Go Greek with your yogurt?

Nutrition experts say they're not convinced it's more healthful

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 
photoIn 2012, Greek yogurt varieties accounted for 28 percent of the yogurt market, up from 16 percent the year before.

(/The Columbian)

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Did you know?

The production of Greek yogurt requires three times as much milk as regular yogurt.

Do you eat Greek yogurt?

  • Yes. I love it! 53%
  • I tried it, but I don’t like it. 15%
  • No. I avoid food fads. 31%

143 total votes.

Greek yogurt is everywhere.

New brands and flavors are continuing to pop up. The TV commercials are flooding the airwaves. The 6-ounce containers are taking over the dairy aisle.

In 2012, Greek yogurt represented 28 percent of the yogurt market. That was up from 16 percent a year earlier and 3 percent three years prior, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

But how different is the Greek version from regular yogurt? That depends.

"It can be just the same as some other yogurt," said Stasha Hornbeck, a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente.

Typically, the biggest differences between Greek and regular yogurt lie in the consistency and protein count.

Greek yogurt typically has a thicker texture than regular yogurt. That difference is achieved through an added step in the production process.

To make both types of yogurt, milk is pasteurized and active live cultures are added. With Greek yogurt, the milk is strained to remove most of the liquid whey. The result is a thicker, creamier yogurt.

Some companies, however, use alternative techniques to make the yogurt thicker, said Dr. Connie Basch with Family Medicine of Southwest Washington. For example, they may add dry milk or other thickeners to create a texture similar to Greek yogurt.

It's unclear what those additives do to the product, she said.

In addition to a thicker texture, Greek yogurt usually packs quite a bit more protein than regular yogurt. Greek yogurts often contain 14 to 18 grams of protein per cup.

For example, a 6-ounce container of Chobani strawberry Greek yogurt has 14 grams of protein. A 6-ounce cup of Yoplait's original strawberry yogurt contains 5 grams of protein.

"That's usually the benefit," Hornbeck said. "The protein is more than double."

That concentrated protein is attractive to people who are trying to increase their protein intake, Hornbeck said. In addition, for many people protein can increase satiety, keeping them feeling fuller longer, she said.

But Basch questions the yogurt company claims on the health benefits of Greek yogurt. Research on whether Greek yogurt keeps people feeling full longer is conflicting, she said. She suspects if there is a benefit, it's minimal.

"Americans are so focused on protein," Basch said. "But it's rare for someone who is not a vegan to not be getting enough protein."

Hornbeck's main caution with Greek yogurt — or any yogurt — is added sugars. Both types of yogurt come in a range of flavors, which can sometimes mean high sugar counts, Hornbeck said.

The container of Chobani strawberry yogurt contains 19 grams of sugar. The original Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 26 grams of sugar.

Rather than purchase the flavored varieties, Hornbeck encourages people to buy plain yogurt and add their own fresh fruit.

For the most part, Hornbeck and Basch agreed, the decision of whether to eat Greek or non-Greek yogurt comes down to taste and texture preference.

"I think it's OK to eat, but I don't think it's necessary," Basch said of Greek yogurt. "If you like it, then by all means. But otherwise, regular yogurt is just fine."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com