woman eating yogurt

What happens to your body when you eat yogurt daily? Whether eaten by itself, piled high with mix-ins, or used as the base of a savory sauce or dip, yogurt is as versatile as it is delicious. And Americans eat a lot of the stuff. As revealed by Statista, "the average per capita consumption stands at 9.7kg in 2021."

If you visit the dairy aisle of your grocery store, you’ll find a seemingly endless array of yogurt varieties to choose from. You can opt for full-fat, low-fat, or fat-free options, and there’s a full rainbow of flavors to suit any palate, from plain to fruity to chocolatey. There are also a number of new yogurt styles beyond the "regular" yogurt we grew up eating, each with its own unique texture and nutritional profile. According to Food Insight, Greek yogurt and skyr are strained to remove liquid whey, creating a dense but protein-packed yogurt. French yogurt is made in individual glass jars by combining whole milk and bacteria cultures, creating an extremely rich and thick finished product.

Although the debate over the healthiness of certain dairy foods still rages on, yogurt enjoys a reputation as a nutrient-packed superfood. But while it can have many health benefits, yogurt isn’t for everyone, and not all yogurts are created equal.

If you want lots of protein, stick with Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt with berries and granola

If you’re adding yogurt to your post-workout smoothie because you heard it’s high in protein, make sure you’re picking the right type of yogurt to get the most bang for your buck. As Healthline explained, eight ounces of regular low-fat yogurt contains a respectable 13 grams of protein, while the same portion size of low-fat Greek yogurt packs in a whopping 24 grams. Straining out the liquid whey makes Greek yogurt much denser, so you get more protein with each bite. Those watching their macros should also take note that the straining process that concentrates protein in Greek yogurt also reduces carbohydrate content and slightly increases fat content.

Although protein is certainly important for building and maintaining lean muscle, it performs many other vital functions throughout the body. According to Piedmont Healthcare, protein is also a building block for bone, skin, and cartilage. It’s needed to produce digestive enzymes and hormones and helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but some dietitians and other health experts believe individuals should be shooting to get up to twice this amount (via Harvard Medical School).

Depending on the type of yogurt you eat, you could stay full for hours

bowl of yogurt

Eating high-protein yogurt for lunch could help stave off the mid-afternoon munchies. In a 2003 study published in the journal Appetite, participants consumed 160 calories of either low-protein (5 grams), moderate-protein (14 grams), or high-protein (24 grams) yogurt for three days. Researchers tracked participants’ subjective feelings of fullness and how much they ate after consuming the yogurt. Those who consumed the high-protein yogurt reported feeling fuller than those who ate the low- or moderate-protein yogurts. The high-protein group also ate dinner about half an hour later than the low-protein group because they stayed fuller longer.

But not all research conclusively supports the idea of yogurt as a filling food. In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers gave participants 240-calorie servings of 38 common foods and then tracked how satiated individuals felt. The researchers ranked the foods, using white bread as a reference point of 100. Yogurt actually ranked below white bread, with a score of only 88. The study authors didn’t specify the protein (or fat or sugar) content of the yogurt, however, which could explain its low ranking.

Eating yogurt can strengthen your bones

fruit on the bottom yogurt on a spoon

One obvious reason to consume yogurt is that it’s an excellent source of calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), calcium is essential for the structure and proper functioning of bones. Our bodies use bone as a storage place for calcium, so bone is constantly being broken down when the body needs that calcium and then rebuilt when we consume dietary calcium. Eating enough calcium-rich foods ensures our bones remain strong well into old age. The NIH recommends adults get between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium a day, depending on age and sex.

Although Greek yogurt is generally considered a healthier choice than regular yogurt, it actually has less calcium. An eight-ounce serving of Greek yogurt contains 22 percent of our daily needs, while the same amount of regular yogurt contains 34 percent (via Healthline).

Vitamin D is also important for healthy bones because it assists with the absorption of calcium. Sunshine and fatty fish are the best sources of this key nutrient, but some yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D (via NIH). Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts panel to see if your favorite yogurt has been fortified.

Don’t shy away from fat when it comes to yogurt

woman eating yogurt

Although many people assume that low-fat or fat-free versions of yogurt are a healthier option, this isn’t necessarily the case. Full-fat yogurt contains more calories than the nonfat alternative, but the difference isn’t significant: just 10 calories per 6-ounce serving. Obviously, full-fat yogurt contains more fat than nonfat yogurt (6 grams in a 6-ounce serving, of which 4 come from saturated fat), but recent research suggests that the saturated fat in dairy doesn’t increase heart disease risk as initially believed. Nonfat yogurt packs more calcium (about 30 percent of our daily needs versus 20 percent in full-fat yogurt), but full-fat yogurt may make you feel fuller longer and thus support weight loss (via SF Gate).

Another important thing to consider is added sugar. Full-fat yogurts tend to have less sugar because their fat content naturally makes them delicious. Stripping out the fat also strips away a lot of the flavor, so manufacturers often add in sweetness to improve the taste of low-fat and nonfat yogurts. A single serving of nonfat yogurt can have as much as 30 grams of added sugar (via Business Insider).

If you want probiotics, you don’t need to buy specially fortified yogurts

bowl of yogurt

A lot of the health buzz surrounding yogurt comes from the probiotics it contains. These probiotics have been linked to a number of potential benefits, including better digestion and immune support. But what many consumers don’t realize is that you don’t have to buy yogurt intentionally fortified with beneficial bacteria. Yogurt is, by definition, a probiotic food because bacteria are needed to ferment milk into yogurt. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two strains that produce yogurt. As long as the yogurt isn’t heat-treated after the bacteria do their work (and most yogurts aren’t), these bacteria remain alive and active. If manufacturers decide to add additional probiotics after the yogurt is created, these usually include strains of Bifidobacterium lactis or Lactobacillus casei, acidophilus, or reuteri (via the California Dairy Research Foundation).

If you do decide to eat yogurt fortified with probiotics, you may want to specifically seek out those that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, as this particular strain has been associated with a number of benefits, including lowering cholesterol, improving bathroom habits, and fighting yeast infections. Brands that contain acidophilus include yogurt giants like Chobani, Yoplait, and Fage (via Medical News Today).

Give your immune system a boost by consuming yogurt

yogurt-based dip with pita and cucumbers

According to a 2008 paper published in Clinical and Experimental Immunology, approximately 70 percent of our immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s no surprise, then, that probiotic-packed yogurt could have immune-boosting properties.

There are two branches of the immune system, and yogurt appears to benefit both. We’re born with an innate immune system, a general first line of defense. The innate immune system encompasses the skin, mucus membranes, beneficial gut bacteria, and several types of white blood cells. The adaptive immune system, on the other hand, continues to develop throughout our lives. When the body is attacked by a particular germ, the adaptive immune system "learns" how to combat that particular threat and then "remembers" this information, in the form of antibodies, for later use (via Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).

A 2014 paper noted that substances produced by beneficial bacteria may help strengthen the gut lining, part of the body’s innate immune defense against pathogens. Beneficial bacteria appear to control the expression of certain genes in our intestinal cells and how these cells communicate with one another. Probiotics may also play a role in the production of B and T cells, part of the adaptive immune system.

Eating yogurt could reduce inflammation

bowl of yogurt surrounded by berries

The probiotics in yogurt may also be able to assist with inflammation, according to a meta-analysis published in Obesity Medicine in 2020. The researchers noted that probiotic yogurt reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for chronic inflammation, particularly in overweight individuals. But don’t think a single bowl of yogurt is all you need: the researchers observed that individuals eating less than 200 grams (7.1 ounces) of yogurt a day needed to keep the habit up for at least eight weeks in order to see a reduction in CRP levels.

Although we often think of inflammation as universally negative, that isn’t the case. Acute inflammation occurs immediately after an injury or infection and produces warmth, redness, swelling, and pain. This brings white blood cells to the area, where they can begin the healing process. Things get ugly, however, when this inflammatory response becomes chronic. In the case of chronic inflammation, the body becomes confused and begins attacking healthy tissue. Chronic, low-grade inflammation is believed to cause or worsen a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis (via Harvard Health Publishing).

Protect your heart health with yogurt

person eating yogurt covered in berries and other toppings

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the "leading cause of death" in the United States. An estimated 18.2 million Americans have coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease. There are many diet and lifestyle changes you can make to minimize your risk, and eating yogurt may be one of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to protect your heart health.

In a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers tracked the dietary habits of more than 70,000 individuals for a number of years to determine which factors may reduce risk for heart disease. They found that "higher intakes of yogurt were associated with a 30 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] among … women and a 19 percent reduction in … men." Individuals who ate more than two servings of yogurt a week were approximately 20 percent less likely to have major coronary heart disease or stroke (via Science Daily).

And, for women at least, eating more than four servings of yogurt a week is correlated to a reduced risk of dying from heart disease, according to a 2020 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Regularly eating yogurt could reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes

bowl of yogurt

Swapping out your morning bagel or sugary breakfast cereal for a big bowl of yogurt appears to be beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and preventing type 2 diabetes, according to a 2017 meta-analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition. The paper’s authors noted that those who ate 80–125 grams (2.8–4.4 ounces) of yogurt daily had a 14 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers speculated that the probiotics in yogurt could play a beneficial role in how the body metabolizes glucose. But researchers caution that yogurt isn’t a miracle worker. As Dr. Frank Hu explained in an interview with WebMD, "Yogurt is not magic for curing or preventing diabetes … we have to pay attention to our diet pattern. There is no replacement for an overall healthy diet and maintaining [a healthy] body weight."

The American Diabetes Association estimates that approximately "34.2 million Americans, or 10.5% of the population, [have] diabetes," while another 88 million have prediabetes — a condition that, if not properly managed through diet and lifestyle change, can become full-blown diabetes. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Yogurt may reduce your risk for certain cancers

woman eating yogurt

While there are many factors that can increase or decrease your risk for certain cancers, eating more yogurt is an easy diet tweak that could have a big payoff. Reporting on a new theory published in the journal Medical Hypotheses in 2020, Science Daily noted that "one of the causes of breast cancer may be inflammation triggered by harmful bacteria." Researchers speculate that the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt may crowd out these dangerous bacteria and thus reduce inflammation. Lactose-fermenting bacteria are found in the milk ducts of lactating women, and because breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk, the researchers speculate that the same lactose-fermenting bacteria in yogurt could have a similar effect.

Regular yogurt consumption could also reduce the risk of colon cancer. One study found that men who ate at least two servings of yogurt a week were 19 percent less likely to have colon polyps and 26 percent less likely to have "high-risk" polyps with significant potential of becoming cancerous. No association between yogurt and precancerous polyps was seen in women, however (via Medpage Today).

You could be getting a big dose of added sugar if you eat certain types of yogurt

hand holding yogurt

Plain yogurt is undoubtedly a healthy food choice, but flavored varieties can pack as much sugar as a decadent dessert. All yogurt contains naturally occurring sugar, known as lactose. The body breaks this down into two other sugars: glucose and galactose. Many yogurts, however, contain added sugar to make them tastier. Added sugar has been linked to a number of negative health outcomes, including obesity, cavities, and chronic inflammation. The USDA’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugar, while the American Heart Association suggests a stricter limit of 100 calories from added sugar for women and 150 calories for men. The average American, however, eats 130 pounds of sugar a year (via Food Network).

One survey in the UK found that the average 3.5-ounce serving of plain yogurt contained 5 grams of total sugar (all naturally occurring lactose). The average flavored yogurt contained 12 grams. If you think going organic is the answer to avoiding sugar, think again: The average organic yogurt surveyed contained 13.1 grams (via Yogurt Nutrition).

Even if you’re lactose intolerant, you may be able to eat certain types of yogurt

bowl of Greek yogurt

According to a 2013 paper published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, roughly 75 percent of the world’s population will become lactose intolerant at some point in their lives. This means that their bodies will no longer be able to produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to break down and digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. The undigested lactose can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The severity of symptoms will vary based on how much lactase an individual can still produce.

The good news for yogurt lovers is that at least one type of yogurt is relatively low in lactose. The American Dairy Association noted that while a cup of milk contains 12 grams of lactose, a cup of Greek yogurt contains only 4 grams. That’s because most of the sugar in milk resides in the liquid whey, which is strained out of Greek yogurt. In addition, the bacteria that ferment milk into yogurt break down the milk sugar, essentially doing most of the lactose-digesting work for you before you even take your first bite.

If you have a milk allergy, you most likely can’t eat yogurt

child eating yogurt

Although many people mistake their lactose intolerance for a milk allergy, the two are actually very different. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with a milk allergy have an abnormal reaction to one or both of the proteins in dairy products, casein and whey. Eating dairy triggers an immune response that can cause hives, swelling in and around the mouth, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal distress, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis and even death. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is caused by the body’s inability to digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products and doesn’t involve the immune system. Although generally more common among children, milk allergy affects approximately 4.7 million American adults (via WebMD).

Because yogurt is a dairy product that contains both milk proteins, those with a milk allergy should avoid it. WebMD noted that even sheep or goat-milk yogurts likely aren’t safe, since their proteins are very similar to those found in cow’s milk. One 2018 study published in The Journal of International Medical Research, however, found that half of children with a milk allergy could actually eat yogurt without an immune reaction. The study was quite small, however, involving only 34 participants.

If you want to give non-dairy yogurt a try, read labels carefully

selection of vegan yogurts

For those who are allergic to milk or extremely sensitive to lactose, yogurt made from non-dairy milks such as soy, coconut, oat, cashew, and pea may be an option. It’s important to note that these alternative yogurts can vary significantly in their protein and sugar content, and not all are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. The So Delicious brand of coconut-based yogurt, for example, has only 1 gram of protein per 5.3-ounce serving and between 8 and 18 grams of sugar, depending on flavor. Stonyfield’s soy-based yogurt, on the other hand, has 7 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving, but 26 grams of sugar. Many vegan yogurts contain 150–300 milligrams of calcium and 120-180 IU of vitamin D per serving, but Kite Hill is fortified with neither nutrient and Stonyfield lacks vitamin D (via Today’s Dietitian).

If you’re worried that vegan yogurt won’t give you the same probiotic benefits as dairy-based yogurt, don’t be. According to Healthline, most alternative yogurts contain live active cultures. Good brands to choose for probiotics include Forager Project, Nancy’s, and Ripple.