As one of the fastest-growing foods on the market, countless brands and varieties of Greek yogurt are rapidly lining grocery store shelves. In fact, retail dollar sales of Greek yogurt in the U.S. market increased more than 50 percent in 2012 to reach $1.6 billion, according to a report released by Packaged Facts.
What differentiates Greek yogurt from traditional yogurt is that Greek yogurt has been strained to remove the whey. As a result, Greek yogurt has a creamier, thicker texture and rich flavor. In addition, the removal of whey results in a healthier yogurt with 40 percent less sugar, 38 percent less sodium and more than twice the amount of protein than traditional yogurt. Each spoonful is also packed with nutrients and provides numerous health benefits.
No. 1: Digestive Health
One of the most touted health benefits of Greek yogurt is the probiotics it contains. These healthy bacteria help promote a healthy gut. Your digestive tract naturally contains lots of different types of bacteria -- some good, helping you digest food, and some potentially harmful. Eating Greek yogurt with probiotics helps increase the good bacteria in your gut. And the more good bacteria you take in, the less room there is for the bad varieties to grow. Maintaining this healthy balance of friendly bacteria can help with several digestive issues. For example, it may help keep you regular and fight the bad bacteria that can cause diarrhea. Probiotics may also be helpful for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.
No. 2: Blood Pressure
One of the best ways to help control high blood pressure is through diet, specifically the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Pressure Institute. The DASH diet is low in fat, and includes eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables and two to three servings of low fat or nonfat daily products every day. Dairy foods, including Greek yogurt, are an important source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which is believed to help lower high blood pressure.
No. 3: Weight Management
Numerous studies have also found a link between eating dairy and weight loss. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared 300 men and women who followed either a low-fat, Mediterranean or low-carb diet over a 2-year period. Regardless of the type of diet they followed, those who ate the most dairy lost approximately 12 pounds more than folks who ate a low amount of dairy foods.
Greek yogurt stands out, among other things, for containing double the amount of protein compared with traditional yogurt. Since protein takes the body longer to digest, it can help make you feel and stay full for longer. This is especially important to help curb your appetite between regular meals when trying to lose weight. And when you do get hungry, it is a healthy way to help minimize those extra cravings.
No. 4: Bone Health
Greek yogurt provides important nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and protein, which work together to promote strong, healthy bones. Unfortunately, many people focus on just calcium and turn to over-the-counter supplements in order to meet their calcium needs. However, Greek yogurt provides a complete suite of nutrients not found in calcium tablets alone. A study of postmenopausal women conducted at Washington University School of Medicine concluded that taking in calcium directly from dairy foods, as opposed to supplements, has a more positive impact on bone health.
[Read: 9 Foods Packed With Potassium .]
No. 5: Lactose Intolerance
Lactose intolerance is a sensitivity to the milk sugar called lactose. The symptoms of lactose intolerance are triggered by the digestive tract and may include bloating, flatulence and diarrhea. People with lactose intolerance should, however, keep milk and dairy products in their diet, according to recommendations by both the National Institutes of Health and National Medical Association. Further, studies have found that folks with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 1 cup of milk at a meal, which is equal to 12 grams of lactose. It is recommended that those with lactose intolerance start introducing lactose slowly into the diet and begin with lower lactose-containing foods. Greek yogurt is a lower lactose food, with a 6-ounce container of nonfat plain Greek yogurt providing only 4 grams of lactose. The lower amount of lactose found in Greek yogurt is due to the straining process, making this rich, creamy food a lactose-intolerant friendly one. As a bonus, the probiotics found in Greek yogurt also help breakdown the lactose sugar, making it easier to digest.
Considering all the benefits of Greek yogurt, try a recipe from my new cookbook so you can get cooking. In " The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy recipes for Every Meal of the Day," I showcase the versatility of this superstar ingredient in a variety of recipes -- from Banana Walnut Muffins to Eggs Benedict with Lighter Hollandaise to Baked Artichoke Dip with Fontina Cheese. One of my favorite recipes is this Lemon-Blueberry Stuffed French Toast, which is perfect to serve on Mother's Day:
Lemon-Blueberry Stuffed French Toast
1 cup nonfat milk
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ loaf challah bread, preferably whole wheat
1 ¼ cups fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed if frozen)
¼ cup nonfat lemon Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Heat it on the stove over medium-low heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Cut the challah into eight 1/2-inch-thick slices. Submerge half the slices in the egg mixture, being sure to moisten both sides. Then place soaked slices on the heated skillet and cook until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from the skillet and keep warm. Spray skillet with cooking spray and repeat with the remaining challah slices.
To make the filling, mash the blueberries and lemon yogurt together in a small bowl.
To assemble each stuffed French toast, place 1 piece of French toast on a plate. Spread 1/4 cup of the lemon-blueberry mixture over the bread. Top with another piece of French toast, and slice in half. Just before serving, sprinkle the confectioners' sugar evenly over the stuffed French toast.
SERVING SIZE: 1 stuffed French toast
NUTRITION INFORMATION (PER SERVING): Calories: 379; Total Fat: 9 grams; Saturated Fat: 3 grams;
Protein: 19 grams; Total Carbohydrates: 53 grams; Sugars: 19 grams; Fiber: 6 grams; Cholesterol: 232 milligrams; Sodium: 438 milligrams
[Read: Unusual Uses for Greek Yogurt .]
Recipe from "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" by Toby Amidor. Copyright © 2014 by Toby Amidor. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is the owner of Toby Amidor Nutrition and author of the forthcoming cookbook "The Greek Yogurt Kitchen" (Grand Central Publishing 2014). She consults and blogs for various organizations, including FoodNetwork.com's Healthy Eats Blog and Sears' FitStudio.