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How to choose a healthy yogurt

Each week, a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a post on nutrition. This week, Elaine Pelc, MS, RD, CNSC, LDN, (pictured) weighs in on yogurt choices.

Is yogurt a healthful option or a pitfall in disguise? With so many choices — whipped, fruit on the bottom, with granola, in tubes, as shakes, Greek-style — it is easy to be overwhelmed.

Yogurt can be a healthy snack option or meal component, but you need to be careful what you choose. Some yogurts have a fair amount of sugar and fat.

The nice thing about yogurt is that, for the most part, it can be a perfect meal or snack on its own due to its nutrient profile. Yogurt typically provides a combination of fat, carbohydrates and protein; the trick is to choose the products with the better balance of these nutrients.

Good bacteria?

Yogurt is a great way to include probiotics in your diet. Probiotics are micro-organisms that are naturally occurring in yogurt that help maintain the balance of good bacteria (flora) in your intestines. This can be especially beneficial for people who have gastrointestinal issues.

Snack attack

In general, snacks shouldn’t exceed 100-150 calories, and it is beneficial to choose a snack that combines carbohydrates and protein. Look for light or low-fat yogurts that have 80-100 calories, 0 grams of fat and about 5 grams of protein.

Going Greek

Greek yogurt is all the rage right now and for good reason. The fat-free versions typically provide 90-130 calories and contain about 13-17 grams of protein. This type of yogurt is processed differently from traditional yogurt, removing some of the carbohydrates and leaving behind a thick, creamy, protein-packed treat.

Greek is tart, similar to sour cream, but it also comes flavored. You can doctor up the plain with some fresh green grapes or a half ounce of honey. Other options include fresh fruit and dry cereal for crunch, or some Splenda and unsweetened cocoa powder for a chocolate treat. Greek yogurt can also be a great substitute for higher-fat cooking and baking ingredients.

Shopping hints

Choose low-fat or fat-free options.

Look for yogurts with less than 150 calories.

Avoid yogurts with fruit on the bottom or those with granola, which add calories.

Watch out for yogurts high in sugar, and read the labels of those targeting children, which are often flavored like their favorite sugary cereal.

Choose Greek yogurt for its high protein value.

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