Your Facebook questions answered: Greek yogurt confusion

Enlightened Eater Facebook fan Linda Searle McCarthy  writes about her confusion when looking at labels on various Greek yogurts.  She says, “My question concerns Greek yogurt. I buy plain, 0%, either Liberty or PC. They both contain only skim milk and bacterial culture, but the ingredient %’s differ substantially. They both say 18g protein, but PC has 50% calcium and PC has 15%. How can that be? They are both Canadian companies so it isn’t a US % difference. It just doesn’t make sense!”

Linda, you’re not alone in wondering about what’s in Greek yogurt. The reason for all the confusion is that there is no standard of identity for this product, meaning that the Canadian government doesn’t specify exactly what Greek yogurt is in terms of nutrient composition and how it may be made.

Currently Greek yogurt is simply a style of yogurt. It’s generally a thicker or creamier product that is higher in protein. But that’s where the similarities may end.

Traditionally, it is thought of as a strained yogurt – one that is made by straining it through a material such as cheesecloth or muslin cloth to yield two fractions. The thicker cheese-like higher protein component remains in the strainer (which is the yogurt)  after the process while the whey or somewhat clear liquid is left below.

While it may be called Greek yogurt when it’s made by many large yogurt companies in North America, in other countries, it may be known differently. In Israel and the Arab countries of the Middle East, it’s known as labneh. In other places, it may be known as strained yogurt or yogurt cheese.

But because there is no standard of identity, the Greek yogurt we have  on the market here in North America may be  made in a variety of ways including those where no straining is involved at all. Consequently the nutritional value of these products may vary considerably.  Also when you consider that some have added fruit or sweetening agents such as sugar, there can be a huge variation.

So label reading is key.

First the calcium issue. Liberty Greek Yogurt is made using the traditional method and as a result, the whey, which is rich in calcium, is not included. That’s why the calcium is listed as 15 % Daily Value. The PC Greek Yogurt is not a strained product. Instead skim milk is added as a thickener which yields a higher calcium count.|

Some products are partially strained and have skim milk solids added back to yield a Greek style yogurt. While other companies version of Greek yogurt is to just add in a thickening agent.

It is indeed a case of buyer beware. The reason I say this is that you cannot apply everything you read about the benefits or taste of Greek yogurt to all products equally.

Recently while looking for a higher protein Greek yogurt for my mother, I came across tubs with huge differences in the protein content. Some had 10 grams of protein per serving while others had almost double – 18 grams.

Carb counts are another consideration. Those that are made traditionally and are thoroughly strained are lower in carbohydrates and lactose than those which are only partially strained or not strained at all.

But carb tallies can soar when you select a flavoured product that may contain  different types of sugar. For maximum nutrition, keep added sugars to a minimum and add your own fruit or flavouring. Consider this: the greater the amount of other ingredients such as jam-like addition, the less the amount of yogurt in the container. (I’ll post my favourite speedy Greek yogurt snack later this week).

Plain strained varieties are also delicious as a base or in savoury dishes such as tzatziki or other sauces and dips. The beauty of the strained type is that the sauce or dip will not become watery as would a recipe containing regular yogurt with its whey.

Are you a fan of Greek yogurt? Do you use it in your cooking? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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9 Comments on “Your Facebook questions answered: Greek yogurt confusion”

  1. Paula
    March 24, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    I am a big greek yogurt fan and eat it daily. I buy the plain mix it with frozen fruit with a drop of local maple syrup for sweetner. I recently read that it is healthier to eat 2% greek as opposed to 0%. Any comments on this?

  2. March 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    I am not sure what the reasons were for this recommendation but it’s not one that I would make. Opting for fat free Greek yogurt helps you to consume less dairy fat – which is a good thing. It also leaves room for selecting other dairy products which may have more fat.

  3. March 24, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    Paula, my apologies! I meant to ask why the article recommended 2% products! Do you know why?

    • Paula
      March 25, 2014 at 5:34 am #

      I do recall reading it recently. Sorry. Can’t recall where as I read Donny articles ! Can anyone else recall reading this type of info ? Thanks

      • Paula
        March 25, 2014 at 5:35 am #

        That should say “so many” not Donny !?

  4. March 25, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Ha! Was it spell check, Paula? Diana Dyer, a highly respected colleague of mine, wondered if the dairy products were from grass-fed animals. This would yield those with a healthier fat profile – more omega-3s etc. But I have not seen much in the way of dairy products from grass-fed cows in my area. Have you come across these?

    • Paula
      March 25, 2014 at 11:00 am #

      No I have not Rosie. My community is much smaller than Toronto

  5. Marisa
    March 25, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Love greek yogurt now but it took a few weeks to “grow” on me. I like it with some cinnamon and fruit or my newest fav natural peanut butter and some under ripe bananas (for lower GI)! Yummm
    Also use it in cream based pasta sauces, veggie dips, and smoothies.


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