The Truth About Greek Yogurt

Karen Solomon
by Karen Solomon
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The Truth About Greek Yogurt

You, me and everyone with a spoon have been privy to the thick yogurt revolution of recent years for its high-protein, cool and creamy convenience. Most of us agree there are many reasons to love Greek yogurt — it has twice the protein of regular yogurt and it seems to be a healthful snack. But many dietary and environmental factors turn this treat into sour milk, meaning you should reconnect with good ol’ delicious regular yogurt instead.

WHAT IS GREEK YOGURT?

To make Greek yogurt, plain yogurt, traditionally made from whole milk, is strained to remove most of its liquid, a cloudy brine of whey and lactose. Not all Greek yogurts are created equal; the amount of removed liquid determines its thickness and nutritional content. Similar products include labne, a Middle Eastern yogurt cheese strained until it’s thick enough to be spread with a knife, and skyr, a super thick Icelandic yogurt usually made from strained nonfat yogurt. In the U.S., the most popular national brands of Greek yogurt are Fage and Chobani.

THE GOODS ON GOING GREEK

About 7 ounces of Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt has 190 calories, a massive 18 grams of protein (about twice that of regular yogurt) and just 8 grams of sugar, making it a filling breakfast or snack that treads lightly on the daily diet.

Cooking with Greek yogurt is great, as it can take the place of sour cream, creme fraiche or cream cheese on toast, in baking or just about anywhere. Super-thick, Greek-style yogurt like labneh stands on its own as an appetizer drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar spices.


READ MORE > 9 UNEXPECTED WAYS TO USE GREEK YOGURT


With minimal effort, Greek yogurt is extremely easy to make at home. Line a fine-mesh sieve with a piece of thin, all-cotton fabric and place it over a catch bowl. Pour regular plain yogurt into the cloth and let the liquid pass through. The longer you let it sit — from a few hours to a full day — the thicker it will become. Leave it at room temperature for a tangier taste, or refrigerate it to tame its bite. And don’t t throw away that pleasingly-sour lactose and whey, as it’s full of galactose, calcium phosphate and lactic acid. Use it in smoothies, cocktails or in cooking instead of lemon juice. Some also use it for making pickles or for an acidic brine for poultry. Others swear by it as a hair rinse for shiny locks.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Because Greek yogurt is denser than regular yogurt, you’re going to pay more for that extra protein boost. And it might not just be your wallet growing a cavity; it could also be your teeth. Flavored Greek yogurts with added sugar count as dessert with 32 grams of sugar or more per 1-cup serving. (Fresh fruit, a spoonful of low-sugar jam or a scant drizzle of honey are the way to go if you can’t take it straight.)

Not all Greek yogurt is as wholesome as promised. Rather than straining yogurt, some manufacturers rely on added thickeners like whey concentrate, gelatin or modified cornstarch to make the yogurt more viscous. Yogurt made this way won’t have the same nutrition as the real deal, but it might just be better for the environment.


READ MORE > DIETITIAN TIPS FOR CHOOSING A HEALTHIER YOGURT


Speaking of which … one of the biggest problems with an uptick in Greek yogurt consumption is the overabundance of its waste product: uneaten lactose and whey liquid. The leftover whey from most cheesemaking is a sweet whey, and it has plenty of uses in industrial food processing, including in animal feed and protein powder dietary supplements. But the acidic whey that comes from Greek yogurt production — which amounts to two to three times the volume of the Greek yogurt sold — has limited use in the food and agricultural chain. While a small amount of it can be used in farming, most of it ends up being dumped, and its acidity can be harmful to the environment in large quantities.

Though everyone loves Greek yogurt’s terrific spoon appeal, we might all be better off reaching for perfectly delicious regular yogurt instead.

About the Author

Karen Solomon
Karen Solomon

Karen is the author of Asian Pickles; Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It; and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It (Ten Speed Press/Random House). Her writing and recipes have appeared on Saveur.com, in Fine Cooking, Prevention, Men’s Health, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Yoga Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. You can also find her leading food tours for Edible Excursions through her neighborhood in San Francisco’s Mission District.

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26 responses to “The Truth About Greek Yogurt”

  1. Avatar Meghan K says:

    It’s a shame that the author doesn’t end the article with advising people, rather than to encourage people to read labels since regular yogurt can be sugar bombs too. If you look at brands such as Siggi’s, they have more protein than sugar. It’s all about being a smart consumer.

    • Avatar MaxS. says:

      I love Siggi’s, but it’s been difficult finding a low-sugar type. The best I could find is that Triple Zero, I think it’s a Chobani product, and it has just 6 grams of sugar.

      • Avatar BuckeyeBeth7 says:

        I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Siggi’s… But I just went to their website and it claims that my neighborhood Kroger’s carries 4 products so I’ll be keeping my eye out for it. They must keep it in what I call their hippie section. 😉
        My complaint about articles that want to bash yogurt is they always take the numbers from the flavored blended styles instead of the better for you fruit-on-the-bottom styles. This article states “Flavored Greek yogurts with added sugar count as dessert with 32 grams of sugar or more per 1-cup serving”, but yet I sit here with my Chobani Greek Strawberry Banana on the bottom style at 130calories, 15g of sugar. The article I would like to see is comparing the different fruit on the bottom yoghurt styles with the numbers on plain yogurts and adding your own fruit. I assume adding your own fruit is better but how much better is my question.

        • Avatar Darla Stock says:

          BuckeyeBeth7, I have the same issue with artificial sweeteners and even Stevia gives me a migraine. I have found Siggi at Kroger within their regular yogurt offerings. If you have Meijer around you, they also carry it. I pretty much only eat Siggi or Stoneyfield yogurt, as they both have the least amount of ingredients. What I have learned is, products with the least amount of ingredients and the closest you can get to natural or organic is the best. And adding your own fruit is better also.

      • Avatar Jenny Drake says:

        I also eat the triple zero. I cant eat other lite yogurts because of the artificial sweetners.. they make my legs hurt. the triple zero has stevia leaf in it and that is what I have to look for. I like the Chobani triple zero

    • Avatar Toro says:

      I don’t think they want to or can pitch brand names

  2. Avatar Grace says:

    I agree! Nothing in this blog post is convincing me to stop buying Greek yoghurt (I hate how thin regular yoghurt is and I never ate regular yoghurt to begin with but that’s another story…). It’s like telling us to eat skin-on chicken because it’s wasteful. Nah man, I need to stick to my macros and Greek yoghurt makes it so easy.

    Also why the heck would I bother to make greek yoghurt myself by straining it, then consuming the flow through whey/lactose? Aren’t I trying to remove those carbs? Aside from the texture enhancement, this doesn’t make sense from a nutrition point of view (as someone trying to lose weight).

    The environmental impact is real though. I can believe that. Animal products in general aren’t very environmentally sustainable, if I’m being honest with myself. The way the US manages it’s dairy ensures excess milk gets dumped for fear of flooding the market and driving the price of milk down. Monocultures of corn and soy to feed animals encourage heavy fertilisation, pesticide use, and soil erosion, the first of which leads to eutrophication (excess nutrients in aquatic and marine ecosystems) which can induce harmful Algae blooms that kill fish. Even if the public understood and knew the consequences fully, there’s always gonna be some people that go “but I like bacon and cheese too much!”. People are apathetic on the issue because they are far away from the problems and never witness the consequences first hand. I am totally one of these people. The fact of the matter is, greek yoghurt is no more wasteful than any other animal product/by-product. The nutritional profile fits my diet needs in ways vegetarian sources of protein fail (high protein/low carb, with a complete amino acid profile)

  3. Avatar Justice League says:

    i cut up a fresh pineapple in cup portions. i then add each cup to non fat no sugar added greek yogurt. let set overnight. freaking amazing (and perfect for post work out refueling)!!

  4. The logic of this post has several holes that other have posted about already. But just one note on the “national brands” that the author mentions : Chobani is a US company founded by a Turk. They have nothing to do with Greece.

  5. “If you add fruit to water it will have many calories. Water is bad!” 😀

  6. Avatar Karen says:

    Somewhat incomplete and disappointing article. No one mentioned making their own yogurt. It’s very easy, cheaper and you can choose the milk ( whole, 2%….). Just heat the milk to boiling point, cool to lukewarm, and then add 1/4 cup of active yogurt culture (from a good brand with no additives). Cover and keep in a warm place for 4-6 hours depending on temperature and how sour you want it. Then just put it in the fridge. (There’s a great recipe for making your own yogurt in a new Indian Vegetarian cookbook: Vibrant India.) You can certainly strain it but I just stir the whey back into the yogurt as I begin to use it. It’s so easy and you can add anything you want. It’s a great base for many things. I use it as a base for salad dressing instead of mayo. A nice cooling summer beverage: Add a touch of salt, crushed cilantro (mint or other herb), a little cumin powder and mix it in a glass with some water and ice cubes–very refreshing.

    • Avatar Linda Baker says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Coincidentally, I am in the middle of yogurt making today. I do it in a glass bowl, and the milk get’s heated there, cools, gets a small container of yogurt with active cultures, and then incubates in the microwave. Aside from the initial hands of heating to 180 and cooling to 110, the entire project is practically hands free. Also, I like the thicker yogurt, but the whey is used in smoothies and to replace milk in baked goods.

  7. Avatar WisdomPlease says:

    Try eating yogurt, plain and simple, without sugar… It may be an acquired taste for many, but that’s the only way we ate yogurt growing up in Turkey, as in many other countries… If you are in the mood for sweets, try adding fresh grapes or any other fruits to your liking.

    • Avatar Paula says:

      I buy plain Greek yogurt all the time-in the large pack! It didn’t take me long to realize I could “fancy” it up with fresh fruit if I wanted. But then, I come from a family that cooked from scratch and used whatever was available. I still do those things.

  8. Avatar Paula says:

    As soon as I saw the headline for the article I knew it would be one of those “downers” that try to tell us why we shouldn’t eat something because…(fill in the blank).
    No matter what food has been at one time considered healthy, some Foodie, dietician or doctor will write an article about the drawbacks, leaving out the healthful benefits. We all know there will be trade-offs. When we are savvy about what we put in our bodies, we’ll understand this. The headline was “click bait” and it got me looking. The author didn’t give a balanced view; instead appeared to be offering a scare story.
    (BTW: Triple zero is a Dannon/Oikos product. I eat that one sometimes too.)

  9. Avatar Chivas Dudley says:

    I always use zero fat Greek Yogurt. The sugar content is really no problem. I keep it close to the use by date then eat it. Give the bacteria a little more time to consume more of the sugar.

  10. Avatar Jim R says:

    I eat a bowl of plain non-Greek yoghurt with fresh or frozen berries mixed in every morning. Whey is considered by many to be super healthy. Why eat a product that has removed the whey? I usually make my own yoghurt. Costs $1.50 per quart using organic whole milk. My philosophy is just eat real food.

  11. Avatar Greek Brogurt says:

    “The bad and the ugly” – lists absolutely no downside hahaha

    Karen can you please relax? Eating a delicious and healthy food is not going to destroy the environment lol – not to mention the amount of protein is amazing

  12. Avatar Michele Alisa Doppio says:

    Icelandic skyr I.e. The Siggies type tastes better in Europe. Happier cows I’m sure because they get to eat grass only no corn or feed. I eat a ton when I’m there.
    Making your own is super easy & tastes great.

  13. Avatar Nicole Huddleston says:

    The Chobani production facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, features a mile long underground pipe that transports the strained whey to the Cliff Bar production facility where they use it as a protein source in their products. Now how cool is that?!

  14. Avatar Erika says:

    There is a really good article in American Chemical Society that talks about new innovative technologies that are turning acid whey into a usable byproduct. Some companies are using microbes that digest the acid whey into methane which is being converted into electricity and others are converting acid whey to be added to food byproducts to increase the nutritional value and many more creative ideas are springing up to help combat the problem of acid whey production. So keep eating Greek Yogurt!

  15. Avatar Judith M Helie says:

    Make your own Greek Yogurt!! I do.. Very simple, inexpensive, no added ingredients.. Make your yogurt, then strain to get Greek Yogurt.. I make it every week and add stevia and fresh fruit!!

  16. Avatar Debbie Bigos says:

    The article focuses on whole milk Greek yogurt, making it sound like a dietary and environmental disaster. My Chobani Greek yogurt is non-fat, 120 calories for 1 cup. For me it is a source of dairy and protein since I do not eat a lot of meat. I appreciate the information, but in all fairness, it is not a full disclosure of the product.

  17. Avatar robinbishop34 says:

    I buy the double 32 oz pack of plain, fat free greek from Sam’s Club. I get 64 oz for under $6. 8 oz is 130 calories, and 24 grams protein. This is even significantly cheaper than Aldi’s.. which is significantly cheaper than a most supermarkets, Wal-Mart, etc.

    I mix in stevia, protein powder, and frozen berries for a protein pudding.

  18. Avatar fran123 says:

    Just buy plain. Pretty much no sugar.

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