Many athletes start their day off with a cup of yogurt. While this can be good, it’s often not as good as many think. Not all yogurts are created equal. Let’s explore why.
For starters, food demand in developed countries is based more on taste than necessity. Whereas people in rural or less developed places in the world may receive only a few options and even then only of the dietary staples – white rice, for example – developed countries have a wide variety of choices due to economic and transportation factors and are therefore able to stock foods based purely on taste demand. When we consider that the average buyer will likely choose the sweeter, more colorful, more advertised and easier items than athletes seeking the best possible foods to fuel themselves for their careers, it’s easy to see why even the selection of yogurt can be a tricky one.
Walk down the dairy aisle of most supermarket chains and you’ll find countless varieties of individual servings of yogurt – bright labels advertising the latest probiotic craze or how the fruit is on the bottom. Unfortunately, and although many buyers have the best intention and believe they are making a healthy food choice, the vast majority of these yogurts are about as healthy as a candy bar. Some even contain more sugar (in various forms, yogurt brands are notorious for masking their true sugar content) than a serving of Pepsi.
A Few Reasons Why Yogurt is Healthy
(1) The bacteria cultures in yogurt have been shown to stimulate infection-fighting white blood cells. This may lead to less illness and quicker recovery from illness.
(2) Yogurt contains protein (see MMA Diet: Protein) and because of the fermentation process the protein is “predigested” which means it’s easier for the body to absorb.
(3) The live active cultures in yogurt create lactase, so even those with protein allergies or lactose intolerance may find they can enjoy yogurt.
What to Look For
(1) “Plain.” While the word “natural” is all-too-often used deceptively, the word “plain” when it comes to yogurt helps separate it from those filled with flavorings or from the highly preserved “fruit on the bottom” varieties.
(2) 11g or less of sugar per serving
(3) A short ingredient list that looks identical or awfully similar to these:
i. CULTURED PASTEURIZED ORGANIC NONFAT MILK, PECTIN, VITAMIN D
ii. CULTURED PASTEURIZED NONFAT MILK, LIVE AND ACTIVE CULTURES
- Another healthy option is to look for “Greek” yogurt with a similar ingredient list. While regular yogurt may contain 11g of sugar and 8g of protein per 6oz serving, Greek yogurt can pack in more than 18g of protein while also containing less sugar within the same 6oz serving size.
- The small individual servings are often not the best choice because they usually only come in the sweetened and flavored varieties. Instead, opt for the 32oz containers if possible.
Because the vast majority of athletes shop at grocery stores, here are two of the best brands I’ve found that most major stores will carry:
- Stonyfield Plain nonfat (they also have an organic variety)
- Chobani Plain nonfat Greek
Cameron Conaway is the author of “Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet.” He’s an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, an MMA Conditioning Coach and a NESTA Sports Nutrition Specialist.