Is Low-Fat Yogurt a Healthy Choice?

Yogurt DogLow-fat yogurt has a healthy halo that is seemingly cast in stone. But if you look closely every now and then, you’ll see a crack in that halo. One such crack showed up this week with a prospective study published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

Researchers followed 4,545 individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease and found that whole fat yogurt appeared to have beneficial effects for the reduction of central obesity. But low-fat yogurt had none. Because this is not a randomized, controlled trial, it is certainly not definitive, but it adds to some growing doubts about the assumption that low-fat dairy foods are always better.

The pendulum is swinging hard against earlier dogma that dictated everything should be low-fat. The question of saturated fats remains controversial, with many experts maintaining that it’s a health hazard and others arguing that the science is weak. Dairy fat is mostly saturated fat, so recommendations for low-fat dairy are still the norm while the experts debate the issue.

This question is far from resolved. In an analysis from the same population published earlier this year in the Journal of Nutrition, investigators found that:

Higher consumption of low-fat dairy products, yogurt (total, low-fat, and whole-fat yogurt) and low-fat milk was associated with a reduced risk of MetS (metabolic syndrome) in individuals at high cardiovascular disease risk from a Mediterranean population. Conversely, higher consumption of cheese was related to a higher risk of MetS.

So what are we to think? For now, we would recommend looking very carefully at the quality of the yogurt you eat. You can find many examples of low-fat yogurt that have been loaded up with more than 20 grams of sugar — more than you’d get in a Twinkie or a serving of good, dark chocolate. It’s no wonder that the yogurt industry has opposed putting added sugar on Nutrition Facts labeling. It will indeed make some popular products – assumed to be healthy choices – look pretty bad.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

Click here to read the study in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. Click here for the study in the Journal of Nutrition. Click here for more from Yahoo Health.

Kefir, photograph © Claudio Brisighello / flickr

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December 18, 2015

10 Responses to “Is Low-Fat Yogurt a Healthy Choice?”

  1. December 18, 2015 at 6:12 am, Mary-Jo said:

    It also is important to note that yogurts, low-fat or whole, with added fruit and fruit preserves or other ingredients, such as honey, cookies and candy, are obviously very high in sugar. People even know this, but still believe that because it’s yogurt, it’s still healthy, thus there’s some denial that sets in. Anyway, that’s my experience with many of my clients. Plain yogurt, low-fat or whole, is best, and add your own fruit or even honey, muesli or granola, so as to control the amounts of sugar and added carbohydrate. It boosts the fiber content as well if you add fresh fruit. I like plain Greek yogurts because they have a higher natural protein: carbohydrate ratio.

    • December 18, 2015 at 7:11 am, Ted said:

      Good perspective, Mary Jo. Thanks!

  2. December 18, 2015 at 7:47 am, Lluis Serra-Majem said:

    The title is not exact, since studies cited reflect whole-fat yogurt consumption but not low-fat. Clinical trials in obese patients are needed.

    • December 18, 2015 at 10:38 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your observation, Lluis.

  3. December 18, 2015 at 8:23 am, Jeannine said:

    Having been eating “clean” for ~10 years now in an effort to lose weight, and then stem the tide of menopausal weight gain, I’ve found it astonishing how even very well-educated people don’t read labels, and see just how much added sugar goes into almost everything that’s packaged, including yogurt. It’s just not rocket science to know adding fruit to plain yogurt is better for you than buying yogurt with added fruit. Ever since I figured out 4 gm sugar = ~1 tsp of sugar, I’ve become even more dedicated to whole foods, and if a low-fat version of something has added sugar, I opt for the whole fat. Trying to keep to 6-8 tsp. of added sugar is do-able if you read the labels. Whole fat Greek is the best for taste and texture…it has entirely replaced sour cream in my house. 🙂

    • December 18, 2015 at 10:38 am, Ted said:

      Good work. I wish it weren’t so hard.

  4. December 18, 2015 at 8:20 pm, Janice McSherry said:

    Might I add that our dog Annie prefers full fat, plain Greek style yogurt. Especially Noosa brand.

    Seriously, since I’ve returned to full fat dairy products, I have lost nearly 10 pounds without trying. I believe that the satiety experience has been greatly improved for me, and I no longer feel “ravenous” at 11 a.m. I’ve never been big on added ingredients and have always steered clear of the crazy “cookies and cream” products… but I will add a bit of sugar (or maple syrup) MYSELF if I want heightened flavor and sweetness.

    • December 19, 2015 at 5:12 am, Ted said:

      You are wise, Janice. I’m glad I kept the picture of yogurt dog there for you.

  5. December 20, 2015 at 10:16 am, Susan Burke March said:

    Hi Ted – I don’t have a subscription to this journal so I cannot read the study, but as mentioned by you and others in these comments, unless they are comparing apples with apples, plain nonfat yogurt and plain whole milk yogurt, all bets are off regarding the conclusions of this study. So…can you tell by this study that they are comparing two yogurts, both unsweetened?

    • December 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm, Ted said:

      It’s a prospective observational study, so the comparison is not necessarily apples to apples. Low-fat yogurt often has more sugar.