Yogurt has been loved for centuries for it’s tart taste and versatile nature. It’s one of few foods that is balanced in carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that also contains beneficial probiotics. Protein, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, potassium, zinc, riboflavin, calcium and phosphorus make up the nutrient profile of yogurt (if made from goat, sheep or cow dairy); just one serving can provide 25% of your protein and 50% of your calcium needs. However, the quality of yogurt differs widely by brand, type, fermentation process and source and can become a junk food if not chosen properly. Below is our guide to choosing the most nutritious yogurt.
Raw milk from pasture raised animals provides more readily available proteins, calcium, and enzymes which make the milk easier to digest. Glutathione, one of your body’s master antioxidants, is found in large amounts in raw dairy but virtually absent from pasteurized dairy. For a full summary of the safety and benefits of raw milk, check out this well researched power point presentation from the Weston A Price Foundation.
When raw dairy is fermented into yogurt, the benefits are immense! Goat and sheep’s milk tend to be better digested and are creamier when made into yogurt so people with more sensitive digestion may tolerate it better. You will not find raw milk yogurt in the stores but in Texas, you can buy raw milk from a local farm and make your own yogurt easily at home. This also ensures that the yogurt is actually fermented for 24 hours or more (the best way to ensure that live bacteria are present). Realmilk.com contains a list of farms that provide raw milk by state. Some of these farms also make kefir and yogurt from their milk so you can purchase that directly as well.
To make your own yogurt from raw milk, you can purchase a yogurt maker and a starter culture. When you purchase a starter culture it will come with a recipe to tell you exactly how to start a batch with raw or pasteurized milk (the directions are slightly different when using raw milk). You can also make yogurt in the Instant Pot.
If you don’t have the time or the patience to make your own yogurt, you can find healthy choices in your local grocery store. Look for brands that advertise milk from pasture raised cows, goats or sheep and/or brands that advertise a long fermentation process for their yogurt. You also want to choose yogurt made from full fat milk whenever possible. This post would be way too long if I went through the details but studies have shown that full fat dairy is actually protective against some diseases, including obesity, while it’s low fat counterpart is not. Of course, it is also best to choose plain, unsweetened yogurt and add natural sweeteners like honey and berries yourself to avoid consuming copious amounts of refined sugar that would taint your otherwise healthy food.
Vegan yogurts are vastly increasing in popularity as plant-based diets themselves gain more mainstream attention. It is hard to directly compare vegan yogurts as a whole with dairy yogurts because vegan yogurts come from a variety of foods (yogurts made from coconut, soy and almonds tend to be the most popular) and those foods vary in nutrition profiles. Calcium and Vitamin D are naturally occurring in dairy yogurts, but that is not the case in vegan yogurts. Some of these yogurts fortify with these nutrients, but some do not. Most of the plant based yogurts are going to be much lower in protein than their dairy counterparts and have a lot more ingredients as thickeners due to the fact that nut milks require more than just fermentation to thicken. That being said, there are some good brands out there and if dairy hurts your gut, these plant yogurts can give you a good alternative for some good gut repairing probiotics. Below are the best brands (I am not including soy based yogurts in the list since many of the patients I see have sensitivities to soy):
Vegan yogurts tend to be more expensive than their dairy counterparts so it is definitely more economical to make your own. And since I can only find three brands that make clean vegan yogurts, making your own would also provide more health benefits. An easy coconut yogurt recipe can be found here. If you prefer using almond milk you can use this recipe. One thing to note is that vegan yogurts require some sort of thickener to achieve the same texture as a dairy based yogurt. Agar Agar, kuzu root, and tapioca starch are commonly used and can be found online. Here is a recipe using cashew milk for some variety.