Why I Don’t Buy Fat-Free Yogurt

published May 6, 2015
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(Image credit: svariophoto)

I grew up eating low-fat yogurt. Not because I was afraid of fat, but because low-fat yogurt dominated the yogurt case. I grabbed it because it was the default option, and I rarely gave the fat content another thought.

When Greek yogurt arrived, something changed.

Maybe it was marketing, or maybe it was all the press coverage, but suddenly, nonfat Greek yogurt seemed to be the “it” thing. We were told it was better than the yogurt we’d been eating all along – more protein (true), thicker (also true), and more decadent without any fat whatsoever (now wait a minute).

My first experience with Greek yogurt left me cold. It clung to my tongue and my palate. The texture wasn’t creamy, really, but a bit pasty, a bit dehydrating. I’ve always been a yogurt-lover, so I kept trying to convince myself that if I just kept trying the few varieties of nonfat Greek yogurt that hit the market early, I’d eventually come around.

I didn’t, though. Not until I tried Greek yogurt with some fat in it.

Turns out I like fat. I like the way it feels in my mouth. I like the way it fills me up. I like the way it elevates my food, adding richness and a luxuriousness even in the smallest quantities. I’m one of those people who’d rather eat a small serving of full-fat food than all the nonfat food in the universe. And I know I’m not alone.

Whereas full-fat plain yogurt was once dreadfully hard to find, and full-fat Greek was even scarcer, it’s now becoming easier and easier. And as someone who’s dead-set on culinary moderation rather than asceticism, I say bravo.

Recent studies are debunking the long-held view that nonfat products are necessarily more healthful than their full-fat counterparts. Does this mean all the saturated fat in yogurt is doing us a world of good? Let’s not get carried away. But it does mean, to me at least, that nonfat yogurt isn’t necessarily “better” for our health than reduced-fat or full-fat varieties. It all depends on what we’re replacing that fat with. (If it’s sugary carbs, the answer is pretty clearly no.)

The science on the fat issue is ever-evolving, as science always is, so while that all works itself out, I’m going to go ahead and continue to make and buy the organic whole-milk yogurt (both Greek-style and traditional) that I love.

A Few Culinary Tips on Yogurt & Fat

A few purely culinary points to keep in mind:

  • Yogurt with fat may be less sour. If you’re historically a nonfat yogurt-eater and find plain yogurt “too sour,” try switching over to yogurt with some fat. Many full-fat varieties have a softer, fuller, rounder flavor.
  • If you’re freezing it, use full-fat. Full-fat yogurt performs exponentially better in frozen applications. Please use it in homemade frozen yogurts. Just as you wouldn’t use skim milk to make ice cream, no good will come of using nonfat yogurt for your homemade frozen yogurt.
  • It also works better in cooked recipes. Yogurt with fat also performs better under heat. Just whisk it thoroughly and consider tempering it with a bit of warm sauce or soup (depending on what you’re making) before adding it to the rest of your hot preparation.

Now’s a perfect time to try a new-to-you variety of full-fat yogurt, or experiment with making your own. You may be surprised at how much you love it.

Next up: How viewing yogurt as a substitute narrows our view.

(Image credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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