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Fat, calories and protein
Finding a nutritious Greek yogurt boils down to three simple things: Fat, calories and protein. Look for nonfat varieties of Greek yogurt and check the nutritional label for low calories and high protein.
Mary Bamford, a registered dietician and nutritionist based in Toronto, recommends that every 175-gram serving of Greek yogurt should contain at least 18 grams of protein and no more than 100 to 120 calories.
Get more protein with nonfat Greek yogurt
While regular nonfat yogurt has six to eight grams of protein per serving, nonfat Greek-style yogurt has 18 to 20 grams, and the two varieties are (depending on the brand) typically made from the exact same ingredients: Skim milk and active bacterial cultures.
Though there are different ways to produce Greek yogurt, the traditional and common method is to take regular yogurt and strain out the liquid -- which is called the whey -- using cheesecloth or a similar straining tool. This produces a more condensed, thicker product. Therefore, you would have to use three litres of milk to make Greek yogurt for every one litre that would be needed for regular yogurt. Triple the milk means triple the protein.
Why it's important to get enough protein
"Protein is important, particularly at breakfast," says Bamford. "Our protein tissue in our muscles, our liver and our heart turns over 24-7." Protein acts as a fuel for these different parts of the body, so it's important to feed that need throughout the entire day, she says.
One of the more severe risks of not getting enough protein is accelerated sarcopenia, the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle, warns Bamford. Sarcopenia is a condition that often strikes when people are older, leaving them without the strength for basic physical tasks, such as climbing stairs or even getting up off the toilet.
"Ultimately it's a big determinate of whether we end up in a nursing home," she says. Whether fuelling up for the day or warding off long-term health risks, it's a good idea to get a lot of protein at breakfast rather than cramming it all in at dinner, says Bamford.
Page 1 of 2 -- Find out why you should avoid sweetened and flavoured yogurts on page 2
The truth about sweetened and flavoured yogurt
"Plain low-fat Greek yogurt is a nutrient-rich, wholesome food you want to eat every day," she says. Sweetened and flavoured yogurts, however, are not necessarily a healthy daily snack. They tend to have only 15 grams of protein per serving -- which is still a lot higher than regular yogurt -- but they are also often much higher in sugar and calories.
"The ones that taste like ice cream, those are a small dessert," says Bamford. "Those are part of our luxury calories. People don't realize that some of these yogurts have the same amount of sugar as a dessert."
Women should only have 6 teaspoons of sugar daily, and men should have no more than 9 teaspoons, says Bamford.
"People lose sight of all the added sugar in their diet, and many yogurts have 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar," she says.
Healthy ways to sweeten up Greek yogurt
Plain Greek yogurt can be fairly tart on its own -- and some people might be inclined to avoid it for that reason. It's easy to balance that out though.
"I personally recommend that people who buy plain, nonfat varieties and who want to add a bit of sweetening should try adding fruit," says Bamford. "Or they can stir in 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or honey, which is only a third of the sugar that's in the sweetened yogurts."
Choosing between honey and syrup is a matter of personal taste. Honey tends to swirl into the yogurt, adding pockets of sweetness amid the tartness. For those who prefer a more consistent flavour, maple syrup blends more seamlessly with the thick yogurt and also contains nutrient-rich minerals, says Bamford.
The bottom line is, give Greek yogurt a try -- but give the label a close read before indulging. Incorporate it into your diet as a great addition to a healthy breakfast, a filling afternoon snack or even substitute it for sour cream in your baking, marinades and dips for a healthy and equally satisfying alternative. Opa!
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