Our nation is obsessed with yogurt. Dubbed a breakfast champion and a good source of bone-building calcium, Americans guiltlessly down it by the overflowing spoonful. To keep up with consumer demand and emerging trends, new varieties always seem to being making a debut as seen most recently with full-fat containers popping up on supermarket shelves. Yup, you read that right: full-fat yogurt. While those of you trained to reach for the low-fat container might think this issue is cut and dry, especially when it comes to weight loss, recent research and expert opinions seem to be at odds on the matter.
For decades the USDA and numerous health authorities have told us that animal fat is a dietary demon that should only be eaten in moderation— if at all. Recently, however, some researchers have began to wonder if that suggestion should possibly be revised. Although there have been numerous studies on the topic, in a 2013 European Journal of Nutrition research review, 11 of the 16 studies included found that participants who consumed more high-fat dairy products either weighed less or gained less weight over time than their counterparts who didn’t consume fat-laden dairy. However, the studies in the review were all observational, so they are unable to prove definitively that high-fat dairy products alone prevent weight gain.
To get more understanding on the topic, Eat This, Not That! checked in with Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN, a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist based in New York City. She was not involved with the study but many of her patients have successfully lost weight with the help of full-fat yogurt. Her theory behind their success? “While it's been difficult to prove scientifically, intuitively I believe that when the body gets nutrients from whole, unaltered foods like full-fat yogurt, it will be less likely to hold on to excess calories and store them fat. Further, sugar and fat substitutes, found in some low-fat yogurts (yup, even in the flavorless varieties) may diminish weight loss efforts, while whole food fat sources boosts satiety, helping people eat less overall throughout the day.”
Although Minchen makes an interesting point that aligns with sound research findings, we couldn’t help but remember that the USDA still adamantly recommends low-fat dairy despite recent study findings. Not to mention, other nutritionists still stand by these national recommendations.
“We can’t toss years of research down the tubes because of the results of a few studies. We must stick to what the majority of the evidence points to,” says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., national nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day. “The USDA weighs the results of all the emerging studies and then makes their recommendations based on the whole picture. The recommendation still stands to consume three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy each day. More research needs to be done to determine if these guidelines should be modified in the future.”
It’s clear that our experts are divided on the subject, however, our experts did agree on one thing: both whole and low-fat dairy can be part of a healthy diet with some careful planning. So if you’re looking to get in on this creamy trend, consider these quick tips:
Skip the Chips.
If you typically down desserts by the dozen or indulge in other fat-laden fare like chips, you may need to adjust your daily diet a bit if you want to incorporate full-fat yogurt. “If someone is having full-fat dairy, they should cut back on other sources of fat such as olive oil, chips or cheese throughout the day,” suggests Minchen. Amidor agrees. “Some full-fat yogurts serve up to 20 percent of the day’s saturated fat. If you want to eat this type of yogurt then it should be consumed in lieu of other foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol like fatty cuts of meat, eggs and dark meat poultry.” Looking for some healthier snack options to offset this new addition to your diet? We have a collection of 50 good snacks that fit the bill.
Take Out Your Measuring Cup.
If you can’t imagine cutting back on your favorite olive oil-based dressing or that third egg in your omelet, yogurt portion control may be a better bet for you. Chobani’s 5.3 ounce full-fat variety, for example, has 40 more calories than their non-fat variety of the same size. While 40 calories may not seem like a lot, if you ate the higher-cal yogurt every day, it would add a pound to your frame in a little over two months. Yikes!
While it may sound counterintuitive, forgo the single serve container and buy the large tubs to save calories. The large tubs make it easier to carefully measure out the amount you’ll be eating without being taunted by off-limits leftovers lurking in the container. If you typically eat a 90-calorie, 5.3 ounce container of Chobani’s non-fat yogurt, for example, you’ll need to scoop out a little under a half cup of Chobani’s full fat variety into a dish to consume the same calorie equivalent. While it may not look like a ton of food, it’s likely more satisfying because of the additional fat.
Use it as a Calorie Saver.
Instead of doing it by the container, use it to replace sinful, calorie-packed condiments like sour cream. “It works well in lieu of sour cream on dishes like chili and fajitas,” notes Amidor. “Full-fat sour cream has more than double the calories per tablespoon of the Chobani full-fat variety so it will save you calories.”
The Bottom Line?
If you’re not worried about your weight and don’t suffer from heart disease or diabetes, full-fat yogurt can be a part of a healthy eating plan. Just remember that full-fat yogurt should be chosen in lieu of other animal products that are high in saturated fat and portions should be kept in check.
While it’s unlikely full-fat yogurt will have a major effect on your health if you follow these guidelines, you should still keep an eye on your cholesterol levels and weight. If either measure starts to creep up, you should reevaluate your how you’re compensating your calories later in the day, or switch back to low-fat dairy altogether. Either way, make sure to read labels and check out our list of the best yogurt brands so you know you're getting the healthiest pick.