No Dairy, No Problem
Before going plant-based, many people have yogurt as a staple in their diet. It’s cheap, widely available, high in protein, filling, and can be eaten with breakfast, lunch, or a snack. So, when ditching dairy, there often feels like a void to fill. What can take the place of yogurt? Good news. There are SO many new plant-based yogurts on the shelves now, that you don’t have to stop eating yogurt! With so much innovation going on in this area, it’s important to pay attention to what’s in these cultured products and ensure the ingredients are in line with our health goals.
What brands will I see on the shelves?
Common brands include So Delicious, Forager, Kite Hill, Silk, Siggis, Chobani, Nancy’s, Oatly, Daiya, Trader Joe’s store brand, Dahlicious, and Whole Foods store brand: 365.
Plant-based yogurts can be made from lots of different non-dairy milk bases. Coconut, almond, cashew, soy, and oat are some of the common ones. The base you choose largely comes down to preference, although there are some nutritional differences to note. The availability of different bases is really nice for people with food allergies or intolerances too.
Soy tends to be the base naturally highest in protein. Some yogurts do add protein in the form of faba bean protein or pea protein. When possible, I prefer getting my protein from whole foods. So, if I were to choose a yogurt that was lower in protein, say, less than 5g/cup, I might add nuts, chia seeds, or peanut butter to help increase the protein content. See my other recommended toppings below.
How much fat yogurt contains and perhaps more importantly, where the fat comes from are significant factors in choosing a plant-based yogurt. Coconut milk and coconut cream yogurt, due to the coconut, contain saturated fat. Saturated fat is known as the “bad” fat as it can increase our cholesterol and our risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 6% of our daily calories from saturated fat. For a 1500 calorie diet, this would mean eating less than 10g of saturated fat per day. Many coconut-based yogurts have 10g+ of saturated fat alone.
While the Dahlicious yogurt mentioned below has 14g of fat, the fat comes from almonds. The company mentions that each cup of yogurt contains a full serving of almonds. Almonds contain monounsaturated fat which has been shown to lower our total & LDL cholesterol and reduce our risk for heart disease.
Many plant-based yogurts (and dairy yogurts) also contain a lot of added sugar. Added sugar refers to sugar that is added to a product during the processing stages. This means the sugar does not naturally occur in the food. If a product contains fruit, for example, the fructose and glucose sugars in the fruit would not be examples of added sugar, as they occur naturally.
Adding sugar to a product makes it taste good, no surprise there! The American Heart Association recommendation is for women to consume less than 25g of added sugar per day and less than 37g for men. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend no more than 10% of daily calories be from added sugars (so this would be 37g of added sugar for a 1500 calorie diet). There’s no nutritional need for added sugars in our diet. Added sugar can easily contribute excess calories without beneficial nutrients. This Harvard School of Public Health article provides a nice overview of how to spot how much added sugar is in food as well as what ingredients on food labels to look for to indicate the presence of added sugars. Since we can always add sweeteners or sweet foods to our yogurt ourselves, opting for an unsweetened variety can be a great choice.
Plant-based greek yogurts are the next frontier in dairy-free yogurt innovation. Brands like Silk and Kite Hill are coming out with greek yogurt product lines. From my limited research, the initial products all seem to be coconut-based and high in saturated fat to help create that thick texture. I did try the Silk lemon flavor greek yogurt and it was overly thick with an artificial lemon flavor.
My favorite options
Siggis plant-based yogurts: These have a coconut milk + macadamia nut base. These are not my top pick for a nutritious choice but the yogurts taste good and there’s room in our diet for fun foods too! These are some of my favorites on the market right now for their natural, non-artificial taste and thick and creamy texture. They can often satisfy a sweet tooth too. I like the Vanilla and Cinnamon flavor. It has a high protein content (10g), although they do add pea protein. It contains 7g of saturated fat from coconut. The coconut milk goes a long way here for thickening up the texture. Overall, they’re a tasty option to enjoy in moderation.
Silk Plain Dairy Free Yogurt has a creamy texture and has no added protein (but still 7g of natural protein from soy), 4g of added sugar, 0.5g of saturated fat, and 20% of the daily value of calcium. If you like sweeter yogurts, this would be a good option to add some fruit to or a bit of agave nectar!
Dahlicious: Almond yogurts with no added protein and limited added sugars. The Mango flavor contains 1g of saturated fat, 6g of added sugars, and 6g of protein. For a sweetened yogurt treat, this one is a slam dunk.
A yogurt I want to try: Forager Lightly Sweetened with Maple Cashewmilk Yogurt. It contains 1g of saturated fat, 3g of protein, and 7g of added sugars. I have tried their other flavored yogurts in the past and they do have a thinner texture. However, their vanilla yogurt contains more added sugar at 11g! I'm glad they're adding products with less added sugar. This product does contain coconut cream, but likely very little given the low saturated fat content.
The sky's the limit here! Some of my favorites include:
dark chocolate chips
fresh or freeze-dried berries
diced stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, plums, etc.)
Do you have a favorite yogurt brand or topping? Let me know in the comments below!