia Light, Raspberry 70 5 g 75 mg 0 g/0 g

(4 ounces) **

Promise activ Supershots, 70 1 g 25 mg 3.5 g/0 g

Strawberry (3.4 ounces)

Yoplait Fiber One, Peach (4 80 4 g 65 mg 0 g/0 g

ounces) **

Breyer’s Light Boosts Immunity 80 6 g 90 mg 0 g/0 g

Black Cherry Jubilee (6 ounces) *

FAGE Total 0% Greek Yogurt, 80 13g 55 mg 0 g/0 g

Plain (5.3 ounces) *

Dannon Plain Nonfat Yogurt 80 9 g 120 mg 0 g/0 g

(6 ounces) *

Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt, 90 15g 60 mg 0 g/0 g

Plain (5.3 ounces) *

Weight Watchers, Key Lime 100 6 g 110 mg .5 g/0 g

Pie (6 ounces) *

Yoplait Light, Banana Cream 110 6 g 90 mg 0 g/0 g

Pie (6 ounces)

Yoplait Yo Plus Digestive Health 110 4 g 70 mg 1.5 g/1 g

with Optibalance, Peach (4 ounces)

Horizon Organic Fat Free Fruit-on- 140 7 g 105 mg 0 g/0 g

the-bottom, Raspberry (6 ounces)

Horizon Organic Lowfat Blended, 150 7 g 110 mg 1.5 g/1 g

Blueberry (6 ounces)

Yoplait Original, Blackberry 170 5 g 80 mg 1.5 g/1 g

Harvest (6 ounces)

Breyer’s Smart with DHA Omega-3, 170 6 g 95 mg 1.5 g/1 g

Pineapple (6 ounces)

Stonyfield Farms Organic Lowfat 180 6 g 105 mg 1.5 g/1 g

Yogurt, Caramel (6 ounces)

Breyer’s Creme Savers, Orange & 180 6 g 180 mg 2 g/1.5 g

Creme (6 ounces)

Stonyfield Farms, Organic Whole 220 6 g 95 mg 5 g/3 g

Milk Yogurt, Vanilla Truffle (6

ounces)

Yo Crunch, Cookies N’ Cream with 240 5 g 185 mg 5.5 g/2 g

Oreos (6.3 ounces)

(Based on individual serving sizes) Sugar Carb Fiber

Dannon Light & Fit, Blueberry 7 g 11 g 0 g

(6 ounces)

Dannon Light & Fit 0% Plus, 8 g 11 g 0 g

Strawberry (4 ounces) *

Dannon Activia Light, Raspberry 8 g 13 g 3 g

(4 ounces) **

Promise activ Supershots, 8 g 8 g <1 g

Strawberry (3.4 ounces)

Yoplait Fiber One, Peach (4 11 g 19 g 5 g

ounces) **

Breyer’s Light Boosts Immunity 7 g 12 g 0 g

Black Cherry Jubilee (6 ounces) *

FAGE Total 0% Greek Yogurt, 6 g 6 g 0 g

Plain (5.3 ounces) *

Dannon Plain Nonfat Yogurt 12 g 12 g 0 g

(6 ounces) *

Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt, 6 g 6 g 0 g

Plain (5.3 ounces) *

Weight Watchers, Key Lime 12 g 17 g 3 g

Pie (6 ounces) *

Yoplait Light, Banana Cream 15 g 20 g 0 g

Pie (6 ounces)

Yoplait Yo Plus Digestive Health 16 g 21 g 3 g

with Optibalance, Peach (4 ounces)

Horizon Organic Fat Free Fruit-on- 26 g 27 g 2 g

the-bottom, Raspberry (6 ounces)

Horizon Organic Lowfat Blended, 26 g 27 g 2 g

Blueberry (6 ounces)

Yoplait Original, Blackberry 27 g 33 g 0 g

Harvest (6 ounces)

Breyer’s Smart with DHA Omega-3, 28 g 34 g <1 g

Pineapple (6 ounces)

Stonyfield Farms Organic Lowfat 35 g 35 g 0 g

Yogurt, Caramel (6 ounces)

Breyer’s Creme Savers, Orange & 27 g 34 g 0 g

Creme (6 ounces)

Stonyfield Farms, Organic Whole 36 g 38 g <1 g

Milk Yogurt, Vanilla Truffle (6

ounces)

Yo Crunch, Cookies N’ Cream with 30 g 41 g 0 g

Oreos (6.3 ounces)

Note: g = grams, mg = milligrams, Sat Fat = saturated fat, TF = trans

fat, Carb = carbohydrates, n/a = not available. All products surveyed

did not contain trans fat. Sorted in order of ascending caloric level.

Values rounded up to nearest decimal. Nutritional Information from

product packaging and manufacturer Web site.

* Sleuth Star: contains [less than or equal to] 100 calories,

[less than or equal to] 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat,

[less than or equal to] 125 mg sodium.

** Sleuth Superstar: [less than or equal to] 80 calories, 0 g fat,

0 g saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, [less than or equal to] 5 mg

sodium, [less than or equal to] 2 g fiber per serving.

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