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A discussion on yogurt…
“Which yogurt do you recommend eating with this?”
Oh boy, here goes!
What’s out there?
As a health conscious food shopper, yogurt selection can be quite a daunting & time-consuming process! The many brands, flavours, ingredients, low-fat, no-fat, full-fat, Greek, strained, sweetened, unsweetened, kefir, organic, biodynamic, coconut, soy, vegan, goat, sheep (I think camel is coming soon), pro & pre-biotics of various types, manufacturing processes, packaging…and of course the ‘should we even eat dairy’ question!! The yogurt section is huge these days!
The definite no’s!
It’s a tricky one – probably easiest to start with the list of definite ‘no’s’! There are some really unhealthy options in the supermarket (unfortunately usually the ones your kids will ask for!). Yogurt can be very high in sugar, you’ll need to check the nutritional panel – look for anything under 7g carbs as a guide if weight loss is a goal. Don’t even touch the ‘sugar-free’ yogurts – they are all full of artificial sweeteners – and other indigestible chemicals which are worse for us than regular sugar. I have not seen any good sugar free dairy yogurts. Milk (& therefore yogurt) naturally contain lactose (a type of sugar), so if there’s no sugar content it ain’t gonna be natural yogurt. Those are out!
On the subject of lactose (which is just two simple sugars – glucose bound with galactose), many of us find it difficult or impossible to digest, due to the cessation of production of ‘lactase’ (the enzyme we secrete as babies to breakdown lactose into the easily digestible glucose and galactose parts). In most good quality natural yogurts, there are billions of friendly bacteria who love to eat lactose, so they pre-digest much of the lactose for us, meaning that a lot of people who can’t drink milk due to the lactose content, can handle yogurt thanks to these little guys.
Strained natural / plain Greek yogurt (not sweetened or flavoured Greek yogurt) has the lowest carbohydrate (& hence sugar & lactose) content, as during production some of it is strained off along with the whey. This also means that the remaining protein in strained Greek yogurt is almost purely casein (the slow release, non-whey protein in milk, which keeps you full longer but is more difficult to digest, and is the portion of dairy that most dairy allergy-sufferers react to). Strained Greek yogurt has almost double the protein content of regular yogurts, as well as approx half the carbs, so really appeals to those following low-carb / high protein diets. However, the whey is one of the most nutritionally beneficial parts of yogurt, and to strain it off for the sake of texture and lessening the carbs does not seem sensible to me, especially when you consider the environmental impact this method of production can have, using 3x the milk to make the product and creating a byproduct which needs to be trucked, dumped and disposed of (google acid whey). Don’t confuse ‘Greek-style’ with the strained Greek yogurt, it may be thicker in texture but will still contain the same protein:carb ratio as regular yogurts. Greek yogurt will also be lower in calcium than regular….just to confuse you further! Interestingly, Greek yogurt was originally made from sheep’s milk – only more recently from cow’s milk. Sheep and goat milk yogurts are available in some areas, and may be a better option for folks who can’t handle cow’s yogurt. Another option for the dairy dodgers may be the A2 yogurt, which has less potential for reactivity.
Dairy free – Coconut Yogurt
Coconut yogurt has recently made quite a splash in healthy circles, as it’s completely dairy (and therefore lactose) free, made from coconut cream with added cultures and a few things to help sweeten and thicken (like stevia, pectin and tapioca starch – nothing scary). Watch out for imitations which are still dairy based, just adding coconut to jump on the bandwagon! In a coconut-based yogurt, sugar & protein are low, and fat is high (good fat though – MCT’s which help with metabolism and fat burning). Look in your local health shop.
Soy yogurt, on the other hand seemed to have a long list of questionable ingredients, and soy itself is highly questionable! I would avoid these altogether.
Dairy vs non dairy
The question of dairy is an individual one – a lot of folks just don’t thrive on it, unable to digest the lactose or reacting to the casein or both. If this seems to be you (find out by going completely dairy free for a few weeks, then re-introducing one product at a time, starting with butter, then natural yogurt, cream, cheese, ice-cream etc). Keep a journal of any symptoms that appear as you reintroduce things. Most people tolerate butter really well, yogurt and kefir are the next best options (less issues with the pre-digested lactose) and milk and ice cream have the most potential for reactivity. Some people find raw or ‘bath’ milk (unpasteurised, unhomogenised, straight from the cow) fine but will react to processed milk products, so this may be worth a try too. If you tolerate dairy fine, then there’s the question of environment and ethics – the cow’s don’t just walk up and offer their milk as a gift, and depending on the ethics of the producers there are some horrendous practices which ‘help keep the cost of production down’….I would imagine it is very difficult to run a financially viable commercial dairy operation without some degree of animal cruelty, and a typical commercial dairy farm leaves a substantial environmental footprint. Find a farmer’s market nearby or a local organic farmer who’s willing to sell some of his yield – usually the smaller the operation, the better treated the animals and the land, and always choose organic if the option is there (ensures your yogurt and the cows it comes from are free from added hormones, antibiotics, fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, etc and have been eating mostly grass). Whilst market shopping you’ll also discover heaps more interesting fruit and veggies, and generally a much higher standard of produce than the supermarket. Loads of seasonal bargains too – shopping at markets can work out much cheaper if you get to know the right places / times to go!
A Few of my Favourite Supermarket Choices
So now you’re probably more confused than ever, but….for anyone interested, here’s a few of the better options easily available to most of us in the supermarket, just in my opinion :)
If you’re not a fan of natural unsweetened yogurt – try mixing a sweeter yogurt in until you get used to it (you can adjust the quantities gradually). If you are looking for the most ethical dairy yoghurt option – ‘Barambah’ (available in health stores & independent grocery stores only – are the best Aussie choice (animal welfare is a much more of a priority for these guys, plus their yoghurts are nice & natural).