Let's Talk About Yogurt

Yogurt is popular stuff, with a quasi-mystical reputation. When I was a kid, yogurt was unfamiliar to most Americans. Dannon opened up the market with ads showing ancient-but-healthy-looking Russian folks, stating that they ate yogurt, and implying that it was the secret of their longevity. I doubt those Russians were eating sweetened, flavored yogurt little different from pudding, but it sure did work for the Dannon company. Now, of course, we have Jamie Lee Curtis all over television, telling us how Activia will "regulate your digestive tract," which appears to be code for "make you poop." Should we all be scarfing the stuff down?

Yogurt is a good source of protein, with 8 grams per cup. It's also a good source of calcium, though it's important to realize that calcium is only absorbed in the presence of fat. If you eat fat-free yogurt all by itself, without some other source of fat, you'll derive little benefit from the calcium. You'll also miss out on the vitamin A in butterfat.

But what about the carbs? It should go without saying that low carbers must avoid all yogurts with added sugar, which eliminates the vast majority of the flavored yogurts on the market. But what about plain yogurt? The label on plain yogurt states that it has 12 grams of carbohydrate per cup! That's most of a day's ration for a lot of low carbers. Can we actually eat yogurt?

Yes, we can, but it's a little complex.

The bacteria that turn milk into yogurt also transform a lot of the lactose -- milk sugar -- into lactic acid; this is why yogurt has a tangy flavor. However, how much of the lactose is converted to lactic acid depends on how long the yogurt is allowed to ferment -- the longer, the less lactose. Indeed, yogurt you bought a week ago will have a little less carb than yogurt you bought today, because even at refrigerator temperatures the bacteria continue to grow, if at a greatly reduced rate. Eventually, increasing acidity will stop the fermentation, and the carb count will stop dropping. According to Dr. Jack Goldberg, of The GO-Diet, if you see whey (that clearish liquid) separating from the white part of the yogurt, it's fermented about as far as it can, and will be pretty low carb -- count 4 grams per cup.

Many low carbers choose Greek yogurt, because it is lower carb than regular plain yogurt. Why? Because much of the residual carbohydrate in well-fermented yogurt is in the whey, and Greek yogurt has had the whey drained off. If you would like to, you can make Greek-style yogurt easily from any plain yogurt, simply by straining it. Line a colander with a clean coffee filter, set it over a bowl if you want to catch the whey, or in the sink if you want to discard it. (Why would you keep the whey with its carbs? I might feed mine to my dogs or chickens. And some people feed it to their plants. It's nourishing stuff, carbs and all.)

Or you can buy Greek yogurt, of course. The brand of Greek yogurt I see around here is Fage; I confess I haven't tried it. Why? I make my own yogurt. I was excited when the front page of the Fage website said their yogurt was made from raw milk and raw cream, but further clicking around revealed that they then pasteurize that raw milk and cream, meaning it's not raw anymore. I'll try it, but probably keep making my own most of the time. It's cheaper and more convenient, and I control the length of fermentation.

What about the special bifidus regularis culture in Activia, the one they claim only they have, and that supposedly does something magical for your digestive tract? I have no doubt that Activia can improve digestion. I'm just unconvinced that theirs is the only yogurt with this property. Dannon also has, in the past, made claims for their DanActive yogurt drink, with its seemingly special l. casei immunitas," which was supposed to improve immune function. Again, I don't doubt it, but I question that theirs is the only yogurt with this property.

Let me let you in on a little-known trick of the advertising trade (says the girl whose father lived Mad Men): Companies can take a particular ingredient or component of their class of product, give it a special name, trademark that name -- and voila! They can legally say only their product contains Super-duper-ingredient (tm).

Guess what? At the Activia website, they refer to their special bacteria as Bifidus Regularis (tm). It defines it as "A unique probiotic strain of bifidobacteria that was specially selected by Dannon to be added to Activia. Activia is the only yogurt in the world that contains Bifidus Regularis (tm)."

Hmm. They selected this bacteria; that tells me it already existed. If they'd developed it or created it or cross-bred it or something, they'd say so. So I'm guessing they looked at the various strains of bifidobacteria used in various yogurts and other cultured milk products, picked one they thought was particularly useful, and gave it their own trademarked name. No way to know if some other brand of yogurt has the same sort of bacteria without the trademarked name, but there's little reason from this to think that the bacteria itself is exclusive. Not so coincidentally, the l. casei immunitas used in DanActive, and originally touted as strengthening the immune system, also comes with a (tm) after it.

Activia has sugar in all of its flavors, and all of the single-serving size versions are flavored. You can get plain Activia in 24 oz tubs, though I haven't noticed it locally. Then again, I usually make my own yogurt, so I'm not looking as hard as I might. DanActive is in a drinkable form; apparently the two "light" flavors use inulin and sucralose (Splenda) for sweeteners.

I do think it likely that the more different bacterial cultures your yogurt contains, the more beneficial it will be. I use Stonyfield Farm yogurt as my starter for making homemade yogurt, because it contains 6 different types of bacteria:

* Lactobacillus bulgaricus
* Streptococcus thermophilus
* Lactobacillus acidophilus
* Bifidus
* Lactobacillus casei
* Lactobacillus rhamnosus

I'm guessing that generic bifidus is a near-relative of Bifidus Regularis (tm), and lactobacillus casei is a kissin' cousin of l. casei immunitas. Makes good yogurt, at any rate.

I was going to tell you how I make my own yogurt, but I haven't had supper yet, and it's nearly 9. More later.

Share this

Fage yogurt

I hope it's not too late to post a question about yogurt. I used to eat Fage 0% but when I went low carb, I cut out yogurt altogether thinking my carbs should be coming from vegetables - not yogurt. I'm ready to try yogurt in a smoothie but now I don't know which one to get. Is this correct thinking: I should eat the Fage total because although the carbs are close to the same at the 0%, the fat is more and that's what we want.
I would appreciate an answer before I buy any. Thanks, so much.

Fage Total

That's the reasoning I would use. I also like Greek Gods Artemis yogurt, full fat with extra cream.

Nice to be here with you guys

Thanks for the helpful post.

Making my own

I've been making my own for awhile now. I got one culture of a Swedish type (not really yogurt, but very similar) called "fil mjolk" and then traded some of it for cultures of piima (Iceland) and Bulgarian yogurt. The first two culture right on the countertop in under 12 hours for me, and my 5-year-old loves having it for breakfast and a night-time snack, topped with a little raw honey and with berries in it, which is how it's used in Sweden. The funny thing is that the southern European yogurts, like Greek and Bulgarian, are also counter-top yogurts *in southern Europe* because their homes traditionally are pretty warm in the summer! I got my starter culture from Cultures for Health. I use raw milk and usually eat the some of the cultured cream myself, knowing it's really low carb!


That's a whole lot more impressive than my modest yogurt making practices, that's for sure!

It's really simple!

It's actually really simple. Takes all of 90 seconds. You start with a "pure" starter from pasteurized milk, because raw milk has its own cultures that will change the yogurt. I use Trader Joe's Whole Organic milk for that. Once I have that (cultures in a day) then every day or so, I plop about 1/4 cup or so of whichever culture I want into a quart canning jar. Then I fill it up the rest of the way with raw milk, stirring with a non-metal spoon or spaghetti server to make sure the culture gets all through the milk. Then I put a paper towel on top, securing it with a rubber band, and then put it by my computer (as being out of drafts and sunlight). It's usually done within about 6-8 hours; faster if it's warm like it has been.

I do the same thing with my "pure" starters once a week.

That's it! Plop in starter; fill with raw milk; cover and wait. Easy-peasy. I am a total and complete failure at the kinds of yogurt that have to be heated.


Gee, am I missing something? I was really anxious to try the greek yogurt but could not find any without
a lot of sugar. I went to the Fage site to check the sugar again. The Fage with honey has as much as
29 grams of sugar. The the fruit flavor ones have around 16-17 grams. To much for me. The plain
yogurt has 7-9 grams. I don't even like to have that much sugar in my yogurt. I am trying to keep my
sugars low. All the Greek yogurt seems to be that way. I guess that is why it is supposed to be so good.

Sugar in yogurt

Almost all sweetened, flavored yogurts have sugar added to them in one form or another. All plain yogurt, on the other hand, the Fage included, lists on the label the sugar that occurred naturally in the milk from which it was made -- milk has 12 grams of lactose per cup. Fage apparently subtracts out the lactose that was in the whey they removed. But there is not added sugar in it.

The sugar content of plain yogurt is actually not as high as the labels suggest, because, as I said in the blog post, the yogurt bacteria convert it into lactic acid. The longer it incubates, the more of the lactose is converted to lactic acid.

low carb yogurt

My wife and I like to make yogurt by using a combination of heavy cream and whole milk.We were inspired by Brown Cow (with the cream on the top), and ours tastes just like it. We never measure exactly, but I'd say we use about 1 cup of heavy cream to 1.5 quarts whole milk. Also indispensable is our Yogourmet yogurt maker, which can make a nice 1/2 gallon batch that lasts us for about 5 or 6 days. Talk about a rich, creamy, delectable low carb treat! Our 22 month old even likes it plain, but usually with low-carb granola from Dana's book:-)


Dana, I agree, you really should try a cup of Fage full fat plain yogurt. If you can't get that, try Chobani plain (my favorite, because it's locally made in NY and less expensive than Fage.)

I used to make my own yogurt and will sometimes strain commercial organic plain yogurt to make greek-style strained yogurt. The whey is amazing when added to soups or used for other lactofermentation recipes. But the true value of greek-style yogurt isn't just that it's lower carb...it's higher protein, too. a 5-6 oz. cup of Chobani or Oikos or Fage plain greek style yogurt runs 6-7 grams carbs and as much as a full 18 grams of protein. That and a couple of pieces of cheese put it right into the lunch-on-the-go or lunch-on-the-road category for me. ;)


I tried Fage today since everyone was raving about it and it's soooo good! YUM! Can't wait to make my own and use some of this for my starter.

Greek Yogurt

Remember, Greek yogurt, Fage included, is strained. You'll want to line a strainer with a clean coffee filter, dump your homemade yogurt in, and let it sit overnight, draining, to get that thick texture.

straining for greek yogurt


Should it strain in the refrigerator or out?


Straining Yogurt

I'd probably do it out of the fridge, but then I'm pretty certain my kitchen would never pass a health inspection. (No food poisoning, either.) If you're of a less cavalier nature than I, I see no reason not to do it in the fridge.

Low Carb yogurt

I have been wondering how the 'low carb' yogurt is made? I very much enjoy Fred Meyers/Kroger brand "Carbmaster". It is reasonably priced and about 3-4 grams of carb per 6 ounce container and 80 calories. I just wish they made plain yogurt. Dannon makes (or has recently made) some sort of sugar controlled yogurt as well.

I too like to make my own yogurts and have experimented with using Activia as a starter culture. The Fage brand Greek yogurt does taste good, if not a little strong. I might have had an older batch though.

Kroger Carb Master Yogurt

I just love this yogurt. I find it perfect for a quick breakfast or snack and the flavor is GREAT! Not to sweet! As Goldie would say - It's just right! So is the carb count!

CarbMaster Yogurt

I have a Kroger 7 minutes from here; I'll try this and review it. Thanks!

Making your own yogurt

Making yogurt is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. You really should buy one small container of Fage....that way at least you will know how it tastes in comparison with your own. Fage is good, but I only use it as a jumping-off place. Sometimes I use it as the starting culture for my own homemade yogurt. The more I make it homemade, the better I like yogurt, too. (My first efforts at yogurt-making were way back in the low-fat days and I couldn't understand how anybody could eat that nasty-tasting, watery, bitter crap that came out of my yogurt maker using skim milk).

So, picking up on the "raw milk" comment, are you saying that you use raw milk and you don't pasteurize it to kill any "bad" bacteria before you add the beneficial bacteria? I often buy raw milk to make my own yogurt, but I always quickly pasteurize it because, even though the milk is certified grade A, and every batch is tested, it's not sterile. If I encourage bacterial growth, I encourage ALL bacterial growth, which scares me just a little bit. And the one batch I made without quick pasteurization didn't turn out well at all (but that could have been for other reasons that I didn't take into account at the time).

Finally, the raw milk I buy is also (of course) not homogenized, but that makes zero difference when I make my own greek yogurt. The interesting part is after it's set for a day or two, there is a beautiful yellow tinge at the top where the butterfat has risen....hubby and I fight over that part :-)

I am sure happy to see you blogging more, and I am eager to hear all about how you make yogurt. I find that everyone has their favored method, but I constantly refine mine and I'm always up for learning more about one of my favorite activities.


Another reason to save your whey is lacto-fermentation. That's the best thing I learned from Nourishing Traditions.