Yogurt can be a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack… if you know what to look for on the label. It can also be a sugar bomb masquerading as a health food.
That's right, a lot of yogurts—even the seemingly healthy ones—have a good amount of extra sugar added to them in order to enhance their flavor. Unfortunately, most Americans are eating too much added sugar, which can lead to health problems such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, harmful inflammation, and even heart disease.
As you browse the many yogurt options lining the grocery store shelves, prioritize a yogurt that's high in protein and low in sugar. Dairy naturally has some sugar (from lactose), explains Nina Dahan, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Brooklyn, New York. And, like milk, fruit also has naturally occurring sugars.
In the past, it's been tricky to differentiate how many natural sugars vs. added sweet stuff are pumped into yogurts, but now yogurt brands have to use the new nutrition facts panel. This update requires food manufacturers to specifically list the grams of added sugars in your yogurt, which will help you to choose better-for-you yogurts.
So while you might not find a yogurt that's entirely sugar-free, you can look for products that are low in added sugars (like fruit juice, jams, or sweeteners). "High sugar yogurts can cause you to feel hungrier sooner and drive more morning snacking," adds Dahan.
With this in mind, we asked nutritionists and dietitians for their expert advice on how to choose the best low-sugar yogurt brands.
Why choose low-sugar yogurt?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar for women, and no more than about 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) for men. Though a few extra grams of sugar here and there might not seem like much, it adds up quickly. Plus, if you have a diet that's too heavy in sugar it can have an adverse effect on your overall health.
"Overall, low-sugar yogurts are important because we don't want to be consuming too much added sugar on a daily basis. Too much added sugar is not only empty calories, but it also impacts blood glucose and inflammation," explains Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN. "Flavored yogurts are notorious culprits for added sugar, so it's best to get used to unflavored or low added sugar varieties instead."
As ACSM certified exercise physiologist and ISSN certified nutritionist Melissa Morris notes, low-sugar yogurts have all the health benefits the food has to offer without any of the sugar-induced drawbacks. "Lower sugar yogurts are great because you are getting the benefits of eating yogurt without the unnecessary added sugar that most of them have," she says. "Yogurt is a great source of probiotics, which are good bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract and keep us healthy. Yogurt is also a source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and other nutrients."
How much sugar is allowed in "low-sugar" yogurts?
"There is no industry standard for claiming a food to be 'low sugar,'" says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, CDE with Balance One Supplements. "However, 'reduced sugar' does have a preset standard: it must contain 25 percent less sugar compared to a similar product of the same serving size." In other words, if a Chobani strawberry yogurt contains 15 grams of sugar (which it does), a low-sugar version of that yogurt must have 11.25 grams of sugar or less.
By doing your best to avoid added sugar, you'll be choosing a protein-packed, calcium-rich yogurt that's also a great vehicle for delivering probiotics to your gut.
Choose better-for-you options from the below list of the best low-sugar yogurts that are nutritionist-approved, arranged by dairy and non-dairy products. (You'll see a lot of Greek varieties here since it can provide twice as much protein as regular types.)
All of these options have 9 grams of sugar or less.
Strained yogurts (like Greek varieties) have more protein and fat, which satiate you and keep you full and fueled for longer periods of time. This Chobani option is great for that reason, plus it contains less sugar.
"Chobani's Less Sugar variety contains 5 grams of added sugar. The sugar from milk isn't counted as added and isn't detrimental to health like added sugars are," says Gariglio-Clelland. "This is a decent option for those wanting to cut back on sugar without eating artificial sweeteners. The protein content is impressive because it's a Greek yogurt, so it's more filling. Plus it's made with 2 percent milk to be more filling than nonfat."
Siggi's recently revamped their Icelandic yogurts to be lower in sugar than before, making them a great low-sugar yogurt option. "Like all of siggi's yogurts, it's a strained yogurt, so the protein is higher than traditional yogurts," says Lemein. "This yogurt still has a little fat, which means it will keep you fuller for longer. While some may be avoiding full-fat yogurts, the pre-portioned cup is the perfect size to keep serving sizes in check." As a bonus, "they tell you exactly what probiotics are in there," says Dahan, making it one of her go-tos.
Icelandic-style yogurt tends to be higher in protein because of the way it's made, and this option has an impressive 15 grams of the satiating stuff per serving. The plain flavors have as little as 3 grams of sugar per serving.
This yogurt gets its name from the fact that every fruit-flavored variety contains just two grams of sugar. Its low sugar content is a result of the unusual slow-straining process (using reduced-fat milk) employed to create it. "The result is a product with 80 percent less sugar than most yogurts — 2 grams per 5.3-ounce container to be specific," says Sofia Norton, RD. "It comes in a variety of flavors to suit everyone's tastes and is sweetened with stevia, a natural zero-carb sweetener."
As the name states, there's no added sugar here. "The sweet taste of this product comes from natural fruit sugars (fructose and glucose), i.e. it's naturally sweet," says Norton. "It also contains live and active cultures — another praiseworthy feature that can help with gut health."
As Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living, points out, this yogurt does contain 7 grams of added sugar. That sweet stuff is in addition to some naturally occurring sugars in the food itself, but it nabbed a spot on this list because it also packs a hefty dose of satiating protein, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels.
To cut out all added sugars completely, opt for YQ's plain flavor, which has just 1 gram of sugar!
"This yogurt is sweetened with stevia, which is not an artificial sweetener and does not yield calories. This low-sugar yogurt contains 15 grams of protein per serving to keep you full for a long time!" says Miller. "Also, I have personally loved their wide variety of flavors. This can be a great healthier substitute for dessert as well."
According to Amanda Blechman, RD, CDN, and senior manager of scientific affairs at Danone North America, "Oikos Triple Zero is designed to provide an excellent source of high-quality protein to help people build and maintain strong muscles as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle."
If you're monitoring dietary fat for your heart health, Dahan recommends finding a low-fat or fat-free option with no added sugar since "some of the 4-5% fat yogurts can contribute too much saturated fat." One serving of this certified organic nonfat yogurt contains 15 grams of protein, making it a great option for Greek yogurt fans without the high fat content. If plain seems a little too tart for your tastebuds, you can always use it in savory dishes too, as a healthier sour-cream replacement, or as the base of homemade tzatziki.
Available on Instacart.
Maple Hill plain Greek yogurt gets major bonus points since it's one of the few 100-percent grass-fed yogurts on store shelves. "Grass-fed" means that the milk came from an animal with a more nutritious diet of—you guessed it—grasses. (Think of the phrase "you are what you eat.") When you consume animal products, some of the nutrients that animal consumed get passed on to you. Plus, grass-fed products are higher in antioxidants and have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids (the good kind) and lower levels of omega-6s (the bad kind that can increase cholesterol).
Available on Instacart.
Another newcomer, Trimona Bulgarina superfood yogurts contain antioxidant-rich lacuma, which adds sweetness, along with monk fruit sugar (a zero-calorie sweetener derived from fruit) that won't spike your blood sugar. Depending on the flavor, you'll get superfoods like maca, chlorella, spirulina, acai, and turmeric mixed in—a nice upgrade to your typical plain yogurt.
Made from low-calorie almond milk, one 5.3 ounce container of Kite Hill's plain yogurt has 140 calories and only 5 grams of added sugar. Plus, you're getting a dose of vitamin E—which works as a powerful inflammation-fighting antioxidant. For those opting for no-sugar, Kite Hill also has an unsweetened alternative.
12. Laava Blueberry
Made from the low-carb pili nut, coconut, and cassava (a starchy root vegetable), Laava's yogurt has no added sugar, gums, or fillers. With 7 grams of sugar, it's sweetened with real blueberries and plantains, making it another healthy option for dairy-free folks. This plant-based yogurt is a good option for those sticking to a vegan diet.
If you're not a fan of almond milk, cashews offer a creamier alternative. This yogurt from Forager Project combines cashews and coconut for a buttery base, with no added sugar, and the vanilla bean makes it a perfect pairing with fresh fruit.
14. GT's Cocoyo Pure
Cocoyo is a great non-dairy yogurt option. Though coconut products can be high in calories, this yogurt is only 100 calories for 4 ounces. More importantly, it contains just three ingredients: raw coconut, coconut water, and probiotic cultures. Though we recommend going with plain, if you're looking for a sweeter option, Cocoyo's cacao and vanilla flavors are sweetened with stevia.
Looking to cut back on dairy? Here are 22 expert tips to guide you.
For all the benefits of the probiotics found in yogurt with as little sugar as possible, there's almost nothing better than this dairy-free coconut yogurt from The Coconut Cult. The serving size is just 2 tablespoons, but it's packed with 25 billion probiotics from 16 unique strains.
For more, check out What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Yogurt Every Day.