- Plant-based alternatives to dairy products are becoming more readily available to consumers.
- A recent study found that plant-based yogurts may have some advantages over dairy yogurts, including higher fiber content and less sugar. However, plant-based yogurts had lower amounts of nutrients like protein and calcium.
- The study indicated that almond-based yogurts had the highest nutrient density according to the Nutrient Rich Foods Index.
Plant-based alternatives to many animal products are becoming increasingly popular, and researchers are still working to understand the nutritional value of plant-based options and how they compare to their animal-based counterparts.
A study published in Frontiers of nutrition examined the nutritional value of different types of plant-based and dairy yogurts available in the United States.
The authors found that almond yogurts had the highest nutrient density of all the products they examined based on the index scoring system they used.
The nutritional value of both plant-based and dairy-based yogurts varies widely. For this study, the researchers wanted to examine the key macro- and micronutrients of different plant-based and dairy-based yogurt options to compare nutritional values.
Study author Prof. Alissa A. Nolden explained to Medical News Today:
The goals of the research were to identify whether plant-based yogurts that were already on the market in the United States were nutritionally equivalent to traditional dairy yogurts as consumers often substitute animal products for alternative options. There should be greater attention to ensuring that the nutrient profile is similar or better to ensure consumers do not become deficient or overconsume different nutrients.
First, the researchers gathered data on yogurt products using a source called the Mintel Global New Products Database. Based on specific inclusion and exclusion criteria, the researchers included 1,074 dairy-based and 150 plant-based yogurts in their nutritional analysis.
The researchers used a guidance system called the Nutrient Rich Foods Index (NRF). This index provides specific scores to foods based on beneficial nutrients and nutrients people should try to limit.
Beneficial nutrients include protein, fiber, calcium and vitamin D. Nutrients to limit include saturated fat, total sugar and sodium. A higher score indicates a higher nutrient density than the number of calories.
The researchers found that plant-based yogurt options typically had more fiber, less total sugar, and lower amounts of sodium than dairy yogurts. However, dairy yogurt options typically contained more protein, calcium and potassium than plant-based yogurt options.
Of all the types of yogurt studied, almond yogurt products scored the highest, indicating the highest nutrient density.
Both the dairy and plant-based options contained additives of various gums and starches.
The researchers note that plant-based options may need to be strengthened to improve nutritional value and supplement key nutrients that may be lacking in plant-based products.
They note that minimizing some components of dairy-based yogurts, such as saturated fat, while still considering valuable nutritional benefits such as those derived from protein, could be considered in product development.
Yogurt is a popular food choice that can offer numerous health benefits and provide key nutrients. Some yogurts can meet your protein needs. Yogurts may also contain some
Yogurt can come from dairy sources, but plant-based options are also available. As the authors of the current study note, plant-based yogurt options may be more environmentally sustainable.
As plant-based yogurt products become more available, it’s essential to consider their nutritional value and how they compare to dairy options.
Plant-based yogurts may offer similar health benefits, including the content of some probiotics. Registered Dietitian and Dietetic Director at ModifyHealth, Christine Lothen-Kline, who was not involved in the study, explained to MNT extension:
The many plant-based alternatives to dairy products have become so prevalent in grocery stores in recent years [and] they have been a game changer for vegetarians, especially vegans and people with a milk allergy.  The good news is that most plant-based yogurts also contain a variety of live, active cultures that are beneficial for gut health.  Overall, dairy-free yogurts are also more environmentally friendly than dairy-based yogurts.
The researchers conducting the current study were limited by the scoring system they used and government changes that eliminated some products from scrutiny.
They lacked certain nutritional information for some products due to changes made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the information required on nutrition labels.
Thus, the study sheds some light on some types of dairy and plant-based yogurts, but other types may vary in terms of nutritional value.
The professor. Nolden noticed this [f]Future studies should examine the full nutrient composition of plant-based ingredients which often require the addition of sugar, salt and fat to provide the sensory experience typical of animal products.
Consumers need to be aware that when looking for sustainable plant-based alternatives, the nutritional composition may be different and they need to adapt their diet accordingly, he added.
Similar to other food choices, consumers need to consider individual nutritional needs when choosing the yogurt products that work for them.
Lothen-Kline offered consumers the following advice to keep in mind as they consider the nutritional value of certain types of yogurt:
A good way to determine which options would be best for you is to ask which specific nutrients are most important to you in a yogurt. I would encourage everyone to look for a low added sugar yogurt. If you are vegan, it would be important to look on the label for a plant-based yogurt fortified with 20% of the recommended daily value of calcium and vitamin D. For someone who is looking for more protein, a plant-based yogurt made with soy or pea protein milk would make more sense than one made with oats or almonds.
He added that, [i]If you are not sure which option is best for you, [you should] consult a registered dietitian or other health care professional for guidance.
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