Yogurt has been around for centuries and has been consumed by several cultures (pun always intended). It’s a good source of calcium, protein, potassium, and B vitamins and has several health benefits. Yogurt contains probiotics, which may foster bacterial growth in the intestines. In addition, yogurt intake has been linked with reducing the risk of diabetes as well as breast and colon cancer. 1
But what about plant-based yogurt? It may be a great choice if you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or simply don’t like traditional yogurt. Does it stack up to traditional yogurt? Let’s get to the bottom of the cup.
All About that Base: The market for plant-based yogurts has grown quite a bit in the past few years. For the longest time, traditional, blended yogurt or yogurt with fruit on the bottom was the only type available. Now you can find nut-based, soy-based, and oat-based yogurt. Here are a few facts about each type:
Almond-based yogurt is available in unsweetened (plain) and flavored varieties. As it is lactose-free, it’s lower in carbohydrates, which makes it a good choice for individuals limiting carbohydrates. The fat content is higher than low-fat yogurt but it’s low in low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The protein content of almond-based yogurt is low, providing just 3 grams per serving. Similar to other plant-based yogurts, it is fortified with calcium.
Cashew-based yogurt is similar to almond milk yogurt in that it is lower in protein than traditional yogurt and provides more fat. It’s particularly higher in saturated fat than almond-based varieties and provides 3 grams of protein per serving. Plain varieties are very low in added sugar. It may or may not have added calcium, so read the label.
Coconut-based yogurt is another option for those wanting dairy-free yogurt. Because it is coconut-based, the saturated fat is higher than in traditional yogurt and other plant-based options. Flavored varieties can be fairly high in added sugars compared to other types. As far as protein goes, coconut yogurt is pretty disappointing with only 1 gram of protein per serving. One bonus- it has B12 added.
Oatmilk-based yogurt is the newest on the block in the plant-based variety. As the name suggests, it’s derived from oat “milk”. Depending on the brand, oatmilk yogurt may have more or less added sugar than traditional yogurt. The protein content is surprisingly closer to regular yogurt with 6 grams per serving. It does not contain much fiber compared to oats.
Soy-based yogurt is closest to cow’s milk yogurt in terms of protein and B vitamins. Of all the plant-based yogurts, it has the most protein per serving at 7 grams. Like other brands, the plain variety will have the lowest sugar content. Calcium content varies per brand, but most have between 15 to 20% of the Daily Value for calcium.
Probiotic Prowess: One of the main reasons people eat yogurt is for their probiotics. What do plant-based varieties offer? Probiotics are often added to vegan milks through a microencapsulation process. 2 Here’s the run-down:
Almond-based yogurts do contain a variety of probiotics. The following has been found in almond milk yogurt: L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, and B. bifidum.
Cashew-based yogurt contains probiotics as well. One brand (Forager) boasts 5 active cultures, including L. plantarum LM, L. acidophilus, B. bifidum, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, and L. delbruekii LE.
Some brands of coconut yogurt including Cocojune are fortified with vegan probiotic cultures such as Bifidobacterium Anim. S. Lactis Bb-12, Lactobacillus Acidophilus La-5, Lactobacillus Paracasei Crl 431 Lactobacillus Del. S. Bulgaricus, and Streptococcus Thermophilus. It’s best to read the label. 3
Most brands of oat milk-based yogurt also contain probiotics including S. Thermophilus and L. Bulgaricus
Soy-based yogurt's probiotics will vary by brand. Some of the more commonly seen probiotics include L. acidophilus, B. lactis, L. casei, L. rhamnosus, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus.
What to consider when buying plant-based yogurt:
- Allergens- individuals with nut or soy allergies should go for coconut or oat-milk based yogurts.
- Sugar content- Plain yogurt will have the least added sugar. Look for yogurt with 6 grams of added sugar or less per serving in flavored varieties.
- Protein- Aim for a minimum of 5 grams or more per serving. Add protein powder, nuts or seeds to increase protein.
- Calcium- Ideally there should be 180 mg or more per serving. Be sure to get calcium in your other meals or snacks to meet the DRI.
- Probiotics- Read the label for added probiotics. Avoid heat-treated varieties as this kills off bacteria to extend shelf life.
- Cost! Being the newbies on the block, these plant-based yogurts tend to be much pricier than traditional or Greek yogurts. Go with what fits your budget.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
New Handout: Plant-Based Yogurt Handout
- Savaiano DA, Hutkins RW. Yogurt, cultured fermented milk, and health: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2021 Apr 7;79(5):599-614. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa013. PMID: 32447398; PMCID: PMC8579104.
- Angélica Andrade Lopes L, de Siqueira Ferraz Carvalho R, Stela Santos Magalhães N, Suely Madruga M, Julia Alves Aguiar Athayde A, Araújo Portela I, Eduardo Barão C, Colombo Pimentel T, Magnani M, Christina Montenegro Stamford T. Microencapsulation of Lactobacillus acidophilus La-05 and incorporation in vegan milks: Physicochemical characteristics and survival during storage, exposure to stress conditions, and simulated gastrointestinal digestion. Food Res Int. 2020 Sep;135:109295. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109295. Epub 2020 May 7. PMID: 32527486.
- Does Vegan (Dairy-Free) Yogurt Have Probiotics? - Vegans First
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/