Yogurt has long been recognized as a solid nutritional choice, delivering multiple benefits with each spoonful. Made from pasteurized milk that has been fermented, yogurt contains active cultures known as probiotics. These live microbial food ingredients can provide notable health benefits when ingested in sufficient quantities. Probiotics have been recognized for centuries for their potential in fighting yeast infections, enhancing the body’s immune system, preventing certain types of cancer, and more recently for their promise in increasing microbiota diversity in the gut. Particularly important as we age, adding probiotics to the diet repopulates the intestinal track with beneficial bacteria that protect against infection-causing toxins. In addition, yogurt offers plentiful calcium, potassium, protein, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12.

Greek yogurt can add even more to the full plate of benefits. In most Greek varieties, much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar found in traditional yogurts is strained out, giving this yogurt a thicker, creamier texture while being lower in sugar, carbohydrates and sodium; it also may be tolerated better by those who are lactose-sensitive. Additionally, Greek yogurt contains twice the protein content of regular yogurt, helping to promote a feeling of fullness when eaten. A typical six-ounce serving provides 15 to 20 grams of protein, an amount equivalent to two to three ounces of lean meat. The richer taste makes it a satisfying substitute in recipes for more fattening ingredients such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream or oil. The only cautions: choose low-fat or fat-free varieties, as full-fat Greek yogurt can contain up to 16 grams of saturated fat, almost all of the daily allowance based on a 2,000-calorie diet; and be aware that it contains less calcium than regular yogurt.

How to make smart choices when sifting through the literally dozens of yogurts on the market today?

  • Look for the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. Not all yogurt contains the beneficial live and active cultures. Some brands are heat-treated to increase the shelf life and decrease tartness, which kills off the good bacteria. Many plant-based or non-dairy yogurts made from soy, coconut rice or other foods have not undergone fermentation, and so do not contain live bacteria. Nutritionists recommend that when possible, opt for those labeled with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. Established by the National Yogurt Association, the seal guarantees specific minimum levels are present at time of manufacture–at least 100 million cultures per gram for regular yogurt, and at least 10 million for frozen. While the program is voluntary, and not monitored by the FDA, many manufacturers seek to earn the seal as proof that buyers will receive the full health attributes of their yogurt product.
  • Maximize your calcium. Aim for a brand that includes 20 to 30% of the daily calcium requirement.
  • Keep it natural. Beware of additions like hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners.
  • Keep the calories down. Skip the cookie or candy toppings and avoid yogurts that list sugar as the first or second ingredient.

Stock up on your healthy choices. A Harvard School of Public Health study that followed more than 120,000 people over the course of two decades showed that yogurt, among all foods, was most strongly correlated with weight loss. That’s why yogurt remains a superfood mainstay—an easy-to-swallow way to fight infection, ingest nutrients and potentially control weight.