Traditionally, and by definition, yogurt is a dairy product, meaning it is made from cow’s milk, or less often from the milk of other animals. We covered that pretty well in the previous blog post, but as you may be aware, the non-dairy yogurt trend has been growing rapidly! Whether it be for reasons of lactose intolerance, other digestive woes, or veganism, plant-based yogurt alternatives are launching into the market rapidly. I recently dabbled in the non-dairy yogurt space and I’m going to tell you why and what I discovered.
I am not an advocate of elimination diets, whereby entire food groups are dramatically removed from a person’s eating pattern, UNLESS medically or nutritionally warranted. I believe that working with a professional to undergo the phases of elimination and careful reintroduciton, while monitoring symptoms, is the safest and sanest way to go about an elimination challenge. Alas, I have not been immune to trying one such diet, without expert guidance (…), in an attempt to link a health issue to my diet.
Without going into too much boring detail, I’ll suffice it to say that I’m a grown adult woman with hormonal acne and this year I dove into the research behind diet and acne, in the hopes of riding me of these pesky breakouts that I’ve dealt with since my teen years. In speaking with my dermatologist and reading the literature, there didn’t seem to be a clear connection between dairy and acne, only a possible link between acne and whey protein (found in milk). Wanting to see if reducing my whey, and overall dairy, intake would help, I started replacing my usual morning cow’s milk yogurt with a dairy-free alternative.
Rather than being made from animal milk, the non-dairy yogurts you’ll find on the grocery shelves right now are made from either nuts (almond or cashew are what I’ve encountered), soy milk, oat milk, or coconut milk. While each of these are excellent sources of nutrition in their whole forms, they’re not typically processed down into a semi-liquid product, and so with these non-dairy milks you will find the ingredient list to be a bit longer as there are usually thickeners added to give it a yogurt-like texture and consistency. I found that each brand and type varies greatly when it comes to texture, so you’ll likely need to taste test a few before finding one you like! Now, let’s get into their nutrition…
The biggest difference between these varieties and traditional yogurts is the protein content. Cow’s milk yogurts contain on average 15 grams per cup, while these plant-based versions only have 3 grams- this is a big difference! Soy-based yogurts contain about 6 grams per cup and some almond-based ones contain 5 grams of protein. Many oat varieties have protein added in as fava bean protein, which also helps with the texture. I’m a big advocate of sufficient protein at breakfast, so if a oat yogurt is going to be your choice I’d throw on some extra nuts or seeds.
Usually when a product is lacking in protein or fat, sugar is loaded on to make up for it. We’ve seen a shift in sweetness in the traditional yogurt sector, and luckily the non-dairy trend has taken to this as well. I’m impressed to find some varieties as low as 4-6 grams (Good Plants and Lava), and on the top end I’ve seen 20 grams of added sugars (Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurts). Again, some use natural cane sugar and others sweeten with Stevia leaf, so I feel that really comes down to a taste preference.
One of the big reasons I recommend consuming yogurt is for the probiotic benefit, and luckily you will find these beneficial bugs added into many of the non-dairy yogurts.
So, that’s my take on dairy and non-dairy yogurts. With a bit more knowledge of yogurts and how they can (and should!) be included in a healthy, balanced diet, I hope you feel more confident strolling through the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
I believe that when we are given the tools to make our own decisions about which foods to purchase we become more conscious consumers and eaters. Learning how to read a nutrition label, understanding the sugar levels amongst different brands, and feeling like a nerdy scientist and reading lactobacillus acidophilus and getting to say, “I know what that is! Bring on the probiotics, baby!” is such an empowering feeling!
Yet, I also know that having some specific recommendations can be helpful and I’d rather these come from a professional- like me!