Food & Drink

Wednesday 30 July 2014

The benefits of dreamy Greek yoghurt

Protein-packed and teeming with friendly bacteria, Greek yoghurt is a winner...

Rozanne Stevens

Published 28/04/2014|02:30

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"Greek yoghurt is far healthier than regular plain yoghurt"

MY LOVE of Greek yoghurt developed while growing up in South Africa, where it is very popular, along with many other healthy Mediterranean foods.

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And now the rest of the world seems to have fallen in love with this creamy, dreamy Greek delight. Greek yoghurt's nutritional superiority has elevated this dairy product to superfood status in the States, with sales more than doubling over the past five years.

I’m delighted it's becoming so popular, as I am very anti fruit yoghurts, especially for children. Many are laden with sugar that we just don't need.

Personally, I love the creamy and slightly tart taste of Greek yoghurt, and far prefer it

to plain or traditional Bulgarian style yoghurts. And, even better news is that

Greek yoghurt is far healthier than regular plain yoghurt so, by default, I was making

the better choice all along!

Greek Yoghurt vs. Regular Yoghurt

So, what makes Greek yoghurt so special? The difference between it and regular yoghurt is that the whey is strained off. The whey is the watery part of milk that remains when milk is curdled. This straining is what makes Greek yoghurt really thick and creamy. And, because you're removing the whey, there's less sugar, fewer carbohydrates, and a lot more protein compared to regular yoghurt.

In fact, a typical 150g serving of Greek yoghurt packs as much protein as 75g of lean meat, making it a super snack for a healthy lifestyle. Protein not only helps build lean muscle and keeps you feeling full, but a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a diet high in lean protein may be superior to a high-fat or high-carb diet when it comes to warding off weight gain and heart disease.

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Though most experts agree that Greek yoghurt has a nutritional advantage, both kinds help you lose weight by keeping you full on fewer calories. The key is sticking to plain, non-fat, or low-fat varieties. In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard researchers found that yoghurt can help keep age-related weight gain in check. Just to clarify: both Greek and regular yoghurt, in their plain, non-fat or low-fat forms, can be part of a healthy diet. They're low in calories and packed with calcium and live bacterial cultures.

But Greek yoghurt — which is strained to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose, and sugar, giving it its thick consistency — does have an undeniable edge.

In roughly the same amount of calories, it can pack up to double the protein, while cutting sugar content by half. For someone who wants the creamier texture, a little bit more protein, and a sugar decrease, going Greek is definitely worth it.

Greek yoghurt vs plain yoghurt in the nutrition boxing ring:

Protein

Greek yoghurt is high in protein, which helps promote fullness. A typical 150g serving contains 15 to 20 grams, the amount in 75g of lean meat. That makes it particularly helpful for vegetarians, who sometimes struggle to get enough of the nutrient. An identical serving of regular yoghurt on the other hand, provides just 9 grams, meaning you may feel hunger pangs sooner.

Carbohydrates

Going Greek is a smart choice for low-carb dieters. It contains roughly half the carbs of the regular kind — 5 to 8 grams per serving compared with 13 to 17. Plus, the straining process removes some of the milk sugar, lactose, making Greek yoghurt less likely to upset the lactose-intolerant.

Remember, however, that both types of yoghurt can contain high amounts of carbs if they're sweetened with sugar or another sweetening agent. So read the label! No matter which type you choose.

Fat

Be wary of Greek yoghurt's fat content. Saturated fat raises total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for |heart disease. Read nutrition labels carefully. |If you're going Greek, stick to low-fat and |fat-free versions.

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Sodium

A serving of Greek yoghurt averages 50 milligrams of sodium, about half the amount in most brands of the regular kind. Too much salt can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of other heart problems.

The daily recommendation is to cap sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams if you're older than 50 or you have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Calcium

Regular yoghurt provides 30 percent of the recommended daily amount. Greek yoghurt loses some of its calcium through the straining process, but still packs a wallop. A 150g cup typically supplies about 20 percent of the daily recommendation.

If you're still worried about calcium intake, top your yoghurt with nuts and seeds, especially almonds, or serve with nutty muesli or low sugar granola.

Top tips for choosing the best Greek yoghurt:

There have been a few high profile court cases over the use of the term ‘Greek yoghurt’ and what the term means and who can use

it. It is still unregulated, and because the straining process can require costly equipment, some yoghurt brands are selling ‘Greek’ yoghurts that haven't been made

the traditional way. Instead, thickening agents like corn starch and milk-protein concentrate are added to mimic the rich texture of strained yoghurt.

The jury's still out as to whether these additives make for a nutritionally inferior product, but they certainly detract from the simplicity of traditional strained yoghurt. So here's what to look out for:

1. Read the ingredients. The best thing for people to do when shopping for Greek yoghurt is to look at the product's ingredients list. It should contain only milk and live active cultures. Anything else is unnecessary and not a traditional Greek yoghurt.

2. Greek yoghurt as a product ingredient has no health benefits. Some food producers have jumped on the Greek bandwagon by producing packaged foods like cereal and granola bars claiming to contain Greek yoghurt. These types of foods don't have the same health properties as real yoghurt. They often have a lot of added sugar, and if they're sitting on a shelf, they're not going to have the live cultures in them, so they're really just a sweet treat masquerading as a health food.

3. Don't count on live active cultures. If you want to ensure your yoghurt is packed with probiotics — which have been shown to promote digestive health, boost immunity, and even prevent yeast infections — make sure the label says ‘contains live active cultures’, rather than made with live active cultures.

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Tasty ways to enjoy Greek yoghurt:

• Mix it with seasonings like garlic, dill and parsley to create a delicious dip for crudités like carrots, celery sticks or cucumber slices.

• Serve with fresh, seasonal fruit as a breakfast or healthy dessert.

• As a topping for high-fibre granola.

• Substitute Greek yoghurt for sour cream with Mexican dishes.

• Substitute for the eggs and oil in baking.

• Good replacement for fatty ingredients like cream cheese, mayonnaise and butter.

• Its thick texture makes it an excellent swap for mayonnaise on sandwiches.

• Use instead of mayonnaise in salad dressings for potato salad, egg salad, pasta salad and coleslaw.

• Mix with chives for a delicious baked potato topping.

• Add to mashed potatoes with garlic and herbs.

Greek yoghurt has a pretty good shelf life, so keep a tub in the fridge as a snack, breakfast and healthy cooking ingredient.

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