Has the low-carb movement made you question just about every food in your diet? Just me?
Thanks to keto and paleo, I’ve even wondered whether yogurt is considered a low-carb food—and whether I can still nosh on parfaits while keeping an eye on my carbs.
After all, according to dietitian Carolyn Brown, RD, of NYC-based practice Foodtrainers, yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium.
So, how can a gal reap the benefits of a low-carb diet (like fat loss and healthier blood sugar) and still eat yogurt on the reg?
Apparently, some yogurts are lower-carb than others, so enjoying the creamy goodness while keeping carbs in check really comes down to picking your yogurt carefully (and, of course, not topping it with lots of honey, granola, and chocolate chips).
First of all, yes, yogurt contains carbs.
A little Yogurt 101 for you: Yogurt is made by adding bacteria to milk, which naturally contains a type of sugar (yes, a carb) called lactose, explains dietitian Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. (Lactose is a combination of a two types of sugar: galactose and glucose.)
That’s why a glass of whole milk contains about 11 grams of sugar (and 12 grams of total carbs).
When you add bacteria to milk, though, it converts that lactose into lactic acid. “Acids tend to have bitter tastes, which is why plain yogurt doesn’t fly off store shelves,” says Keatley.
Though the bacteria will eat up all of milk’s lactose until there’s no sugar left at all, they’ll die when their sugary food runs out. “So, to keep ‘live cultures’ in yogurts, manufacturers do not allow the bacteria to feast forever and move the yogurt to cool temperatures to ‘stun’ them until you’re ready to eat up,” Keatley explains.
You know the liquidy part of yogurt? “It contains most of the remaining lactose,” says Keatley.
The final result: Though yogurts don’t contain as much carbs and sugar as milk, they still contain some.
Thing is, not all yogurts contain the same amount of carbs.
Look at a few different yogurt options in the dairy aisle, though, and you’ll notice that different brands and varieties contain different amounts of carbs and sugar.
Here’s what you can expect in the carb department when you dip into one cup of the most popular varieties of plain yogurt:
Full-fat Greek yogurt: 7.75 grams
Non-fat Greek yogurt: 8.82 grams
Full-fat regular yogurt: 11.4 grams
Non-fat regular yogurt: 18.8 grams
Wondering why different yogurts have different amounts of carbs?
Different brands and types of yogurt end up with different carb counts for a couple of reasons.
For one, the carb count in different varieties of yogurt (like Greek versus regular) is a result of the different straining processes.
Remember that liquidy lactose-containing part of regular yogurt Keatley mentioned? While you leave that sugary liquid in regular yogurt, you strain it out to make Greek yogurt (or skyr), he explains. That’s why Greek yogurt is more tart, firmer in texture, and lower in sugar than regular yogurt.
Plus, different brands might add different amounts of sugar to the milk they use to make yogurt. They might also add sugars after-the-fact for extra sweetness or flavor, explains dietitian Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet.
So, how do you pick the best low-carb yogurt for you?
As long as you do it right, you can totally have yogurt on a low-carb diet, says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, dietitian and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
“For my clients on low-carb diets, I typically recommend an unflavored, whole-milk Greek yogurt or skyr,” she says.
If you don’t like Greek yogurt or skyr, just make sure to stick to a plain, unsweetened, full-fat regular yogurt, adds dietitian Amy Stevens, RDN.
Prefer to go lower-fat? Just be wary of added sugar, which is common in less-creamy, low- and non-fat yogurt.
Of course, yummy as they may be, flavored yogurts are often complete sugar bombs. (Many contain over 20 grams of sugar per cup.) “Even if the yogurt itself is low-sugar, additional fruit concentrates and flavors contribute so much added sugar,” Stevens says.
When in doubt, just check the carb count. Brown recommends sticking to yogurts with 10 grams of carbs—or less—per serving. (If you’re full-blown keto, and need to limit your daily carbs to 50 grams or less, though, choose yogurts that have six or fewer grams per serving.)
Dietitians love these low-carb yogurts.
If you don’t want to deal with all that label-reading, just gran one of these dietitian-approved low-carb yogurts the next time you’re in the dairy aisle.
Siggi’s is a skyr-style yogurt, which means it’s thick, higher in protein, and has an extra-tangy flavor. This version is fairly low-carb, but Cording recommends getting the lactose-free version to go even lower.
Per serving: 100 calories, 5 g fat (3 g sat), 4 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 11 g protein
Two Good is specifically designed to be low in sugar and carbs. “It’s a good option for those looking to keep calories down and protein up,” Keatley says.
Per serving: 80 calories, 2 g fat (1.5 g sat), 3 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 12 g protein
Maple Hill’s yogurt is made with milk from grass-fed cows and contains no added sugar, which helps limit overall carbs, says Cording.
Per serving: 140 calories, 6 g fat (3.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 13 g protein
This FAGE yogurt has no added sugar and is lower in fat, making it a good option for anyone hesitant about the whole-milk stuff. It’s also crazy high in protein.
Per serving: 160 calories, 4.5 g fat (3 g sat), 7 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 23 g protein
Prefer to make your own low-carb yogurt?
If you want to make a big stash of your own low-carb yogurt, all you need is some milk, a little bit of low-carb, store-bought yogurt (to provide live cultures), this recipe, and a stove top. (You can also make yogurt in your instant pot!)
Thing is, it’s “It’s hard to determine the exact calorie count and carb content when making your own yogurt, so I’d actually recommend making coconut yogurt instead,” says Brown.
For coconut yogurt, you need just one can of unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk, two probiotic capsules, and this recipe. (Though it takes time, there’s no heat involved—and your coconut milk is low in carbs to start out with.)
And if you’d rather buy a dairy-free, low-carb yogurt?
If you want all the low-carb creaminess without the lactose, your dairy aisle has you covered.
“When looking for a great low-carb, non-dairy yogurt alternative, follow the same guidelines as you would for regular yogurt,” says Stevens.
Since there’s no lactose in almonds or coconuts, it’s generally easier to find options lower on the sugar and carb spectrum, she says. Shoot for a plain unsweetened coconut, almond, or cashew yogurt with about one to four grams of sugar per serving.
How to keep your yogurt creations low-carb.
Once you’ve found (or made) a low-carb yogurt you love, make sure your toppings don’t sabotage your low-sugar goals.
Make your yogurt more satiating with add-ins like chia seeds or ground flax, which add fiber to fill you up, suggests Cording. If you need a little sweetness, add a teeny drizzle of maple syrup or honey.
You can also mix in some berries, which provide flavor, fiber, and sweetness of their own, Stevens adds.
If you’re feeling creative, use your yogurt to thicken up soups, marinate fish (it gives the skin a crispy tangy), or make tomato sauce creamier.