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People are going totally nuts over Greek yogurt these days. It’s so popular, in fact, that folks who aren’t even that interested in Real Food are choosing it over regular processed yogurt at the supermarket. What’s up with the Greek yogurt trend anyway, and is it healthier than regular yogurt or kefir, its cultured dairy cousin?
The short answer?
Yes and no.
Why Greek Yogurt is (Somewhat) Healthier than Regular
Making Greek yogurt is a very simple process. You simply strain out most of the liquid whey from plain yogurt. This is what gives “Greek”, aka strained, yogurt the thick, rich consistency everyone loves.
The nutritional result of removing the whey is partially beneficial for the following reasons. There is a downside, though, to watch out for. Depending on the health goals you have for eating yogurt in the first place (besides pure enjoyment because it’s yummy) you may decide to stick with regular yogurt instead of the more trendy Greek version.
Greek Yogurt Lower in Carbs and Sugar
The whey is where the carbs and the lactose (milk sugar) are found in regular yogurt. Straining about half the whey out is what produces, voilà, Greek yogurt. Not so complicated, is it?
Why not strain the entire amount of whey out to remove all the sugar? Well, that approach doesn’t quite work. Removing all of the whey from regular yogurt makes yogurt cheese. While delicious and creamy, it is too firm and not sweet enough to pass as yogurt.
Look at strained “Greek” yogurt as kind of like the halfway point between regular yogurt and yogurt cheese.
Because most of the whey is removed, strained yogurt is much lower in carbs and sugar than regular yogurt. For those following a low carb diet for weight loss, this is a helpful thing.
The one exception to this is 24-hour yogurt (I make mine in a slow cooker), which ferments enough of the lactose where it is virtually equal in carbs to Greek style.
Greek Yogurt Higher in Protein
Because you are removing about half the carbs from regular yogurt when making the Greek version, the protein content of each cup increases.
A 6 oz/ 170 gram serving of strained yogurt contains about 15 to 20 grams of protein (11%). An identical serving of regular yogurt provides just 9 grams (5%). More protein means that you feel fuller longer, which is again, important for those seeking to lose weight.
What about the Fat in Strained Yogurt?
Greek yogurt comes either full fat, lowfat, or nonfat. If you buy the full fat (best) or lowfat versions, it will contain more fat per serving than regular yogurt. It is best to buy full fat Greek yogurt because the satiating lipids will keep you feeling full much longer and help reduce sugar cravings through stable blood sugar (source).
Downside of Removing Some Whey from Regular Yogurt
While increased protein and healthy fats per cup are excellent reasons to switch to Greek yogurt from regular, note that there are downsides to removing some of the liquid whey!
A large portion of the probiotics in cultured dairy reside in the whey. In addition, the whey contains most of the calcium and other important minerals which would be partially lost.
The whey portion of unpasteurized yogurt is even more nutritious. Heat treating or pasteurizing the milk before making yogurt depletes nutrients and probiotics. Adding probiotics back in by culturing the pasteurized milk into yogurt does not fix the problem because a wider variety of probiotic strains are found in unpasteurized yogurt.
Hence, if you are eating yogurt to help resolve bone loss issues or other health problems related to mineral deficiency, you may wish to stick with regular yogurt, preferably raw as unpasteurized yogurt. Why raw yogurt? Because it still contains the enzyme necessary for absorbing the calcium. This enzyme, phosphatase, is destroyed by pasteurization.
Greek Yogurt is Not Better than Kefir
Note that while a strong case can be made that Greek yogurt is a slightly healthier food than regular yogurt, the same cannot be said for kefir.
This is because the probiotic value of kefir is so powerful, beneficial, and even therapeutic to gut health that the enhanced fullness aspect of Greek yogurt just doesn’t compare.
Probiotics in Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt contains little probiotic value compared to kefir usually containing only Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These strains are transient in nature meaning they pass through the gut with no lasting value or ability to colonize.
While these strains will help keep the digestive tract clean and provide food for the helpful microorganisms already colonized in the gut, a constant infusion is required to keep the benefits going.
Another probiotic downside to strained yogurt is that it contains no beneficial yeasts which are necessary to help combat pathogenic strains like candida.
Probiotics in Kefir
The probiotics in kefir are so far superior to those in Greek yogurt that it is really no contest.
Here is a list of the 30+ strains of probiotics and beneficial yeasts in properly fermented kefir, according to the Journal Food Microbiology. Many of these strains are aggressive in nature, meaning they can beat back pathogens and colonize the gut to re-assert dominance to facilitate gut rebalancing.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus keﬁranofaciens subsp. keﬁranofaciens
- Lactobacillus keﬁri
- Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus sake
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
- Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
- Lactococcus lactis
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. dextranicum
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides
- Pseudomonas fluorescens
- Pseudomonas putida
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Candida humilis (yeast)
- Kazachstania unispora (yeast)
- Kazachstania exigua (yeast)
- Kluyveromyces siamensis (yeast)
- Kluyveromyces lactis (yeast)
- Kluyveromyces marxianus (yeast)
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast)
- Saccharomyces martiniae (yeast)
- Saccharomyces unisporus (yeast)
Hold on. Does the information above mean you should eat kefir and not Greek or regular yogurt? Of course not. All three cultured dairy foods are beneficial and helpful to health. Just note that if you are looking to lose weight, Greek yogurt may be your best bet. If you are looking to rebalance the gut, kefir can’t be beat. And if you simply make whole milk yogurt at home and love it, there is no reason not to continue enjoying what you are doing!
In summary, you be the judge of which cultured milk products work best for you. This information is simply provided to help you make an informed decision about what to incorporate into your diet.
How to Make Greek Yogurt
Making Greek yogurt from regular yogurt is a simple process. The absolute best type of Greek yogurt is strained from unpasteurized whole milk yogurt. While making raw yogurt yourself is most likely necessary, you might be able to buy some from a local raw dairy farm.
The second best option would be to make Greek yogurt by straining homemade whole milk yogurt that has been made with a yogurt maker, heated gently on the stovetop, or purchased from a local grass-fed dairy.
The third best alternative would be to buy an organic whole milk yogurt brand from the store and strain about half the liquid whey out.
This article plus video on how to remove liquid whey from a carton of store-bought yogurt shows you the simple process. Just take care not to remove all the whey else you will have yogurt cheese. Remove just enough so that the remaining yogurt has the thick consistency of Greek yogurt.
It is not recommended that you buy pre-made Greek yogurt from the store unless you are traveling and have no other options. The reason is that commercial Greek yogurt is not going to have much if any probiotic benefit (factories don’t culture the pasteurized milk long enough). What’s more, it tends to be more expensive than regular yogurt.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist