Everyone's going gaga for the Greek stuff: Greek yogurt's nutritional superiority has helped elevate the dairy dish to superfood status in the U.S., with sales more than doubling over the past five years, according to Euromonitor International.
But because there are no government regulations for slapping "Greek" on a food label, the descriptor is popping up throughout the dairy aisle and beyond, masking products that aren't so healthy, after all. To help separate the Greek from the, well, not-so-Greek, learn how to strain out imposters.
Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt
So what makes Greek yogurt so special? "The difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt is that they strain off the whey, [the watery part of milk that remains when milk is curdled] which makes it really thick and creamy," says Karen Roth, clinical nutritionist and founder of Karen Roth Nutrition in Los Angeles. "And because they're removing the whey, there's less sugar, fewer carbohydrates, and a lot more protein compared to regular yogurt."
In fact, a typical 6-ounce serving of Greek yogurt packs as much protein as 3 ounces of lean meat, making it a superstar snack for a healthy bod. Protein not only helps build lean muscle and keeps you full, but a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a diet high in lean protein may be superior to a high-fat or high-carb diet when it comes to warding off weight gain and heart disease.
But since use of the term "Greek" is unregulated, and because the straining process can require costly equipment, some yogurt brands are pumping out "Greek" yogurts that haven't been made the traditional way. Instead, thickening agents like corn starch and milk-protein concentrate are added to mimic the rich texture of strained yogurt. The jury's still out as to whether these additives make for a nutritionally inferior product, but they certainly detract from the simplicity of traditional strained yogurt. Regardless, there are ways to determine whether products marked "Greek" are genuinely Greek:
1. Read the ingredients. "The best thing for people to do when shopping for Greek yogurt is to look at the product's ingredients list," says Roth. "It should contain only milk and live active cultures.
2. Steer clear of the shelf. Yogurt companies aren't the only imposters trying to steal the superfood's spotlight. Other food producers have jumped on the Greek bandwagon by unveiling packaged foods like cereal and granola bars claiming to contain Greek yogurt. But Roth warns that these types of snacks may just be junk foods in disguise. "They don't have the same health properties as real yogurt," she says. "They often have a lot of added sugar, and if they're sitting on a shelf, they're not going to have the live cultures in them, so they're really just a sweet treat masquerading as a health food."
3. Don't count on live active cultures. If you want to ensure your yogurt is packed with probiotics—which have been shown to promote digestive health, boost immunity, and even prevent yeast infections—Roth says to make sure the label says contains live active cultures, rather than made with live active cultures.