Yoghurt serve size and portion control

yoghurt serves for better nutrition

With close to 20 top brands and 300 yoghurt varieties in supermarkets, how do you choose a good quality yoghurt?

Nutrition claim? Brand name? Pack appearance? Price? Previous taste experience? New taste experience? Pack size? Flavour?

I use a lot of unflavoured yoghurt (i.e. plain or natural) in curries, soups, desserts, scones, dressings, breads, and instead of sour cream to top potatoes and create sauces. The nutritional choice is fairly simple and quick. Low fat or regular?

But when it comes to eating straight from the tub, I prefer the convenience and flavour of fruity yoghurt.

The nutritionist zealot would say add fresh or frozen fruit to plain yoghurt. Advice that’s good but not always easy, quick or convenient to follow. The rows of flavoured yoghurts at the supermarket indicate that.

What are the best ways to choose flavoured fruity yoghurt without wasting too much time reading labels or wandering aimlessly down the dairy aisle?

In the spirit of fuss-free simplicity, I have two easy tips.

1. Choose a bigger 170 gram (g) tub if the yoghurt claims to be low fat, zero fat or skim. These are typically higher in protein as well.

2. Choose a smaller 150 g tub or pouch if the yoghurt makes no claim to being low in fat or claims to be reduced fat.

These are excellent portion control sizes for weight loss and to prevent weight regain. These are also the serve sizes photographed in "this=that: a life-size photo guide to food serves".

Don’t worry too much that some tubs are slightly smaller, others slightly larger. You don’t need to get precision scales out or be perfect with portion control.

I like to keep things simple but I know that some people love number crunching and reading food labels. If that is you, read on.

Got a little more time time to read nutrition panels?

Here are a few extra easy hints that will help you tailor your yoghurt choice to suit other specific health needs.

Although this review focuses on strawberry yoghurt, the comments and tips apply across all flavours.

Don’t make your fruity yoghurt choice based on fruit content

I explored ever popular strawberry yoghurts. The fruit content ranged from zero to 14% berries. The highest fruit content I found was just 14 g berries (one small berry) in every 100 g of yoghurt. In a cup of yoghurt, you will be very lucky to find one and a half large strawberries.

Some strawberry yoghurts don’t contain any strawberries. Zip. Zero. Shocked? I was. EasiYo Strawberry Yoghurt and Pauls Smooth Strawberry Yoghurt failed that to mention any presence of strawberry.

Many yoghurts cleverly list strawberry ‘blend’, which has a sub-ingredient list that mirrors cheap jam (very little fruit, loads of sugar). Clever because a quick glance of the ingredient list suggests a very generous 30% strawberry puree. On closer inspection, the amount of strawberry present is much lower because the yoghurt is made up of 20% blend, of which 30% is strawberry puree. The maths makes this 6 g fruit per 100 g yoghurt.

These tiny amounts of fruit do very little to add flavour or colour to yoghurt.

Do you find it tiresome to read nutrition panels and food labels? They are not designed to be easy to read and compare.

The table with this article takes the effort out of label reading. The positive features of yoghurts are highlighted to make it easier to check how your favourite brand shapes up.

Is no added sugar a good sign?

Yes and no. A claim of ‘no added sugar’ is a good start but don’t let this claim lead you astray.

Just because a yoghurt claims ‘no added sugar’ doesn’t mean it is better for your weight, cholesterol, bones, diabetes, or overall general health. Although many yoghurts list sugar as the 2nd or 3rd ingredient doesn't mean they contain a lot of added sugar or they are automatically bad for you.

Natural unflavoured yoghurts contain around 7 to 9 g of carbohydrate in the form of lactose (milk sugar) per 100 g.

In flavoured yoghurt, look for less than 10 g carbohydrate per 100 g to get a lower sugar yoghurt.

Want to head straight to the cheat sheet for a good yoghurt choice that lists brand names?

I’ve highlighted the positive aspects of 23 brands and 30 strawberry yoghurt varieties to make it easier to choose a yoghurt that suits your health and weight goals.

Intense sweeteners spotted in ‘no added sugar’ yoghurts include monk fruit, stevia extra or stevia glycoside (960), fructose, 1200 (polydextrose), 950 (acesulphame potassium), 955 (sucralose), and 951 (aspartame). These sweeteners explain why some ‘no added sugar’ yoghurts still taste really sweet. Although safe for human consumption, you may prefer to avoid these sweet additives.

Extra cream and more milk solids add to the kilojoule content and mouth feel of some ‘no added sugar’ varieties. Milk solids and lactose add to the carbohydrate content of yoghurts.

If it isn’t the fruit that adds flavour and colour to commercial yoghurts, what does?

Food sensitive people take care.

Black carrot and blackcurrant concentrate, beetroot red, natural carmine, 120 (carmine, cochineal or carminic acid) and 163 (anthocyanins or grape skin extract or blackcurrant extract) add colour. Elderberry juice, fruit juice concentrate and other natural flavours amp up the flavour. Rice starch adds a richness to the mouthfeel of low fat zero yoghurts.

Food additives - colours, flavours, intense sweeteners, thickeners - are deemed safe by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand but food sensitive people need to take care with these and more natural fruit and vegetable concentrates and extracts.

Does it matter whether it is styled as Greek, Icelandic, Swedish or of unknown origin?

No. There is no Australian food law that governs the nutrient composition of a yoghurt called Icelandic or Swedish or Greek or another specific country.

A country name is a marketing tool rather than guarantee of nutritional quality or purity.

The few Icelandic and Swedish yoghurts available today in Australia are higher in protein and lower in fat than other mainstream yoghurts. This may reflect the way they are traditionally made. Skimmed of fat before strained or filtered to reduce the liquid component. Straining removes water to make yoghurt thicker in texture and richer in nutrients.

Authentic yoghurts were made with milk (e.g cow, goat, sheep milk). Flavour was added at serving time.

Rethink your child's yoghurt

There is no room for added sugars in the nutrition of babies and toddlers, not even small amounts, yet one top brand yoghurt marketed specifically for babies and toddlers lists sugar in the ingredient list. The baby and toddler yoghurt product is by Vaalia.

Speech pathologists advise against suck and squeeze pouch yoghurts for toddlers and older babies because sucking does not improve mouth and tongue muscle development (important for speech and a maturing swallow). Use a spoon to serve squeeze and pouch products. Sweetened sucked yoghurt also coats teeth and gums with a sticky slippery sugary solution that could add to dental problems rather offer the dental benefits expected from dairy products.

Better to introduce natural unsweetened yoghurt early in childhood than to offer a kiddie-styled yoghurt with a flavour more like a sweet dessert than a tart yoghurt. Unflavoured yoghurt on potato and corn or mixed into a dip are kid-friendly.

Interestingly, a few children’s yoghurts have a small amount vitamin D added (CalciYum Disney pouches and squeezies and tubs).

Whole milk is a natural source of vitamin D in the amount of 0.5 micrograms (ug) in every 100 g. Full cream adult’s yoghurts naturally contain 0.5 to 0.9 ug of vitamin D. Once the fat is removed from milk, the vitamin D content plummets down to 0.02 ug per 100 g. As a result, the natural vitamin D content of low fat skim yoghurts will be very low unless vitamin D is added back in.

If the vitamin D level in your blood tend towards low, a full fat yoghurt (naturally higher in vitamin D than low fat skim yoghurts) or a kid’s vitamin D fortified yoghurt are a smart choice.

Yoghurt equals good source of calcium, right?

Yes. Most of the time but not always.

I’d expect a yoghurt to provide at least 120 milligrams (mg) per 100 g. Why? Because 100 g of cow’s milk contains 120 to 180 mg calcium.

The calcium in yoghurt ought to be the same if not better, especially in the strained products.

The calcium content of yoghurts investigated varies widely from a low 47 milligrams (Kingland Dairyfree) through to a fantastic 304 milligrams (Yoplait Strawberry) in every 100 g.

Non-dairy yoghurts (soy and coconut) perform poorly with very low calcium contents, unless the manufacturer deliberately adds calcium to the product.

It appears the manufacturing process sacrifices or dilutes out calcium, even in top selling brands. Some varieties within Chobani, Danone and Jalna ranges contain less calcium than expected.

For calcium, choose a yoghurt with at least 120 mg calcium in every 100 grams. Jump to the yoghurt comparison table for detail.

Size matters

While small is great for kids and portion control, the extra small 100 g or less tubs and pouches can leave adults hungry and un-satiated. The extra small packs compliment breakfast, lunch and dinner but, alone, they aren’t quite filling enough for a morning or afternoon snack. Between meals, top with a small spoon of nuts or seeds, cereal or pretzels, or serve over a bowl of fresh, plastic packed or defrosted fruit.

The half kilogram or larger tubs make for mindless eating if you eat directly from the tub. The dipping spoon also introduces bacteria that make the yoghurt spoil quickly. For quick portion control, find small bowls or cups that hold either ⅔ cup (to serve low fat yoghurt) or just over ½ cup (to serve regular and reduced fat yoghurt). For easier and logical comparison with single serve tubs, I’ve made an adjustment from bulk tub to single serve size of 150 g in the table.

For weight loss and maintenance, as a rough guide to serve size, choose a bigger 170 g tub (or double up on the mini-tubs and pouches) if the yoghurt claims to be low fat, zero fat or skim.

Choose a smaller 150 g tub or pouch if the yoghurt makes no claim to fat content or claims to be reduced fat.

In the table, you will find a few creamy or super sweet yoghurts (e.g. Farmhouse Gold Extra Creamy, Gippsland Twist, Jalna Pot Set Sweet & Creamy, Dairy Farmers Thick & Creamy) that exceed my usual energy (kJ or cal) target for yoghurt serves. If you regularly choose these, be sure to strike a balance to cut back the cream in other dairy products. For example, choose low fat or reduced fat milk. Skip butter.

Want more protein?

Yoghurts typically contain about 5 to 6 g protein in every 100 g.

Want more? Look for more than 8 g protein per 100 g.

If you have a small appetite or had weight loss surgery and eat small serves, be sure to choose tubs or pouches with a higher protein content.

In the table, I have highlighted the higher protein yoghurts in green. The yoghurts with the expected 5 to 6 g per 100 g in a paler yellow. These are still a good choice.

More protein is ideal for weight loss (with or without weight loss surgery), athletes, and the over 50s. Outstanding yoghurts include Woolworths Icelandic Style Skyr, nudie icelandic and Rokeby Farms Whole Protein Quark Swedish Style yoghurts.

After a bit of culture?

Change your overall diet rather than rely on the bacteria in yoghurt is my advice.

It’s hard to find a yoghurt without bacterial cultures noted in the pack’s ingredient list. There are many strains found in different combinations and ratios in yoghurts. The main ones include Lactabacillus (shortened to L. on food labels), Streptococcus (shortened to S.), and Bfidobacterium (shortened to B.). These bacteria are commonly known as lactic acid bacteria.

The cultures add to flavour and aroma not necessarily to your body’s health. The bacteria in yoghurt will not fix imbalances in the intestinal tract due to a bad diet or in the absence of a good diet.

Well before the interest in probiotics and prebiotics, the Lactobacillus species of bacteria were prized for their role in producing the main flavour and aroma in yoghurts and fermented milk products. The bacteria ferment sugars (milk lactose and added sucrose) and produce lactic acid and acetaldehyde as byproducts.

Lactobacillus also acts as a preserving agent by inhibiting invasion of other undesirable food spoiling bacteria. Streptococcus thermophilus (another yoghurt dweller) works with Lactobacillus species to produce more lactic acid.

Any change in your diet quality will influence the population (strains and numbers, beneficial or not) of bacteria present in your intestinal tract. Yoghurt is not the ultimate way to increase the population of beneficial bacteria inside your body.

Save time and check out the table

I’ve highlighted the positive nutrient aspects in 23 brands of 30 strawberry yoghurt varieties to make it easier to choose a yoghurt that suits your health and weight loss goals.

The more highlights, the better. Explore the table now.

The top strawberry yoghurt nutrition performers from this review?

    • Woolworths Icelandic Style Skyr Strawberry Yoghurt
    • Rokeby Farms Whole Protein Quark Yoghurt Swedish Style Strawberry
    • nudie Icelandic Yoghurt Strawberry & Lingonberry


followed closely by

    • Tamar Valley Greek Style No Added Sugar Strawberry Yoghurt
    • Mundella Lactose Free Strawberry Yoghurt
    • Brownes Mini's Strawberry Yoghurt

    Don’t despair if your favourite yoghurt scores low. The results help you work out where to adjust and tweak other aspects of your diet to improve your overall health, weight goals, and nutrition.

    A poor protein score means the yoghurt may not be a satisfying and you need to boost your protein intake at some other time in the day.

    A poor energy score means the serve size either needs to be adjusted down or you need to adjust down your intake or fat and sugars during the day.

    A poor carbohydrate score means you are wisest not to add sugars, honey or syrups or drink sugared drinks.

    A poor calcium score means you need to consume larger serves of other foods or drinks rich in calcium.

    NOTE: I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of the brands, companies or products named in this article or the associated tables. The information and interpretation are purely my own based on nutrition profile data that is publicly available on food labels and at manufacturers’ websites. Information was sourced in February-March 2018.