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Health

HealthWatch: Is Greek Yogurt Really Better For You?

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Greek yogurt. (CBS)

Greek yogurt. (CBS)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — It seems like everyone is eating Greek yogurt these days. While it’s thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, is it healthier?

From the moment Rachel Wells discovered she was pregnant with twins, eating became more important than anything else.

“I wanted to make sure that I was still putting the best things I could into my body so I ended up eating a ton of walnuts and a ton of Greek yogurt,” said the new mom.

Wells isn’t the only one to go gaga over Greek yogurt.

“Oh Greek yogurt is so popular today. It’s amazing how the sales have increased so rapidly,” said Jo Ann Hattner, a nutritionist and registered dietician. Hattner is a Bay Area expert on yogurt and probiotics and author of “Gut Insight.”

In the United States, Greek yogurt is a billion dollar industry. One in four yogurts sold here is Greek, and all the major yogurt makers are taking a bite.

“So we quickly launched our four packs and we added a lot of unique flavors in the segment and we also added flavor with granola over caps to differentiate and to stand out,” said Yoplait Marketing Director Michael Harad.

Greek yogurt is Greek not because it’s imported from Greece. The yogurt is strained, which removes much of the liquid, making the yogurt thicker and creamier.

Hattner said since liquid is removed, Greek Yogurt packs more protein when compared to regular yogurt; roughly twice the amount in a single serving.

“So you’re getting a higher protein because it’s a thicker yogurt,” said Hattner, adding that Greek yogurt can make you feel fuller for a longer period of time.

The straining removes some of the carbohydrates and sodium that’s found in regular yogurt, but it also removes some of the calcium.

How much depends on the brand so you really need to read the labels.

All yogurts is made by fermenting milk with two active bacteria cultures: L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus. Hattner said that the more of these live active cultures that you find in yogurt; the better it is for a healthier gut.

With Greek yogurts, Lucerne and Yoplait list two strains, while Wallaby and Open Nature list four.

Voskos, Chobani, Fage, The Greek Gods, and Stonyfield Oikos display five strains.

But Nancy’s regular yogurt has the edge with a whopping 13 different strains.

“I like traditional yogurts that have lots of active cultures,” said Hattner, who is a big fan of Nancy’s.

Traditional yogurts may also have the edge when it comes to the environment.

It takes a lot more milk to make Greek yogurt. The leftover liquid contains whey, and too much whey can be a problem if it gets into water.

“Something that may not be bad to you and me can be very bad in certain doses.” said Bruce Wolfe, the executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board.

Wolfe explained if too much whey waste ends up in water, it can hurt aquatic life and even damage important California crops.

Here’s how: In surface water, uncontrolled whey wastewater can have an impact because whey is very heavy in sugars and carbohydrates. As it degrades in surface water, the bacterium that breaks it use up oxygen. Less oxygen in the water can stress aquatic life, even kill it.

In groundwater, whey wastewater if uncontrolled can have a detrimental impact on certain important California crops that are salt-sensitive. That includes citrus crops.

Wolfe said for Greek yogurt makers, it’s a challenge to make sure that they are controlling whey wastewater. To reduce waste, some makers are actually working on anaerobic digesters to convert the waste into energy.

Greek yogurt is also more expensive, but Wells is willing to pay extra for her kids.

“It’s not about me any more and what I eat, said Wells. It’s about what they get from me. I’ll pay whatever I need to pay to make sure my kids are growing well,”

Even so, beware of Greek yogurts bearing added sugar. In the United States, we eat a lot of yogurt that contains added sugars.

“Well, the Greeks might be thinking “what have you done to my yogurts?'” laughed Hattner.

Instead of buying a product with added sugars, pick a low fat or nonfat plain variety and then add your own fruit to sweeten it and add fiber as well.

But move over Greek yogurt, a new contender for your hard earned cash is on the way. Icelandic Yogurt is also strained. As to what the difference is? We’re not sure, it’s all Greek to us.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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