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The Truth about Greek Yogurt
History and details about GREEK YOGURT

Yogurt cup with passionfruit and rhubarb

The story of yogurt is at the same time simple and straightforward but also complicated and perplexing.
This situation has developed as industrial food processing has taken over from simple centuries old traditional methods. Yogurt, like many essential foods known for the health benefits they offer, has been transformed in many ways to make it easy to mass-produce, cheap, increase its shelf life and maximize the profits of the producers. Beforediscussing what makes yogurt special and what to look for in choosing this food in a form that preserves these benefits, it is worth reviewing some essential nutritional information that deals with myths and half-truths as well as outright distortions that have crept into “official” and conventional wisdom regarding our food.

FIVE excellent books, listed below, review the data compiled over the last 40 years on the role of food in health and disease. These authors took years to analyze data that has formed the basis of “nutritional guidelines” promoted by government agencies, primarily in the US, and actively lobbied for by large, multinational food companies. The authors are not faddists or pushers of miracle cures but rather serious scientists and culinary professionals speaking openly about issues that the scientific community in general, and our government has chosen to disregard or sweep under the rug.

The Culinary Imagination: from Myth to Modernity, Sandra M Gilbert

The Shape We’re In: How junk food and diets are shortening our lives, Sarah Boseley

The Big Fat Surprise: Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet, Nina Teicholz

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon & Mary G. Enig, PhD (of the Westin A. Price Foundation)

The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz (James Beard Foundation & IACP award winner + foreward by Michael Pollin)

On to yogurt: In the late 19th century the medical profession took note of the fact that certain populations were characterized by exceedingly long lifespans. Not surprisingly diet was one of the aspects that were investigated in order to explain this longevity. Among these groups where Bulgarians and Greeks especially those living in mountainous areas as well as Georgians living on the slopes of Mount Caucasus. These groups maintained herds of sheep and goats and were avid consumers of cheese and yogurt. These observations lead to the initial reports of yogurt as a superfood and the legend got started. The nutritional properties of yogurt were studied and in addition to the known benefits of milk itself the fact that yogurt was a fermented product, containing the culture (probiotic) that brought about the fermentation, was recognized as a key factor in its nutritional value.
At this point it should be noted that the original yogurt produced in traditional ways was made with milk that came from grass grazing animals that were pastured and rarely fed any grains. Recent studies have documented the nutritional advantages of this milk including the high content of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) an important essential fatty acid. For a detailed discussion of these benefits see:

Benefits of milk from grass fed dairy herds, see:

Most Greek yogurt is made with sheep’s milk because until recently the predominant dairy animals in Greece where sheep and goats. The traditional yogurt that comes in shallow clay pots is made with sheep’s milk without draining any of the whey or skimming any of the butterfat. This milk contains about twice as many solids as cows milk which makes the yogurt thick and creamy. To make it even creamier and thicker the yogurt is occasionally drained in cheese-cloth bags which removes the whey and makes the yogurt almost as thick as traditional cream cheese.

In the 1960s in Greece as well as the rest of the developed world the dairy industry began consolidating. Yogurt that was exclusively made by small dairies all over the country turned into a “food industry” product. They new, industrialized dairy farming made it more profitable to switch from sheep and goats to cows and to raise these cows in stables rather than free range pastures. The grander scale and high yield requirements also dictated feeding the animals industrial products based on grains and soya beans. The Greeks had been used in nice thick yogurt so something had to be done to thicken the watery cows milk product. Food technology had the answer in the newly developed semipermeable membranes which allowed the quick removal of whey by diffusion, thickening the yogurt in the process.

To summarize, the real Greek yogurt consists of nothing but milk and culture. It contains all of the whey that came with the milk. It should be noted that the whey contains most of the minerals and other trace elements of great value. It also contains all of the butterfat in the original milk including the highly desirable essential fatty acid CLA.

The products that carry the label “Greek Yogurt” now available in North America and Europe almost always are drained of the whey and to increase creaminess various thickeners are added. These include powdered milk, euphemistically called milk protein, pectin, gelatin and gums. Below is the ingredients list from a very popular brand Chobani:

Lowfat Yogurt (Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, Cream, Live and Active Cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei), Evaporated Cane Juice, Strawberries, Bananas, Pectin, Natural Flavor, Locust Bean Gum, Fruit and Vegetable Juice Concentrate (for Color).

As you can see from above the product can be loaded with sugar and various other superfluous substances.

There is also a serious question about the value of cultures that have been added to the so-called yogurt as “probiotic additives” rather than having proliferated by digesting the lactose and turning the milk into yogurt in the natural manner. HowYogurt +fruit 1 well these are absorbed and how effective they are remains questionable.

For someone seeking the benefits of natural, traditional, real yogurt the best choice is to look for a product made by a small dairy, using milk from grass fed cattle, which has simply been cultured without the addition of any other substance and with the full content of whey found in the original milk.

Note from Donna: You are more likely to find this type of product in a health food type grocery store than your average Ralph’s, Albertson’s or Walmart. It will also be more costly due to it’s higher quality of ingredients and length of time to produce. Inquire with manufacturers online if you have questions about ingredients and where they are sourced from. I happen to like Straus Family Creamery products in California. Their Greek yogurt is to die for!!!!!  Try it in my yogurt parfait recipes attached below. 

HD Yogurt Parfait I

HD Yogurt Parfait II



From (Health Coach)Zoe Ramdin’s Friend who lives in Greece and edited/added to by Donna Wolf RDN, CLT




  1. Aug 28, 2014
    9:23 pm

    Dina Martinez

    I use Fage Greek yogurt that is readily available in many food stores. The ingredients are only milk or skim milk and live active yogurt cultures. I don’t know if these cultures are an integral part of the yogurt making process or are added afterward, but at least there are no extraneous ingredients. Most of the time now I just add it to the greens and fruit smoothie I make almost daily.

    • Sep 29, 2014
      3:12 pm

      Donna Wolf

      Thanks for the review, This is info that can help us all.Keep eating healthy & READING labels!

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