Inside the Food Label: Dairy-Free Yogurt | Food Confidence

Nutrition Strategies

Inside the Food Label: Dairy-Free Yogurt

As an integrative dietitian and empowerment coach with 20+ years of experience, my main goal is to help women age well, feel confident in their bodies, and create the healthy lifestyle they desire and deserve.
danielle omar

plant based yogurt

Yogurt, specifically Greek yogurt, is one of the many foods I try to eat each day for immune support and gut health. I blend it into smoothies, top it with fresh berries at breakfast, and use it to make sauces and dips (like this avocado cream sauce). And the cool thing about yogurt in 2024 is that there are lots of different types of dairy free yogurts to choose from if you’re avoiding ingredients like milk, milkfat, milk powders, and whey! 

But having said that, not all dairy-free yogurts are created equal. Some are loaded with added sugars and poor-quality ingredients, just like some dairy-containing yogurts. I recommend reading the food label before making a decision and keeping an eye out for a few sneaky ingredients to ensure you’re getting the highest-quality product. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying dairy-free yogurt:

Lactose-Free & Non-Dairy Don’t Mean Dairy-Free

If you’re avoiding dairy for any reason — whether you’re allergic, sensitive, intolerant, vegan, or completing Nourish 21 — the most important thing you’ll want to keep an eye out for when buying yogurt is hidden dairy ingredients. Some *seemingly* dairy-free yogurts are lactose-free but not completely dairy-free, and they may still contain dairy ingredients like milk, milkfat, casein, and whey. 

Some examples of the dairy ingredients you might find in lactose-free yogurts include:

  • Skim or whole milk
  • Cultured milk
  • Pasteurized milk or cream
  • Milk protein
  • Whey protein
  • Casein or caseinate

On the other hand, if a food label states that a product is dairy-free, this means it’s free of ALL dairy-containing ingredients. So when in doubt, look for yogurts labeled as dairy-free and avoid those labeled as non-dairy. It’s very possible that a product labeled as non-dairy may also be dairy-free, but it’s best to avoid taking that chance if you’re strictly avoiding dairy products. 

Yogurts labeled as plant-based are also safe dairy-free choices in many cases. But again, I recommend reading the food label! Many plant-based, dairy-free yogurts are made from dairy alternatives like almond, oat, rice, coconut, cashew, soy, flax, and pea protein. 

plant based yogurt

What about yogurts with qualified health claims?

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that dairy yogurts could display qualified health claims to support the relationship between regular yogurt consumption and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This claim is based on years of scientific evidence showing that consuming two or more cups of yogurt weekly may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

While this is pretty exciting, it’s still important to do a little research when buying yogurt. Currently, qualified health claims only apply to dairy-containing yogurts; not dairy-free yogurts. Also, dairy yogurts can use this claim regardless of sugar content. The FDA encourages brands to use careful consideration before displaying this claim on high-sugar products. 

Some Dairy-Free Yogurts Contain More Nutrients Than Others

As for dairy alternatives like cashew, soy, and rice, it’s worth noting that some dairy-free milk alternatives (like almond and oat) are more nutrient-rich than others. A recent study found that almond and oat-based yogurts were the most nutrient-dense of all yogurts available (even dairy yogurts). Next in line were low and nonfat dairy, full-fat dairy, cashew, and coconut yogurts. The dairy-free yogurts studied also contained more fiber, less total sugar, and less sodium than dairy-based yogurts.

As for protein, dairy-based yogurts (especially Greek yogurt) are still the best choice. The only exception is soy-based yogurts, as many soy-based milk alternatives contain comparable amounts of protein to dairy milks. 

Some of the newer dairy-free yogurt options available contain added protein, making them a protein-rich source as well. For example, Kite Hill’s Plain Unsweetened Protein Almond Milk Yogurt contains 12 grams of plant protein (in the form of soy protein isolate per 3 ⁄ 4 cup). Silk also makes a protein-rich Greek-Style Coconutmilk Yogurt Alternative (with 11 grams of protein per 3 ⁄ 4 cup), but this one contains 11 grams of sugars per 3 ⁄ 4 cup. 

While on the topic of added sugars… 

Many Dairy-Free Yogurts Contain Added Sugars

There are lots of delicious dairy-free yogurts out there, but like their dairy-containing counterparts, many are loaded with added sugars. And while this doesn’t mean these yogurts are off limits, it’s best to keep the amount of added sugars in our diets as low as possible. Especially added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, and glucose — or artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. You won’t find artificial sweeteners in organic dairy-free yogurts, but many do still contain added sugars like cane sugar. 

Whenever possible, aim for unsweetened dairy-free yogurts or yogurts without added sugars. You can still sweeten up your morning yogurt bowl or parfait with fresh fruit, liquid stevia, or a drizzle of real maple syrup. Raw honey is another great addition to yogurt when you need a little bit of sweetness. 

plant based yogurt

When in Doubt, Read That Food Label

Finding the best dairy-free yogurt isn’t an easy feat, even with the huge selection of plant-based yogurts on the market today. Between claims such as “dairy-free”, “lactose-free”, and “non-dairy”, how will you know which products are TRULY free of dairy? Or which ones contain added sugars and quality ingredients?

When shopping around for a dairy-free yogurt, here’s my advice: read that food label. Look for hidden dairy ingredients like milk, whey, or casein; opt for high-protein plant-based yogurts whenever possible, and keep added sugars to a minimum. There are lots of delicious dairy-free yogurts out there, and many are just as nutrient-dense as the ones that contain dairy! 

Ready to explore 21 days of clean, dairy-free eating? The next session of Nourish 21 is right around the corner. Get on the waitlist today!

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