Yogurt is essentially cultured, aka fermented, milk. Nowadays, this can mean cow, sheep, or goat milk or an alternative form of milk including coconut, almond, soy, and cashew milk, among others.
To make yogurt, milk is first gently heated to denature proteins, as to not cause curdling. With alternative milks, such as almond and coconut, heating is not necessary. A bacteria culture is then added to the milk, typically Lactobacillusbulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles. Other bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria may also be added.
Once the bacteria culture is mixed into the milk, it is left to ferment for 12-48 hours, depending on the type. During this time, carbohydrates in the milk are fermented and the characteristic tang and texture of yogurt are formed.
Both dairy and non-dairy yogurts are delicious sources of vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. Research found that yogurt consumption was directly correlated with a better overall diet, healthier metabolic profiles, healthier blood pressure, and healthier triglyceride levels in 6,526 individuals in the study.
As a fermented food, yogurt consumption also supports gut health. Bacteria in the yogurt can help to populate and support gut microflora, as well as aid in digestive and immune functions. Eating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, may even positively alter brain health.
Choosing the healthiest yogurt is the best way to maximize yogurt’s health benefits, as not all yogurts are created equally.
Dairy yogurt that comes from organic, grass-fed cows or goats is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2.
Look for organic raw milk dairy (which comes from unpasteurized milk) or full-fat dairy to reap the benefits of this type of yogurt, specifically one that is low in sugar and ingredients. Yogurt is oftentimes pumped with refined sugar (as much, or more, than a candy bar) as well as artificial flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and additives to classify it as a health bomb – not a healthy option. Lower fat and fat-free yogurt options usually contain the most added ingredients to compensate for removed fat.
Dairy yogurt, one that is organic, grass-fed, full fat, and minimally processed is a delicious probiotic addition to the diet.
Skip dairy yogurt if you have any dairy allergies, experience bloating or gastrointestinal issues after consuming dairy products, follow a vegan diet or struggle with acne.
Made from fermented soymilk, soy yogurt is a dairy-free way to get your yogurt fix. Soy yogurt is also a good source of fiber, protein, and calcium, and may even aid in blood sugar regulation. As compared to other types of yogurt, it was more effective at slowing down particular enzymes that digest carbohydrates, which helps to control blood sugar levels after a meal.
Look for a low-sugar (or plain) organic soymilk yogurt, as most soy in the United States (over 90 percent) is genetically modified. Some of my favorite brands include Nancy’s Organic, Wildwood Organic Soyogurt, and Stonyfield Organic O’Soy.
Skip soy yogurt if you have a soy allergy or hormonal imbalances, as soy contains phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen in the body. Talk with a nutritionist or dietician to discuss soy and your body if you have any questions or concerns.
Coconut yogurt is made from fermented coconut milk and is a heavenly dairy-free yogurt option. Coconut milk, which is made from the blended meat and water of a coconut, is highly nutritious and packed with fiber, vitamin C, E, B1, B3, B5, B6, iron, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Coconut milk has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol and promote fat burning, thanks to its medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) content. The fat content in coconut yogurt and coconut milk is not to be feared; it's essential for hormone and cell health.
Choose organic full-fat coconut yogurt that has been minimally sweetened or plain.
Almond milk yogurt, made from cultured almond milk, is another dairy-free winner. Like almonds, almond milk yogurt is a rich source of healthy fats, antioxidants, protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin C and E, zinc, iron, and magnesium.
Look for an almond milk yogurt that is organic and made with as little ingredients as possible. Many alternative yogurt brands are filled with sugars, emulsifiers, and artificial flavors in order to mimic dairy yogurt as much as possible in taste and texture. Some delicious brands of almond milk yogurt include Kite Hill, Forager (which is cashew yogurt), and Amade.
Skip almond yogurt, or other types of nut-based yogurts, if you have a nut allergy.
Whichever yogurt works best with your body and lifestyle!
If you can tolerate dairy, go for a full-fat, grass-fed and organic version. If you love coconuts and coconut milk, choose coconut yogurt for a boost of tropical probiotic goodness. Spoon almond milk yogurt over berries and add soy yogurt to smoothies to your heart's desire -- if they work for you.
Choose organic, low-sugar or plain options whenever possible and enjoy the healthiest yogurt for your diet.