Plain cow's-milk yogurt provides nutrients that promote heart and digestive health, has no added sugar and punches up recipes with its tangy taste. Learn about its health benefits, how to use it in recipes and more.
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Navigating the yogurt aisle may be one of the most challenging tasks during your grocery trip. With a wide selection of yogurt varieties to choose from—Greek, kefir, goat-milk, skyr, nondairy and more, it can be a head-scratcher to suss out what the differences are and choose the one that suits you best. The truth is that different types of yogurts offer varying tastes and nutritional profiles.

But with so many types of yogurt available, don't forget about the original: plain yogurt made from cow's milk. But is plain cow's-milk yogurt actually good for you? Read on for all the details on its health perks.

A spoon full of yogurt on a purple background
Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Knowles

Plain Yogurt Nutrition

The USDA's MyPlate dietary guidelines recommend that adults include 3 cups of dairy products, such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, as part of a nutritious daily diet. The nutritional makeup of plain yogurt can vary, depending on the amount of milk fat present.

Here's the nutrition for 1 cup of plain, fat-free (or nonfat) yogurt:

  • 137 calories
  • 14 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 19 g carbs
  • 0 g fiber
  • 19 g sugars
  • 488 mg calcium (38% Daily Value)
  • 385 mcg phosphorus (30% DV)
  • 625 mg potassium (13% DV)
  • 2 mg zinc (18% DV)
  • 1.5 mcg vitamin B12 (63% DV)
  • 3 mcg vitamin D (15% DV)

This is the nutrition for 1 cup of plain, low-fat yogurt:

  • 154 calories
  • 13 g protein
  • 4 g fat
  • 17 g carbs
  • 0 g fiber
  • 17 g sugars
  • 448 mg calcium (34% Daily Value)
  • 353 mcg phosphorus (28% DV)
  • 573 mg potassium (12% DV)
  • 2 mg zinc (18% DV)
  • 1.4 mcg vitamin B12 (58% DV)
  • 3 mcg vitamin D (15% DV)

And finally, this is the nutrition for 1 cup of plain, whole-milk yogurt:

  • 149 calories
  • 9 g protein
  • 8 g fat
  • 11 g carbs
  • 0 g fiber
  • 11 g sugars
  • 296 mg calcium (23% Daily Value)
  • 233 mcg phosphorus (19% DV)
  • 380 mg potassium (8% DV)
  • 1.5 mg zinc (14% DV)
  • 1 mcg vitamin B12 (42% DV)
  • 3 mcg vitamin D (15% DV)

Plain Yogurt's Nutritional Benefits

Yogurt is one of the most nutritious whole foods, offering many essential vitamins and minerals. Here's a look at all the health perks it provides:

1. Offers an excellent source of calcium

Like milk and cheese, yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, providing about one-quarter to one-third of your daily recommended calcium intake per cup. Calcium is an essential mineral for keeping your bones and teeth strong, supporting the proper release of hormones and helping with blood clotting, nerve transmission and more.

2. Packs bone-protecting phosphorus

Phosphorus is another crucial nutrient in yogurt and other dairy products. It plays an important role in energy production and storage. You can find phosphorus in every body cell, but most of it is found in your bones and teeth.

3. Maintains energy levels with B12

You can also find vitamin B12 in yogurt; it's a nutrient found naturally only in animal products, although plant-based products may be fortified with this nutrient. This B vitamin supports making red blood cells, nerves and the genetic material, or DNA. Eating enough vitamin B12 can also help prevent anemia, a condition that makes you feel weak, tired and irritable. The good news is that yogurt provides around half of your daily recommended intake of B12, depending on the fat variety.

4. Delivers vitamin B2

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is another vitamin B nutrient you can find in yogurt. This essential nutrient is responsible for cell growth and development, and it also helps your body get energy from the protein you eat. You'll find about half of your daily need for this vitamin in a cup of nonfat plain yogurt.

5. Supports immunity with zinc

You can also find zinc in yogurt, a vital nutrient for growth and development for all ages. More importantly, this mineral plays a crucial role bolstering the immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses and supporting wound healing.

6. Provides blood-pressure-friendly potassium

Potassium is an abundant mineral in many foods, and yogurt is no exception. While the amount present in yogurt is not as high as other minerals such as phosphorus, potassium is a vital nutrient that supports the bones, muscle, kidney and nerve functions and encourages your body to flush out sodium to keep blood pressure in check.

7. Supplies a good amount of the sunshine vitamin

You will also find some vitamin D in yogurt, added through fortification. Vitamin D works alongside calcium to build and maintain bones and teeth and to help prevent osteoporosis. Moreover, this fat-soluble vitamin supports the immune system and helps with ensuring the nerves and muscles work properly.

8. Contains muscle-building protein

Yogurt is also packed with protein, an essential nutrient needed for growth, maintenance and repair of muscles. Depending on the fat variety of the yogurt, the protein ranges from 9 to 14 grams per cup. The presence of protein in yogurt makes it ideal to combine with other nutritious foods to curb your hunger (think fruit and nuts) and tide you over for the next meal.

Potential Health Benefits of Yogurt

In addition to the many nutrients present, yogurt may also offer potential health benefits.

May improve digestive health

Yogurt, a cultured product, is made with bacteria strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium sp., added to milk during the fermenting process. Hence, yogurt is widely known for being a source of probiotics, which are live bacteria that can help keep the digestive system, especially the large intestine, healthy.

For example, when you are unwell, you may take antibiotics, which may wipe out both the good and bad bacteria in the gut. Eating foods with probiotics, such as yogurt, helps restore the good bacteria.

Consuming probiotics regularly may also balance the number of good and bad bacteria present in the gut and improve symptoms related to irritable bowel disease (IBS) and ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Both conditions change the frequency of bowel movements, ranging from constipation to diarrhea.

The type and quantity of probiotics matter because not all yogurt is created equal. Under the current FDA food labeling regulations, it is optional for yogurt producers to state the amount of bacteria present and whether the bacterial strain is live or not. The rules are set to change in 2024 to clarify labeling for consumers. Until then, you can read the ingredients list to find out the type of bacterial culture included in your favorite variety.

May support heart health

Regular yogurt consumption may also support a healthy heart. One study in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that eating fermented dairy products like yogurt may reduce the risk of heart disease by 27% compared to eating non-fermented dairy products, which may increase one's risk of heart disease by 52% (likely due to the saturated fat content—overconsumption of which can harm the cardiovascular system over time). The same research noted that consuming reduced-fat fermented dairy products may also lower the risk of heart disease.

May benefit those who are lactose-intolerant

If you have lactose intolerance, your body has a reduced ability or an inability to digest the milk sugar called lactose that's present in dairy products. Because of that, you may stay away from all dairy to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of gas, bloating and diarrhea.

However, you may still be able to consume yogurt. A recent study published in Food Science & Nutrition noted that consuming yogurt with beneficial bacteria strains may reduce the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. This could be due to the yogurt helping to improve the gut flora to support a healthier microbiome.

How to Enjoy Plain Yogurt

With so many varieties of yogurt to choose from, plain yogurt may not be your first choice. Still, you may be surprised to learn that you can enjoy plain yogurt in many ways, aside from eating it as is.

Plain yogurt does not have added sugar and sweeteners, making it a perfect all-purpose ingredient to use as a marinade; this Spicy Yogurt Chicken recipe is a perfect example. You can also add a finishing touch to dishes using plain yogurt. Mixing a spoonful of plain yogurt into Garden Fresh Asparagus Soup or One-Skillet Salmon with Fennel & Sun-Dried Tomato Couscous adds a pleasingly smooth texture to the dish.

Using plain yogurt in recipes can also unleash your culinary creativity. Bump up the protein in smoothies and fruit compotes with plain yogurt, or use it as a replacement for condiments such as sour cream and mayonnaise. And, who needs yogurt with added sugar and sweeteners when you can sweeten it naturally with your favorite fruits?

Bottom line: Is plain yogurt good for you?

Plain cow's-milk yogurt is full of nutrients; its natural flavor and wholesomeness make it a well-rounded food to include as part of a healthful diet. Check out these Healthy Yogurt Recipes, such as Carrot Cake Muffins, Salmon-Stuffed Avocados and Pineapple Green Smoothie, for meal ideas and inspirations.