Waaaay back in the mid-90s, I remember discovering soy based non-dairy yogurt on the shelves of a natural food market. My curiosity was piqued, and I threw a couple in my basket. On peeling back the familiar foil lid, I was met with a funky smell and a strange blobby texture. I bravely tasted a mouthful and was hit with an unusual tart tang followed by a wicked aftertaste (I can still taste it—shudder, shudder). It bore no resemblance to the creamy, sweet yogurt in my lunchbox growing up, and I gave up on the prospect of a decent non-dairy yogurt alternative.
But today, there’s a boom in consumers avoiding dairy for ethical or environmental reasons, or due to an allergy or health concern (or due to over-consumption of hyperbolic Netflix documentaries). The dairy case is overflowing with probiotic-loaded non-dairy yogurt blends made with cultured “milks” from not just soy, but almond, coconut, cashews, oats and more. Even the big dairy companies are jumping on board with their own non-dairy versions, letting me know this trend may be here to stay.
In choosing a non-dairy yogurt, though, it’s important to understand non-dairy varieties are not a simple one-to-one exchange with dairy ones. There are a few features to compare and consider:
Dairy yogurts have earned a reputation as a protein-packed breakfast or snack choice, with a serving of a typical plain dairy yogurt containing around 8-10 grams of protein, and a plain Greek yogurt containing a whopping 15-20 grams of protein per serving. Many of the most popular non-dairy options range between 3-5 grams of protein, with only a few cresting 10 grams. If you’re choosing a low protein option, keep in mind you might add protein-containing toppings, like raw nuts and seeds or nut butters to bring up the protein quotient.
Look for plain varieties with little or no added sugar. We’re not concerned with naturally occuring sugars (as found in fruit), but rather the sugar that is added to the products in one of many forms. Consider the American Heart Association recommendations for daily added sugar maxing out at 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men and 25 grams (6 teaspoons) for women and children. Do you really want to consume a huge wallop of 10 to 20 grams of added sugar in a tiny cup of yogurt?
We expect to see plenty of added sugar in the flavored varieties, but I was surprised to see even some plain varieties of non-dairy yogurts include more than a teaspoon of added sugar per serving. There’s also a misconception that vanilla yogurt is plain. It is not; sugar is frequently used to enhance vanilla flavors.
I am not a fan of calorie counting, and I don’t recommend tracking calories to my clients for many reasons. However, caloric awareness is important in managing weight, and it should be noted that some non-dairy options, especially those with coconut in the base, can be highly calorically dense with up to 400 calories or more per serving as compared with around 150 calories for a standard dairy yogurt. If weight loss or weight management is on your agenda, it’s worth considering calories and serving size in the non-dairy options.
FLAVOR AND TEXTURE
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that some non-dairy yogurts taste like garbage or have terrible texture. Cultured dairy lends itself to a creamy, palatable product, which is not the case for many alternatives, and necessitates added textural elements and flavors. Popular non-dairy brand Ripple faced tremendous backlash last year for releasing a yogurt alternative that was downright offensive, and they swiftly took the product off the market. It may take you some trial and error to find a product that hits the nutrition mark while also tasting good.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITES
This is not a sponsored post, but I’m happy to share a few of my non-dairy alternative yogurt favorites:
My overall choice is Kite Hill Greek-Style Plain and Vanilla Unsweetened. These two almond milk-based varieties contain 11 grams of protein, relatively high for a plant-based option. The ingredient list is reasonable (almond milk + natural thickeners + cultures), and there is no added sugar. The texture is thick and creamy, and there’s no funny aftertaste.
I can also heartily recommend Forager Project Unsweetened Plain Cashewgurt a lower calorie choice with a more liquidy texture. This product doesn’t have much in the way of protein, but it also has zero added sugar. It’s a great base for adding healthful toppings like fruit and protein-packed nuts and seeds.
I’m also a fan of Lavva Original, a product made primarily with coconut and the exotic pili nut creating a velvety and unctuous texture I’ve not found in any other alternative. This product has very little in the way of protein, so I like to spoon a couple tablespoons on oatmeal or fruit along with other toppings.
You can also culture your own at home, which I’ve had varying levels of success with.
I’d love to hear some of your favorites! Please share in the comments.
If you need support in navigating the crowded market of highly marketed plant-based products and “superfoods,” please be in touch to schedule a consult.