In the last few years shopping the yogurt aisle feels ever more like a sifting through a shipwreck from a far-off land. I find myself sifting through cup after cup, holding each an inch away from my face, squinting at every label in search of the perfect product worthy of making it to my family refrigerator.

healthy yogurt optionsWe can now choose yogurts from a variety of countries, flavored with foreign fruits, produced from organic milk and even from plants like soy and cashews. It’s no wonder picking the perfect yogurt may seem like more hassle than it’s worth. Yogurt has many nutritional benefits to offer but not all yogurts are created equally. Consider these label reading tips to help you decipher what is really a healthy option, plus a few product tips to get you started.

On the front:

  • Lower Calorie: Words like “light” or “100” typically indicates the product has less sugar than the original version by using a low-calorie sweetener like stevia, sucralose, monk fruit, or aspartame. If you prefer one type over the other, you will need to check the ingredients to see which one they used.
  • Type: Strained yogurts like Islandic skyr and Greek yogurt tend to be thicker, higher in protein and lower in natural sugar. Although new to the spoonable yogurt game, strained Kefir contends with skyr and Greek yogurts’ nutritional profile but with a probiotic boost. Unstrained varieties like Australian, French, and traditional American are thinner and lower in protein. They also tend to be the highest in sugar and are not high on my list for healthy options.
  • Organics: Organic yogurts are made only from organic milk and other certified organic ingredients. They are nutritionally similar to their non-organic counterparts and can still be loaded with organic sugars.

On the back label:

  • Sugar: Likely to be one of the most confusing but most important parts of choosing yogurt is its sugar content. All yogurts contain some naturally occurring sugar, and therefore carbohydrates, from the milk that is used to produce it. Soon a new law will require all food labels to differentiate between added and natural sugars. Until then, check the grams of sugar as well as the ingredients for types of sugar such as: sucrose, honey, syrups, dextrose, cane sugar, agave etc. Less than ten grams per serving is ideal for most yogurts, some Greek yogurts boast as low as six grams, most of which are naturally occurring.
  • Non-caloric sweeteners: Most flavored yogurts that are labeled light or sugar-free contain an alternative sweetener. Odds are you won’t know which one unless you read the ingredients. For example, Dannon’s Triple Zero uses stevia while their Lit-n-Fit line uses a combo of acefultame potassium and sucralose.
  • Protein: If you are after protein in your yogurt stick with Greek, skyr, and strained Kefir, most containing between 10-15g per serving. Although regular yogurt only contains half the protein of strained yogurts it’s still a good source of calcium, potassium, B vitamins and Vitamin D.

Top Picks:

  • Plain Greek Yogurt: My go-to for yogurt, free of added sugars and most often void of other unwanted ingredients. You have control of how your yogurt is favored and sweetened and it can be used for cooking or in the place of sour cream. My current obsession: six ounces of 2% Fage yogurt with two tablespoons of peanut butter powder. It’s always been a mystery to me why no one makes peanut butter flavored yogurt, sometimes you must take matters into your own hands!
  • Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr: Free of anything artificial, minimal added sugars and tons of unique flavors like orange ginger and cinnamon vanilla. You can also choose from fat contents ranging from zero percent to nine percent making it ideal for a family with different nutritional needs and taste preferences. Some stores also carry tubes for the kiddos.
  • Stoney Field Organic: Similar to Siggi’s, it has no artificial sweeteners or ingredients and also light on the sugar.
  • Dannon Triple Zero: Low in sugar, sweetened with stevia and even a few grams of fiber, this yogurt is primarily marketed towards men but it is one the whole family can enjoy. Dannon’s Light n’ Fit Zero artificial sweeteners is remarkably similar nutritionally to the Triple Zero, just marketed towards women.

Watch for newcomers! New yogurt brands and lines are constantly hitting the shelves. Sola, who specializes in low carb and low glycemic products, recently launched a yogurt with its patented low-calorie sweetener, tagatose. Yoplait recently launched YQ, a high protein, lower sugar yogurt made from ultra-filtered milk. Diary free options are also on the rise, produced from coconut, cashews, and soy offering some similar nutrients and probiotics for those who avoid dairy for allergies, health, or environmental reasons.

Bottom line. There is no one perfect yogurt. First, consider what is important to your personal health and budget, then compare some labels and do some tasting!