During most of my keto/LCHF weight loss journey, I avoided yogurt because I felt that the carbs were too high. When I moved from weight loss to weight maintenance, I added plain whole-milk Greek yogurt back to my diet, but was cautious about the frequency and quantity.
A few months ago, I read an article by Devon of AllNaturalIdeas.com explaining that, while the labels on yogurt can depict it as being higher carb and not suitable for keto/LCHF, the method used to calculate carbs in certain fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir, can be misleading. This is because, according to her research, the active bacteria in these products consume lactose (the sugar in dairy products) and convert it into lactic acid, which is not a carbohydrate. Based on that theory, the carbs in a cup of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt would effectively be more like 4 carbs instead of 8-10.
I’ve done some research and found that support for this theory varies.
- In their excellent book, The Art and Science of Low Carb Performance, Volek and Phinney state: “Total carbs in yoghurt may seem high, but much of this was converted to lactic acid which does not raise insulin or interfere with ketosis.”
- Martina of KetoDietApp.com states, “You actually don’t need to count the whole carb content, as the bacteria in yogurt eat up much of the lactose content and thus reducing the amount of carbs in the final product. According to Dr. Jack Goldberg, co-author of the GO-diet, under ideal circumstances, bacterial activity reduces the carb content to about 30%. Such products have to be labeled “contains live cultures” such as lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidus, or l. casei. Another factor that affects the carb count is whether the yogurt has fermented under ideal conditions and for a sufficient amount of time. The issue is that most commercially available yogurts don’t ferment long enough and the carb content only decreases to about 60%. If you leave if for longer, the fermentation will continue even after purchase until only 30% of the carbs remain. It’s not easy to determine how many carbs each product has, therefore, all of my recipes always use the full amount of carbs when displaying nutrition facts [emphasis added].”
Bottom line: It’s probably safest to count the carbs as listed on the label of the product. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that yogurt can’t fit in to your keto/LCHF way of eating. Portion size will be important, as it is for most foods. For instance, a 7-ounce (about 1 cup) serving of Fage Total Classic plain whole-milk Greek yogurt has 8 grams of carbs and 18 grams of protein. That’s a very filling portion, and with add-ins like nuts, coconut or berries, it should probably be considered a meal rather than a snack. If you’re targeting a very low level of daily carbs, consider cutting that portion of yogurt in half, to about 3.5 ounces (about a half-cup). I will often have this as part of an otherwise very low carb, lower protein meal.
For the past couple of months, I’ve increased my frequency of eating plain whole-milk Greek yogurt. It doesn’t seem to have affected my weight or hunger levels negatively. In fact, I find it quite filling and satiating. However, that is my own experience, and your mileage may vary. Here are a number of things to keep in mind:
- Keep an eye on your total protein on days when you have yogurt. You don’t want to over-do protein, especially if you are insulin-resistant, because excess protein will convert to glucose through neoglucogenesis. This can negatively affect your blood glucose and insulin, as well as your weight loss/maintenance.
- Dairy products, due to the insulinogenic effect of whey, can cause weight loss stalls for some people. If you’re already consuming plain whole-milk Greek yogurt and not experiencing any negative results, then keep doing what you’re doing. However, if you find that it seems to be causing unusual hunger or cravings and/or negatively impacting your blood glucose or weight, then consider reducing your portion size and/or frequency. If you still experience unwanted effects, you may need to cut it out entirely. However, yogurt is otherwise healthy and beneficial, so if you like it, consider experimenting to discover your personal tolerance rather than simply eliminating it preemptively.
- Read the labels. It’s important to look for plain whole-milk Greek yogurt labeled “contains live cultures.” Be sure to check the carb count. It should be about 1 gram of carbs per ounce of yogurt. Some brands will add non-fat milk powder or thickeners rather than draining the whey to thicken regular yogurt into Greek-style yogurt. Traditionally-made Greek yogurt has higher amounts of protein and lower amounts of carbohydrates and whey than regular yogurt and no stabilizers or thickeners added. It takes 3 to 4 times the amount of milk to make Greek yogurt than regular yogurt, which is why is is generally more expensive. Less whey = lower carbs + lower insulin response to whey + more protein.
It used to be quite a challenge to find plain whole-milk Greek yogurt. Low fat, low calorie, and sweetened yogurt has been the focus for so long that many manufacturers and retailers have been playing catch-up. Cooks Illustrated did a tasting review recently of whole-milk Greek Yogurt. Their previous review of Greek yogurts was in 2010 and, at that time they found that, “most Greek yogurts were available only in nonfat versions. Today, the whole-milk variety is on the verge of taking over.”
Cooks Illustrated selected 7 nationally available plain whole-milk Greek yogurts for their review (none of them were actually from Greece). They recommended only three, which were all traditionally made with no added stabilizers or thickeners.
- Fage Total Classic Greek Yogurt. I quite like Fage. It’s not organic, but it’s less expensive than an organic and/or grass-fed product. It’s convenient because it’s available at many stores. It also comes in 7-ounce cups, which is great if you don’t use a lot of yogurt or if you’re traveling. I do wish, however, that the cups we’re smaller — 7 ounces is usually more than I want. Not a problem at home because I can store the remainder, but it would be more convenient for on-the-go and travel.
- Dannon Oikos Traditional Plain Greek 4% Yogurt. This is a fine product, although it is more tangy than I care for. If you prefer tangy yogurt, this may be the one for you!
- Wallaby Organic Whole Milk Greek Yogurt Plain. Wallaby is actually my favorite for taste, perhaps because it has the least tangy flavor, which I prefer. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to find. The only store I’ve found in my area that carries it is Whole Foods. It appears to come in only a 32-ounce size, though, which may be more than you can use up. For me, that would be about 10 servings, and I’m the only one in my house who eats it.
One yogurt that Cooks Illustrated did not recommend was Maple Hill Creamery 100% Grass-Fed Whole Milk Greek Yogurt. Evidently, most tasters didn’t care for it’s thinner consistency and stronger taste. I’ve used this product quite a bit and I think that assessment is harsh. Grass-fed products ususally do have a different flavor than those from conventionally-raised animals, but I don’t find Maple Hill’s product off-putting. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you’re interested in a grass-fed product. It is high-quality. Although it can be harder to find, I’ve found it at a number of my local natural foods grocery stores. As you might expect, it is more expensive than Fage or Oikos. I’ve actually only seen it in individual-size 5.3-ounce containers. According to their website, they offer at 16-ounce version but I’ve not found it.
I usually add at least some flavored liquid stevia to my yogurt. Sweet Leaf has a line of flavored liquid stevia called Sweet Drops. I have probably 8-10 different flavors. If I don’t want to add additional carbs to my yogurt, these really do the trick. More often, though, especially if I’m having a half-cup serving of about 4 carbs, I will add a small amount of ‘stir-ins.’ My favorites are nuts, unsweetened coconut, sugar-free chocolate chips, fresh or frozen berries, low carb lemon curd, and even a dollop of xylitol-sweetened jam. I usually keep add-ins at 2 net carbs, for a total of 6 net carbs. Of course, it’s not something you want to do at every meal, or even every day, but if you have room in your carb or protein budget it’s a quick, healthy, and delicious option.
If you’re a yogurt lover, I hope this information has helped you decide to try and see if it’s a good fit for your way of eating. Non-lovers of yogurt have probably not even read this far, so I’ll catch them another day!