When we polled our readers on which food they wanted us to review next, yogurt was the winner (olive oil was a close second, and we will be reviewing that in the fall).
Finally, after more than a month of researching and testing yogurts, we can tell you who is Good, who is Bad, and who is Sneaky. We were surprised by the results of our research, and I think you will be too!
I had no idea what a big job reviewing yogurt would be! There are dozens of brands of “healthy” yogurt on the market, and within each brand there are a range of varieties, from Greek to drinkable “smoothies” to squeezy tubes marketed to kids.
And I didn’t even get into reviewing goat or sheep milk yogurts (although I will make a recommendation for each, below).
Here’s the video where we look at a bunch of these brands, and taste-test the vegan ones. You’ll be shocked to see which yogurt has the most sugar (hint: it’s the most popular “healthy” yogurt in the store!)!
Can Vegan Yogurts Be Good Stuff?
Because I know we have a large number of vegans in our readership, I did look at five vegan yogurts, which you’ll find reviewed under the Good, Okay, Bad, and Sneaky tabs.
In general, I try to follow a semi-vegan diet, but I’m also committed to not eating food-like substances. I prefer to eat real food that is grown, gathered, and cooked and not made in a lab.
I find it especially difficult when the “food” in question is imitating products made from animals (be it dairy or meat).
Unfortunately, all plant-based yogurt options have processed additives to give them the right consistency, and they all contain processed sugar (lactose in dairy is naturally sweet).
Best Vegan Yogurt
Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt (Plain)
In addition to its low sugar content (just 5 grams per serving), we also thought Kite Hill was the tastiest of the vegan yogurts we tried.
What Exactly IS Yogurt and Should We Eat It?
First things first: Do you know what makes yogurt, yogurt? Yogurt is a cultured or fermented milk product that is soured and thickened by adding specific lactic acid-producing cultures to milk. (Btw: Sour cream is soured cream with a different group of cultures added).
Yogurt has been touted as a health food for as long as I can remember. Pediatricians often recommend yogurt as a good source of calcium for babies and kids. And indeed, if done right, yogurt can be full of probiotics, calcium, protein, and other healthful nutrients.
But yogurt can also have lots of sugar and other questionable ingredients, so like with most products, you have to know how to read a label when perusing the yogurt aisle in your grocery store.
Best Healthy Yogurt Overall
Maple Hill Creamery Plain Greek Yogurt
Maple Hill’s plain Greek yogurt is full of nutrients, low in sugars, and comes from milk from organic grass fed-cows. If you like a little more flavor, add a bit of maple syrup or fresh fruit.
Probiotics: All Yogurt Has Them!
While doing the research for this guide, I came across tons of articles that claimed that if yogurt is pasteurized, it won’t contain any live/active cultures. This is technically true, but doesn’t apply to any yogurt you’ll find in the United States, because the cultures are always added AFTER the milk is pasteurized.
I couldn’t find a single brand of yogurt that didn’t contain at least two live cultures (although some contain as many as five or six, which is obviously even better!).
All yogurt will have Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles, and in higher quality yogurt you may also see Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidus, and others.
The big deal with probiotics is that they help maintain the balance of bacteria needed to boost the immune system and promote a healthy digestive tract. Healthy bacteria, such as the probiotics found in healthy yogurt, are your gut’s first line of defense. (By the way, yogurt isn’t the only place—and definitely not the best way–to get probiotics, but that’s a topic for another day!)
Is Greek Yogurt Healthier?
Greek-style yogurt is everywhere these days, and some of you probably think it’s much tastier than regular yogurt. But is it healthier? In a word: yes.
To make yogurt “Greek,” the whey is strained off (whey is the milk’s watery component after the milk has curdled). This is why Greek yogurt is denser and richer.
Here are the key differences between Greek and regular yogurt:
- Protein: Greek yogurt has almost double the protein of regular yogurt.
- Fat: Unless you’re eating the nonfat varieties, Greek yogurt has about three times the saturated fat of regular yogurt.
- Sodium: Greek yogurt contains about half the sodium of regular yogurt.
- Carbohydrates/Sugars: Greek yogurt contains roughly half the carbohydrates (sugar) of regular yogurt (since much of the lactose is strained off, and lactose is where the sweetness comes from), but remember that adding sweeteners to either one will increase the carbohydrate count.
What About Kefir?
Kefir is more than just “drinkable” yogurt; it has as many as three times as many probiotics as yogurt does, and up to 20 different kinds of cultures added. Of course, flavored kefir is full of sugar, so stick to plain (adding your own sweetener if you wish).
One to try: Maple Hill Creamery Plain Kefir
Goat & Sheep Milk Yogurt
There is good evidence that goat and sheep milk are both healthier for humans than is cow milk: they each have more protein and calcium as well as certain vitamins.
Some experts argue that goat or sheep milk products (including yogurts) are easier to digest and less likely to cause inflammation than cow milk products. (If you’re curious about goat milk baby formula, Maia wrote about that here).
One goat milk healthy yogurt to try:
Kabrita Goat Milk Yogurt Pouches. Even the fruit (and veggie!) flavors don’t contain sugar.
(Kabrita offers my readers 10% off with code GIMMEKABRITA)
One sheep milk healthy yogurt to try:
Black Sheep Yogurt from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. Just make sure to choose plain.
How to Shop for Healthy Yogurt: Organic, Grass-Fed, and Plain
When eating dairy products in particular, I believe that it’s super important for the products to be organic. Of almost equal importance is how the cow that produced the milk was fed—ideally, this will be what it evolved to eat. Look for “grass-fed” or “pastured” on your dairy products.
“Grass-fed” refers to what an animal eats (grass) and “pasture-raised” or “pastured” refers to where the animal eats (on a pasture).
Pasture-raised cows may have their food supplemented with grains, but at least they are eating some grass, which cannot be said for conventionally raised dairy cattle. Grass-fed cows produce yogurt richer in omega-3 fats and CLA (a cancer-fighting fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid).
Is Low-Fat Yogurt Healthier?
When buying yogurt, you also will have to choose between full-fat, whole milk yogurt, low-fat yogurt, or nonfat yogurt. This is a personal choice and also depends on your philosophy on eating dairy fat.
Personally, I try to limit how much dairy I eat, and I find that I’m able to eat much less if I go for the full-fat version. When it comes to yogurt in particular, the full-fat is tastier and richer, and sometimes as little as a couple of tablespoons can be a satisfying snack.
I also find that low-fat and nonfat yogurts need sweetness to be satisfying, whereas I can enjoy plain whole milk yogurt. That said, low-fat and nonfat yogurt can be a perfectly healthful part of your diet, too.
For kids, I do think whole milk yogurt is the best way to go, unless your pediatrician tells you otherwise.
Best Baby/Kid Healthy Yogurt
Siggi’s Tubes of Icelandic yogurt contain less sugar than any other flavored yogurt that’s marketed to kids.
Bottom line: What to Look for in Healthy Yogurt
- Organic (it’ll have a higher nutrient value and no pesticide residue).
- 100% grass-fed. (Here is a website that can help you find local grass-fed dairies in your area.)
- Unsweetened plain (and then add your own natural sweetener if you like). Maia bought these and sometimes we make our own squeeze tubes, using plain yogurt and unsweetened jam.
- Greek-style yogurt is even better than regular, although regular plain yogurt can still be Good Stuff.
- The more active strains of cultures, the better (look for at least three).
- Get yogurt from non-homogenized milk if you can. Homogenization is the process that breaks down the fat in milk so that it doesn’t separate—so homogenized dairy products aren’t in their natural state.
- Ideally, you’ll avoid additional additives like gellan gum, xantham gum, and “natural flavors.” The best healthy yogurt will just contain dairy and probiotic cultures.
A Note About Stonyfield
Stonyfield makes dozens of different yogurts, and unfortunately I can’t slap a label as either Good Stuff or Sneaky Stuff on this brand as a whole. Some of Stonyfield’s are definitely Good Stuff, but others are waaayyy Sneaky.
The best Stonyfield: Stonyfield’s grass-fed, organic Greek plain yogurt is among the best of The Good Stuff. With just 7 grams of (naturally occurring) sugars, tons of protein and calcium, and seven probiotic strains, yogurt doesn’t get much more healthful than this one.
The worst Stonyfield: Stonyfield’s drinkable yogurt has more sugar than ice cream, packing a whopping 39 grams. Their o’Soy vegan yogurt is similarly egregious, with 22 grams of sugar.
And now finally, without further ado, here is what I uncovered for Good, Okay, Bad, and Sneaky Stuff brands of yogurt.
Dreaming Cow Cream-Top Flavored Yogurt
This brand of yogurt is hard to find, but I like that they use no refined white sugar in their yogurts and their cows are 100% grass-fed.
The milk is pasteurized but not homogenized, meaning that the cream separates (this also means the dairy is less processed, which is a good thing of course).
Only agave, maple syrup, or honey are used as sweeteners in these yogurts.
Dreaming Cow is not certified organic, although many of their ingredients are. Their cows “eat grass 365 days a year!”
Some Dreaming Cow yogurts do contain “natural flavors,” which I’m not wild about (I’d rather see “pear puree” than “natural pear flavor”).
Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt–Plain (vegan)
I’m calling this Good Stuff (and certainly the best of vegan yogurts) because of its very low sugar content (just 5 grams per serving), even though it does contain some additives like locust bean gum and agar, in addition to cane sugar, and nothing is organic.
Note that the flavored varieties contain three times as much sugar as the plain, and should be avoided.
Maia said this was the yummiest of the vegan yogurts she tasted. I recommend that anyone with digestive issues, as well as all infants, avoid food with additives like locust bean and xantham gum.
Maple Hill Creamery Plain or Maple Yogurts (Greek or Regular)
I love Maple Hill Creamery for using milk that’s not homogenized, organic, and from cows that are 100% grass-fed. I’ll give them even more points for all the extra strains of probiotics they throw in their super healthy yogurt. Your best bet is to buy the plain variety and add some fresh fruit or fruit puree.
Maple Hill Creamery does offer a Maple flavor that contains only maple syrup as a sweetener (although it does have 14 grams of sugar and in my opinion tastes too sweet). Unfortunately, Maple Hill’s fruit varieties of yogurt contain cane sugar, so I wouldn’t recommend them. Note: Maple Hill’s Drinkable Yogurts have a ton of cane sugar and should be avoided.
I love that they have a whopping TEN probiotic strains in them, but even the maple variety is just too sweet (31 grams of sugar!).
Although you may not be able to find this brand of yogurt near you, I couldn’t resist including it in The Good Stuff because Vermont is our first true home!
This healthy yogurt is local, organic, and sweetened with only maple syrup. The cows are grass-fed but supplemented with grains grown on their farm.
Stonyfield Organic plain yogurts (Greek or regular)
In general, I like Stonyfield as a company because they are definitely committed to organic farming. Unfortunately, the only variety of Stonyfield yogurt that I can enthusiastically recommend is the plain (whatever the fat content and whether you choose Greek or regular).
With 30% of your calcium for the day, Stonyfield’s plain yogurts are a healthy snack for grownups or kids. In addition to sugar, some of Stonyfield’s yogurts contain additions like gellan gum, which isn’t horrible, but makes for a more processed food.
For more details on Stonyfield’s range of yogurts, watch our video, check under “The Okay Stuff” and “The Sneaky Stuff” tabs below, and see the section above called “A Note About Stonyfield.”
Wallaby Plain or “Purely Unsweetened” yogurts
Even though Wallaby’s dairy comes from cows that aren’t 100% grass-fed, they are “pastured-based” and organic.
I do not recommend most Wallaby’s flavored yogurts because they have around 20 grams of sugar. But here’s the super exciting news: Wallaby’s new Purely Unsweetened line of whole milk yogurts contain no sugar at all! If you don’t want to buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit, you finally have store-bought choice!
Wallaby offers four varieties of this healthy yogurt: blueberry, mixed berries, strawberry, and peach, each of which has only have 5 grams of sugar from the natural fruit and lactose in the yogurt. Maia loves the peach flavor, but finds the others not sweet enough!
If you’re enjoying this guide, sign up for our Newsletter to be alerted when we publish or update our Safe Product Guides.
I was suspicious of the main ingredient in Daiya– pea protein isolate—but everything I’ve read suggest it’s actually safe, and perhaps even good for you. Daiya yogurt does have locust bean and guar gums, and it’s not clear that this has live and active cultures, either (they are listed in the ingredients, but not specified as being live). It packs just 5 grams of sugar, which isn’t so bad.
The base for this “yogurt” is cashew milk. I have concerns about the “vegan cultured dextrose,” which apparently is made from skim milk so it’s not really vegan and is definitely a processed food substance rather than real food. Even though this yogurt is organic, they use white sugar in all of the fruit varieties as a sweetener. I’d opt for the plain version of Forager only (if you aren’t a very strict vegan).
Siggi’s Plain or Flavored Yogurts
Because they aren’t organic, I’m calling even Siggi’s plain yogurt only Okay Stuff. (By the way, “Icelandic style” is strained even more than Greek yogurt, meaning it’s even thicker). My grandkids like Siggi’s tubes of flavored yogurt, and they are better than most—including all of their organic competitors– because they contain only 5 grams of sugar. Siggi’s does use milk from grass-fed cows, and I like that their tubes of yogurt are less watery than other brands, and don’t contain “natural flavors” or additive gums of any kids. Siggi’s flavored drinkable yogurts have much less sugar than all other brands, and their Vanilla flavored yogurts are sweetened with agave nectar.
So Delicious Coconut Yogurt (Vegan)
The base for this yogurt is organic coconut milk. Avoid the flavored varieties as they all contain processed sugar. As with all vegan yogurts, So Delicious uses processed ingredients, including rice starch and dipotassium phosphate. Both substances are approved and safe but they are nonetheless highly processed foods.
Stonyfield YoBaby flavored yogurts
I keep moving these from Sneaky Stuff to Okay Stuff and then back again! YoBaby yogurts do pack 9 grams of sugar per serving (cane sugar), but compared to other kid and baby yogurts, they are one of the better ones. The best idea is of course to buy plain yogurt, mix in some pure fruit jam, and feed that to your kid. My advice is to treat this as a dessert rather than a breakfast food.
Stonyfield’s YoKids Squeezers
These are the best of the Stonyfield kids’ yogurts, with 6 grams of sugar per serving (although my grandkids often want two tubes). I’m not wild about the “natural flavors” that are included in most Stonyfield flavored yogurts (along with things like gellan gum).
Stonyfield’s Whole Milk Yogurt Pouches
I’m torn on these, because 12 grams of sugar really is too much for something I’m calling Okay Stuff. However, I like that these include fruit purees instead of fruit juice concentrates, and they also contain healthy fish oils. They also pack probiotics and 20% of your child’s daily calcium needs, so overall I don’t consider this a totally horrible snack.
Dannon now sells a whole milk variety being marketed to moms who don’t want nonfat dairy for their kids. Despite being advertised as “made with whole milk and all natural, non-GMO ingredients,” this yogurt contains weird additives, like modified food starch. It also contains 15 grams of sugar (about 4 teaspoons) per serving. And all milk is “natural”—this term tells us nothing about the growth hormones in the milk or herbicides and pesticides on the cows’ feed. Dannon’s smoothies for kids are really gross, with modified food starch, whey mineral complex, agar, and of course lots of plain old white sugar! Finally, eating Dannon’s Light & Fit yogurt will make you neither light nor fit; while it has a moderate 7 grams of sugar, it’s packed with modified food starch, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, maltodextrin, potassium sorbate, and a bunch of other gross stuff.
This probably will come as no surprise, but YoPlait is not a health food! Not only does the kids’ variety contain white sugar, but it also has the bare minimum probiotic strains for this to even be called a yogurt. With 11 grams of sugar per serving, modified corn starch, potassium sorbate (a synthetic preservative), and artificial sweeteners (sucralose) in some varieties, YoPlait yogurt is classic Bad Stuff.
Yogurt is widely marketed as “healthy” food, yet the majority of manufacturers add so much sugar that most yogurt is only slightly more healthful than ice cream. True yogurt should just contain milk and cultures, yet many brands market themselves as “gluten-free” and “vegetarian friendly.” This is meaningless, obviously, as no yogurt is going to contain gluten or meats.
It seems mainstream brands like Chobani are really listening and now using non-GMO ingredients and milk not treated with hormones like rBST. This is great, but I find it a little sneaky that Chobani’s container of plain yogurt says “made with whole milk” on the front, and yet the first two ingredients are “non-fat milk, cream…” Why not just use whole milk? I imagine that it’s cheaper because they already make nonfat yogurt. Also, Chobani’s flavored yogurts contain as many as 20 grams of sugar per serving.
This Greek-style yogurt is sold everywhere, including health food stores like Whole Foods. But this really isn’t a health food. Fage yogurts aren’t organic and every flavor except plain has sugar. The fruit flavors use fruit juice concentrates, so there probably isn’t much whole fruit in those versions. I know Maia does send her kids to school sometimes with the little Fage cups with honey, which is the only not-terrible one, but recently she’s upgraded to Wallaby Organics with honey.
Liberte flavored yogurts
These yogurts are undeniably tasty, but with 21 grams of sugar per serving, I have to call them out as Sneaky (they also contain “natural flavors,” which I don’t love). Their plain organic version is fine, although it doesn’t specify which cultures are used.
This one is confusing to me. Noosa yogurts are sold in every health food store, but this yogurt isn’t organic and has a whopping 28 grams of sugar per serving. They even add white sugar to their honey-flavored yogurt. Sneaky! Noosa is a delicious yogurt, but it is not a healthy yogurt.
Oiko’s is Dannon’s version of a Greek yogurt, and it’s totally sneaky thanks to lots of sugar. I also don’t like that this brand is the only one to not list any of the cultures in the yogurt, and instead just says it contains “live and active cultures.” I assume this is because they only include the minimum required to qualify as yogurt.
Stonyfield O’Soy soy yogurt (vegan)
With 22 grams of sugar, Stonyfield’s O’Soy vegan yogurt is the least healthy non-dairy yogurt option. Soymilk itself is controversial, so I see no reason for this product to be offered in natural food stores.
Stonyfield’s drinkable yogurt smoothies have more sugar than ice cream, with a whopping 39 grams per serving (one bottle). (Also, it’s not even cane sugar—just regular white table sugar). Some good news: there is a newer line called “YoKids sMOOthies,” that uses cane sugar in place of white sugar and has some fruit and veggie purees, and “only” 13 grams of sugar per bottle (although the bottles are smaller). If you want to give your kid a drinkable yogurt, this would be the best bet (although kefir is even better—see my blurb above about kefir).
Whew! I know this is a lot of info. Tell me: are there brands you love that I didn’t recommend above? What are your favorite yogurts?
To your health,
Suzanne, Certified Holistic Health Coach
P.S. Are you interested in making your own yogurt? We have made our own in past years with success, but as I’ve gotten busier with grandkids and this business, I find I just don’t have the time! If you are interested in making your own yogurt, here is the recipe we’ve used.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.