The Expert-Backed Guide to Full-Fat vs. Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Picture this: After walking up and down supermarket aisles checking items off your meal prep shopping list, you finally get to the last aisle — the dairy section — with a plan to just grab a few containers of yogurt and get outta there. That is until you look at the jam-packed shelves. With so many options, you're suddenly overwhelmed and asking yourself, what's the best Greek yogurt? Do I want full-fat Greek yogurt vs. nonfat? And wait, is Greek yogurt even healthy?
When it comes to full-fat Greek yogurt vs. nonfat Greek yogurt, the major difference between the two is the milk used during production. The full-fat version is made with whole milk, while the non-fat or fat-free is made with skim milk. Nutritionally their fat content makes them very different, and while neither nonfat nor full-fat Greek yogurt is bad for you, there are situations where one might be a better choice.
First, let's quickly discuss the difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt. Essentially, yogurt becomes "Greek" yogurt when it's strained to remove whey protein, which is the liquid that remains after the curdling process, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This also rids the yogurt of lactose (sugar). Without the liquid whey and sugar, the dairy product takes on a thicker, creamier consistency, and the protein becomes more concentrated. It's also left with a higher amount of gut-friendly probiotics and, unfortunately, a slightly lower amount of calcium. The good news? Some brands fortify their Greek yogurt with the bone-strengthening nutrient, but not all. So, if you're looking to boost your calcium levels, be sure to look at the nutrition labels on both full-fat and nonfat Greek yogurt to determine which is the best Greek yogurt for you. (Related: 12 Yogurt Health Benefits That Show Off Its Nutritional Power)
Now, back to the full-fat vs. nonfat Greek yogurt conversation, beginning with a breakdown of Greek yogurt nutrition. Here's a nutritional comparison of one container (6 ounces or 170 grams) of Fage Total 5%, which is full-fat, and Fage Total 0%, which is nonfat.
As you can see, the 7 grams of total fat difference plays a significant role in the calories in Greek yogurt. If your diet consists of about 1,800 calories a day, then a 6-ounce container of fat-free Greek yogurt is going to be an appropriate snack. But if you eat more calories (about 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day), full-fat Greek yogurt (vs. nonfat) might be a better option for you.
So which is the best Greek yogurt? It depends. Some people prefer full-fat Greek yogurt (vs. nonfat) as a standalone snack since it's well-rounded nutritionally, with a hefty dose of fat and protein that will help you feel satiated — plus its creaminess can make it seem more indulgent than nonfat Greek yogurt. That being said, if you're trying to maintain a calorie deficit to, say, lose weight, then the full-fat variety might not be the best Greek yogurt for you. When you compare calories in Greek yogurt, the nonfat variety boasts a lower number of calories, thereby allowing you to be more versatile with toppings and still have a low-calorie snack. You can add some flaxseeds or chia seeds to your Greek yogurt, as well as fresh raspberries and your pick-me-up will still have less than 300 calories. (Here are even more ideas for some tasty low-calorie snacks for weight loss.)
You may be wondering, but isn't saturated fat in Greek yogurt bad for you? Since full-fat Greek yogurt is made with whole milk, it's going to have a higher saturated fat content. In the example above, 7 grams in one cup shouldn't send your diet into a tailspin, as that figure will only make up a small (think: ~3-4 percent) of your total calories for the day. So even if you're following a low-saturated-fat diet, you'll still have plenty of room (about another 4 to 5 percent) for additional calories from saturated fat from foods you eat throughout the rest of the day.
But, of course, it's not all about calories. In fact, you can't talk about full-fat Greek yogurt vs. nonfat Greek yogurt without taking a moment to discuss the variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients found in both versions. Take protein, for example: As evidenced in the above nutritional breakdown, nonfat and full-fat Greek yogurts are both packed with 18 grams of protein per container. They also have 5-6 grams of carbohydrates per serving, thereby providing an A+ protein to carb ratio that can be particularly good for fueling up pre-workout. (See also: The Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout)
What's more, they're both a good source of calcium — 240 mg in full-fat Fage, 200 mg in nonfat Fage — and blood-pressure-controlling potassium — 300 mg in full-fat Fage, 260 mg in nonfat Fage. So, the next time you ask yourself if Greek yogurt is healthy, remember these impressive nutrition numbers.
The bottom line: Greek yogurt is an easy way to add more protein (among other essential nutrients!) to your diet, so when it comes to full-fat vs. nonfat Greek yogurt, just choose the variety that fits your diet and satisfies your taste buds. (And then consider giving one of these savory Greek yogurt recipes a go next time you're looking to try something new.