Let’s do a little word association here. When we say “Greek yogurt” what pops into your head? “Crazy-high protein”? “Super healthy”? “Superfood”? While those adjectives do apply to some Greek yogurts, unfortunately, not every strain is equally nutritious (in fact, see why the Air Force actually banned one kind of Greek yogurt). Different brands use different recipes, which means the protein, sugar, and added ingredients can range a whole lot.
Here, we set the record straight on six common Greek yogurt myths so you know exactly what you’re buying.
Myth: Greek yogurt is regulated
First, a little yogurt making 101: Traditionally, Greek yogurt is made by straining the yogurt to remove the whey (the liquid remaining after the milk is curdled), and the end result is a more-solid yogurt with less sugar, fewer carbohydrates, and more protein compared to regular yogurt, explains registered dietitian Maria Bella. (What happens to that whey? Find out with The Dark Side Of Greek Yogurt.)
That said, there are no rules about what can and cannot be called “Greek yogurt,” says Bella. The FDA only has regulations in place for regular yogurt. That’s why companies can add additional ingredients or change up the process of how its made and still use the “Greek” label, she says. To ensure you’re eating a true Greek yogurt, read the ingredient label. The main ingredients should be milk and live active cultures. You’ll want to steer clear of added protein like “whey concentrates” and added thickeners like “modified corn starch.”
Myth: They're all packed with protein
Most Greek yogurt contains twice the protein of regular yogurt, but that doesn’t mean that every brand contains the same amount. Why? “This could be due to different straining processes companies use to make the yogurt,” says Bella. For example, some 5.3-ounce containers pack 10 grams, while others, like Chobani and Fage, offer 18 grams of protein per 6-ounce container—that’s 50 percent more protein, even after you adjust for the slightly different serving sizes.
Myth: All Greek yogurt is made the same way
Greek yogurt gets its pleasingly thick consistency and higher protein count through the straining process. However, some brands skip the straining and add thickening agents (such as modified corn starch, carrageenan, or guar gum) as well as protein-enhancing ingredients (such as milk protein or whey concentrates) to mimic the rich texture and protein content. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these ingredients, but Bella notes that these simply aren’t Greek yogurt. It’s easy to avoid yogurts made with cornstarch or milk protein concentrates—both will appear on the ingredients label.
Myth: Greek yogurt is vegetarian
Not every brand! Gelatin may also be added to give the yogurt a more slippery texture. Gelatin usually comes from collagen obtained from various animal by-products, explains Bella. That’s not a problem for people who eat meat, but it can be for lacto-vegetarians who still consume milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Also, some brands use a substance called carmine to give strawberry-flavored yogurts a pink hue. Carmine is a natural dye derived from the body of beetles, and they make foods look like they contain more fruit than they really do. Both gelatin and carmine will be listed on the label if you wish to avoid these additives.
Myth: Flavored Greek yogurt is healthy, too
Your first choice should be plain Greek yogurt. If you want to lightly sweeten it, opt for pieces of fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey. That’s because flavored Greek yogurt tend to contain a lot of sugar—as much as be 15 or 25 grams per serving. Beware, too, of sneaky sugars, such as “grape juice concentrate,” “evaporated cane juice” and others (check out these 10 other sneaky sugar names).
If you’re still going to eat flavored yogurt, Bella recommends basing your decision on the ingredients list. The first three ingredients should be milk, live and active cultures, and fruit. Sugar should come near the end of the list.
Myth: Frozen Greek yogurt is the same as regular Greek yogurt
Frozen Greek yogurt isn’t just regular Greek yogurt thrown into the freezer. While they may have the same number of calories and fat per serving, frozen yogurt typically contains more sugar (17 grams versus 12 grams, for instance) and far less protein (6 grams compared to 18 grams, for example). The bottom line: Greek frozen yogurt is still dessert, not breakfast.