I Just Found Out Yogurt Might Not Actually Be Vegetarian
Yogurt is typically made from dairy or dairy alternatives, and to my knowledge there's no meat inside (after all, I can't taste it, smell it or see it listed as an ingredient on the label). So I've always just lumped yogurt into the "vegetarian" lifestyle category as a meatless source of satiating protein, bone-building calcium and delicious flavor.
Yet, I was browsing the Internet to look up interesting food facts (yes, that's quite fun for me!), and I stumbled upon one surprising fact that shook me a bit. Yogurt may contain meat and not be vegetarian, based on the type and brand. Jaw drop.
Why Isn't Yogurt Always Vegetarian?
Recipe pictured above: Homemade Plain Yogurt
"A few yogurt brands use gelatin to prevent the yogurt from separating and to maintain the creamy texture throughout the shelf life," says Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CPT. And what's gelatin? It's produced by the partial breakdown of protein collagen extracted from animal tissue, such as skin and bone. It typically comes from cows (bovine) or pigs, sometimes from fish. It's colorless and flavorless, and becomes gel-like when moist. So, you might not realize it's in there, but it could be! And in some yogurts, it is.
Martin says, "This may have to do with the straining process used to make Greek yogurt, which yields a thicker and creamier product, no gelatin necessary."
The only non-vegetarian additive in yogurt is gelatin, as for what we know today. "There's no actual meat in the yogurt, but the gelatin is derived from animals," she explains, which can be considered to not be vegetarian, depending on how strictly you follow a vegetarian diet. Look for the word "gelatin," typically "kosher gelatin," on the ingredient label to know.
Gelatin is also found in gelatin (like Jell-O), some gummy candies and marshmallows.
How to Be Safe
For starters, gelatin is likely safe for most people and may even provide health benefits, like supporting gut health, says Martin. So, don't be scared to eat a yogurt that has it if you include meat in your diet.
"However, if you follow a vegetarian diet, you'd want to avoid gelatin-containing yogurts. Instead, opt for yogurts that typically don't contain gelatin, like Greek yogurt," she says. Or, look for regular yogurts that use pectin, a plant-based gelling agent that improves texture, she recommends.
The biggest solution? "I typically recommend sticking with plain Greek yogurt, which typically has more protein than regular yogurt and doesn't have the added sugars that flavored yogurts do," she says. So, this could be healthier for you and guarantee you're getting a vegetarian product!