AICR HealthTalk: Is Greek yogurt best?
By: KAREN COLLINS, MS, RD, CDN American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: I’ve heard that eating after dinner leads to weight gain. What is the latest I should eat at night to avoid that?
A: What matters most for weight control is how the total calories you eat all day compare to the total you burn up. The problem with evening and late night eating is how it influences total calorie consumption. Several studies show that people who eat a greater proportion of their calories at night tend to rack up more total calories for the day. For many, evening eating involves calorie-dense foods — foods high in calories in even a modest portion, like chips and sweets. On top of that people may eat in a mindless, distracted way or they eat to relieve boredom or stress so they are not tuning in to the portion needed to satisfy hunger. Both of these situations — foods concentrated in calories and excessive portions — pose trouble for weight control at any time of day. Studies have shown that if their total calories balance out, people who eat in the evening do not gain weight. So while there is no ideal time to stop eating at night, if you do eat after dinner, choose foods with fewer calories per bite like vegetables and fruits, monitor portion size and pay attention while eating.
Q: Why is Greek yogurt such a big deal? Is it more nutritious than regular yogurt?
A: Both regular American-style yogurt and Greek-style yogurt can be very nutritious choices. For some people, the excitement over Greek yogurt relates mainly to its velvety thick, creamy texture. Greek yogurt is much thicker than regular yogurt because a lot of the liquid whey is strained out. It doesn’t need the pectin or other thickeners found in many yogurts.
As for nutritional differences, Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, with six ounces of the nonfat version supplying 15 to 18 grams instead of 6 or 8 grams in regular yogurt. Straining out the whey makes it lower in carbohydrates, which means less lactose for lactose-intolerant people.
However, removing the whey also makes Greek yogurt substantially lower in calcium. Nonfat and reduced-fat Greek yogurt usually provides about 170 to 200 milligrams (mg) of calcium in six ounces, instead of at least 300 to 350 mg in plain regular yogurt. Some brands may contain more, but check labels if you are counting on yogurt for calcium.
One more caution: the more concentrated yogurt means calories and any fat present get more concentrated, too. Six ounces of plain nonfat Greek yogurt contain about 90 to 100 calories (similar to regular nonfat plain yogurt). But the same portion of the whole milk version contains about 225 calories and 17 grams of fat (including a substantial portion of the recommended maximum of daily saturated fat for a whole day). Fortunately, that thick creaminess is present even in the nonfat form.
Traditionally, Greek yogurt is a plain (unsweetened, unflavored) yogurt, great mixed with fruit or cereal or used to make dips, sauces and salad dressings. Flavored versions contain the same extra sugar and calorie load as regular flavored yogurt, so again, label reading is key to be aware of what you’re getting.