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What About Yogurt? Why This Dairy Product Is Not As Healthy As You Think

Jun 13, 2023

Whenever we talk about the negative consequences of dairy on human health, we always get pushback about chocolate milk for athletes, calcium for bones, yogurt for gut health, and countless other excuses. Does fermenting milk and turning it into yogurt somehow make it healthy? Let’s dive in and explain why dairy-based yogurt is not a health food. 

Nutrient Density

A recent 2023 study compared multiple types of yogurt. It analyzed 622 varieties total, including 462 dairy and 160 plant-based yogurts, and evaluated their macro and micronutrient profiles. The best one? Almond milk yogurt, followed by oat milk yogurt, then their dairy counterparts trailing behind. 

The researchers used the Nutrient Rich Foods Index, which assigns a combined score for each food based on multiple nutrition markers and metrics. Almond milk yogurt had the highest score among all types, meaning it also has the highest nutrient density. Looking more specifically, the plant-based yogurts when compared to dairy yogurts had significantly less sugar, more fiber, and less sodium. They provided similar vitamin D content, which makes sense when you remember that cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D and does not naturally contain it. 

Almond milk yogurt has a greater nutrient density compared to dairy yogurt. 

Almond milk yogurt has a greater nutrient density compared to dairy yogurt.

Gut Health

Perhaps yogurt is best known for its benefits to gut health and improving digestion. This is because yogurt is a fermented food, and therefore contains probiotics that are beneficial for feeding the good gut bugs in our microbiome. 

However, dairy-based yogurt is certainly not the only place to find probiotics. In addition to non-dairy yogurt, other fermented foods include sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, and sourdough bread. Adding these other sources to your diet will reap the same benefits, plus fiber and other micronutrients. This Noodle GoodBowl recipe uses a flavorful miso dressing to pack a probiotic punch. 

Recipe for Noodle GoodBowl with miso dressing, vegetables, squash, and tofu.

Recipe for Noodle GoodBowl with miso dressing, vegetables, squash, and tofu.

What else helps optimize our gut health? Fiber! The study above also found that plant-based yogurts have significantly more fiber compared to dairy, which has a negligible amount. The combination of probiotics and fiber in plant-based yogurts will leave your gut happy and healthy. 

Sugar

As noted above, the study found that plant-based yogurts had significantly lower sugar content than dairy yogurts. Lactose is the sugar that is naturally found in milk, and therefore it is also in many dairy products including yogurt. It will already contain a nontrivial amount of sugar, and when the yogurt is then sweetened on top of it, it can quickly lead to an unexpectedly high sugar content.

Some plant-based yogurts are also sweetened, but when the base is made from something like almond milk that is naturally low in sugar, the final product is lower in sugar as well. Even when adding sweeteners, whether yourself or purchasing a sweetened option, the total sugar content is less than that of comparable dairy yogurts. So whether you prefer plain or flavored and sweetened yogurt, the plant-based version will be the better option if you are watching your sugar intake.

Protein

Yogurt is popular among some people as a protein source because of its convenience. The previously mentioned study looked at protein as well, and found the almond milk yogurts had similar protein content to full-fat dairy yogurts. Other plant-based yogurt varieties had less protein compared to dairy yogurt. 

Building a bowl and adding other foods like chia seeds, hemp hearts, or almonds can easily boost its protein content if you have a specific goal you’re trying to reach at each meal or snack. However, protein is abundant in plant-based foods and it’s easy to meet your needs just by eating a variety of foods throughout the day. Check out our Protein Guide to learn more about protein on a plant-based diet.

Calcium

Calcium is undeniably important for bone health. The dairy industry has led many Americans to believe that they can only get this nutrient from dairy products, such as yogurt. We’ve debunked this myth and shown how vegetables provide plenty of calcium, and are often more bioavailable compared to dairy. Fortunately, many non-dairy yogurts are also fortified with calcium, meaning their content is equal to, or even higher than, the calcium content of dairy-based yogurt. If you want to rely on yogurt to help meet your calcium needs, switching to a plant-based yogurt will still allow you to do so. 

Vegan yogurt bowl with chia seeds, granola, and mixed berries, and pineapple

Vegan yogurt bowl with chia seeds, granola, and mixed berries, and pineapple.

Conclusion

There is nothing special about dairy-based yogurt. Its probiotics, calcium, or protein content may seem beneficial, but they do not outweigh the multitude of negative effects all dairy products have on human health; every bite is one step forward and five steps back. Non-dairy yogurt and other plant-based foods provide the same benefits, plus many more to contribute to your overall good health. 

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