You might have heard it before, but you’re going to hear it again. DO NOT BUY FLAVORED YOGURT. That means no chocolate, no vanilla, and even no strawberry fruit-on-the-bottom. Because at best, flavored yogurt is loaded with sugar—often hiding under the name evaporated cane juice—that you just don’t need. And at worst? It’s got artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners that don’t actually count as food.
Remember, just because you buy plain yogurt doesn’t actually mean you have to eat it plain. Add in your own fresh fruit, and sweeten things up with a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup, or even a few drops of stevia. In the mood for chocolate? “I’ll add a tablespoon of cocoa powder and then stir in a little cinnamon and vanilla extract,” says registered dietician Jessica Cording.
2. Say yes to some fat.
There’s pretty much no reason to buy fat-free yogurt unless you really love the light taste. And even then, it might not be worth it. Fat helps your body absorb some of yogurt’s nutrients, like vitamins A and D, and it helps you stay fuller longer. “Fat also helps balance out the naturally occurring carbohydrate lactose present in milk, which makes it a good choice for promoting stable blood sugar and energy levels,” Cording says.
How much fat you decide to get depends on your personal preference. Low-fat yogurts are good if you’re trying to lose weight, since they have fewer calories—though you could just have a smaller portion of a full-fat yogurt, too. Otherwise, the sky’s the limit. “Full fat yogurt—including yogurt that is 4% or more fat—is OK, as long as it fits within the context of your daily calorie and fat needs,” Cording says.
3. Try to get organic.
Organic Greek yogurt isn’t cheap, but it might be worth it. “You’re less likely to be getting a product made from cows that have eaten feed that’s come into contact with toxic chemicals or environmental pollutants,” Cording says. It also guarantees that the cows who made the milk for your yogurt weren’t given artificial growth hormones like rBGH, which some research suggests may be linked to the development of prostate, breast, and colon cancers . Plus, since organic foods can’t be genetically modified, you know your yogurt didn’t come from cows that were fed GMO corn or soy.
4. And if you can, upgrade to grass-fed.
It isn’t always easy to find—but again, it’s worth it if you can get your hands on it. Milk and yogurt from grass-fed cows tends to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids compared to milk or yogurt from cows that are grain-fed, Cording says. Just be sure to check that the stuff you’re shelling out for is truly grass-fed. “Current labeling laws make it possible for a company to state that their cows are grass-fed even if they’ve spent very little time feeding on grass,” says Cording. Make sure your yogurt’s label says “100% grass fed,” or buy from a local farmer who you trust. (