So long as you’re not vegan or lactose intolerant, yogurt has likely long been a part of your diet. After all, it’s one of the easiest snacks to enjoy—whether at home or on the go—and it’s jam-packed with calcium and other good-for-you nutrients. But why is it then that so many people on social media and in real life are spreading the idea that yogurt is bad for you?
For one, there are debates that yogurt can cause breakouts and weight gain. And, on the other hand, it’s said to employ some pretty unethical manufacturing practices. Because of this—and because we’re still tied to the idea that yogurt has to have its benefits—we chatted with two nutritionists for the low-down on all things dairy yogurt. Keep reading to find out whether or not the classic food should be a part of your daily diet.
Meet the Expert
Is Yogurt Bad For You?
While many people are questioning yogurt’s nutrition based on the rise of vegan food practices, Maeng says that yogurt is actually one of the most nutritionally well-balanced snacks out there. “It contains carbohydrates, fat, and protein, which are all important to not only nourish you but also to help you stay full,” she explains. “It also contains probiotics, which are important in maintaining good gut health.”
Mitsios, tacks onto this, noting that the trick is to ensure the yogurt you’re eating contains at least 100 million cultures of live bacteria per gram and avoiding brands that are loaded with sugar, flavors, and colors. “Yogurts that have additional strains of probiotics (in addition to the required streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus) can provide a broad spectrum of probiotics that can also be beneficial to health and immunity,” she adds. “These strains include B. lactis and L.acidophilus, which are added to the yogurt after fermentation.”
Fortunately for us, the National Yogurt Association (NYA) has a seal for this, which makes finding suitable yogurts a cinch. However, if you don’t have time to eagle-eye brands, know that a few brands you can’t go wrong with include Siggis’s Nonfat Yogurt, Stonyfield Organic Probiotic Yogurt, and Fage Plain Greek Yogurt.
The Benefits of Consuming Dairy Yogurt
First and foremost, yogurt is accessible. You can find it pretty much anywhere, anytime—even at the airport which is saying a lot. Beyond its convenience, Maeng, who is also the co-founder of Chelsea Nutrition in Manhattan, reminds us that yogurt is well balanced with all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein, which is not always easy to find. “It is also high in calcium and vitamin D which are important for your bone health,” she adds.
And, let’s not forget about the probiotics. Not many easily-accessible foods are jam-packed with the gut-balancing ingredients. Plus, with good gut health, Misios says that probiotic-boosted dairy yogurt can assist in accelerating bowel movements and therefore promote a healthy digestive system. “The lactic acid found in yogurt can also help to curb bacteria which causes diarrhea, thereby fostering a healthy inner bowel ecology,” she adds.
What Are the Downsides to Consuming Dairy Yogurt?
The biggest downfall of dairy yogurt is that it can’t be enjoyed by those who experience lactose intolerance. “Unfortunately dairy is one of the most common food allergens and many people are lactose intolerant though they may not be allergic,” Maeng says. “When you are intolerant to dairy but continue to make it a part of your diet, over time it can cause chronic inflammation in your body, which can lead to many other health problems.”
Additionally, Maeng points out that dairy is high in saturated fat, which shouldn’t be over-consumed, as it can cause inflammation and lead to a build-up of cholesterol, raising your LDL cholesterol (which increases your risk of heart disease) as a whole. Plus, it’s not exactly low-cal, which causes worries of weight gain. However, Maeng says not to worry. “Just like all foods, it really depends on how much of it you are consuming,” she explains. “Weight gain, for the most part, is about calories in and calories out. But if you are sensitive or allergic to dairy products, it can bloat you which may impact your scale a little. If you are not sensitive to dairy products, I would say it is safe to make it a part of your daily diet, but watch out for any flavored yogurt. Flavored yogurt can contain a lot of processed sugar and artificial flavors that you should stay away from.”
Then there’s the chance that consuming dairy can lead to breakouts. “Dairy yogurt can cause breakouts as it causes a spike in insulin growth factor,” Mitsios says. “This, in turn, leads to a rise in testosterone which is linked to increased sebum and oil production. A rise in sebum/oil production can in turn clog pores which may lead to breakouts and congestion.” A 2018 review published in the Journal of Nutrition supports this, revealing that any dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, led to an increased chance of developing acne for participants aged seven to 30 years old. Of course, researchers pointed out that since acne can be hereditary, these results should be taken with a grain of salt.
Lastly, you have to think about the way your yogurt is made. “Unless your dairy yogurt is organic, it may also contain harmful pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or antibiotics,” Mitsios says. “The other point to consider is that cows used to produce the milk may also have been treated unethically.”
So Which Is better: Dairy or Non-Dairy yogurt?
This largely comes down to your dairy preferences. If you are sensitive to dairy and experience breakouts, gas, bloating, and/or cramps, Maeng recommends a really good quality non-dairy yogurt—like Cocoyo, Cocojune, and Lavva. “I say good-quality yogurt because there are many plant-based non-dairy products out there that are filled with so many additives and sugars,” she explains. “Always read the ingredient list and look for simple, pure ingredients, and avoid gums and sugars.”
The good thing about non-dairy yogurt, Mitsios points out, is that it’s fortified with calcium, so it has largely the same nutritional profile, sans any of the inflammatory or hormone-imbalancing side effects of dairy.
The Final Takeaway
All benefits and downfalls in mind, Mitsios wants you to remember that all fermented foods are a fantastic way to boost healthy gut bacteria—something many of us forget to make a priority. “However, the key is finding a product that uses a natural fermentation process and is produced without added sugar and unnecessary preservatives,” she says.
In addition to natural fermentation, Maeng says to steer clear of anything overly processed. “If you are not sensitive to dairy, I would recommend going for a full-fat organic yogurt and add flavors by adding fresh berries, nut butter, or nuts and seeds,” she says. “Avoid yogurt with added gums, artificial flavors, sweeteners, sugars, and syrups.”