Food Fight: Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt

Eric September 24, 2010

Like I mentioned in my spinach-artichoke recipe earlier this week, today’s “Food Fight” is between Greek yogurt and the regular stuff. Greek yogurt has only started gaining real mainstream popularity recently, and I actually didn’t discover it until I read the Now Eat This! cookbook. Can I just say that I wish I had known about this little food gem a long time ago?

Seriously, Greek yogurt is opening up so many culinary options for me, allowing me to make “healthy versions” of a lot of cream and mayo-based dishes for which I had trouble finding good substitutes before. You can bet you’ll be seeing more recipes on here with Greek yogurt on the ingredients list. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get ahold of these days (my local Walmart had it!), so it’s not like you’ll have to make a special trip to the health food store to get it.

Yogurt of any type is created by allowing bacteria to ferment milk into a custard-like, slightly tangy product. If you’re lactose intolerant, yogurt is a great way to still get in your daily dairy because the probiotic bacteria in the yogurt break down the lactose for you. Probiotics help regulate your digestive system as well; Jamie Lee Curtis all those Activia commercials capitalize on that one!

What makes Greek yogurt different from normal yogurt is an additional straining of the product through cheesecloth to drain away excess liquid whey. The result is a much thicker yogurt with a high concentration of many nutrients (although it isn’t quite a full TKO to the regular stuff). Go past the jump for an in-depth comparison of nutritional value and cooking potential between the two.

Draining off the extra liquid whey gives Greek yogurt a higher concentration of protein (20g compared to regular nonfat yogurt’s 12g) and fewer carbohydrates (9g to the regular 17g) per 8 oz. serving. Calorie count is about the same, since protein and carbs are both 4 Calories per gram. The Greek version has about half the sodium content of standard yogurt, since a lot of sodium is found in that discarded whey. (We don’t talk about sodium all that much here, but for those of you struggling with high blood pressure or similar conditions, the reduced sodium content might appeal to you.) Where regular yogurt pulls ahead nutritionally, however, is in calcium; it’s got triple the calcium of Greek yogurt, due to that additional whey content. Depending on your needs, that fact may weigh in on your decision.

From a cooking perspective, both types of yogurt make great nonfat, nutrient-rich substitutes for unhealthy ingredients such as mayonnaise and sour cream. What really excites me about Greek yogurt is that you can apply heat to it without worrying about it curdling (like baking it in that spinach-artichoke dip). Regular yogurt can’t take the high temperatures. Greek yogurt’s thicker consistency also lends itself better to making dips and gravies, while salad dressings and desserts tend to turn out better with the regular stuff.

With the extra protein, lower carbs, and cooking versatility, I am a bit partial to Greek yogurt, but regular nonfat yogurt still has its place in my fridge. If you haven’t yet, I definitely recommend that you give the Greek stuff a try, and be on the lookout for more ideas on how to cook with it in the near future!

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