Greek Yogurt, Plant Sterols, Calories in Vitamins

Q: How does Greek yogurt compare to regular yogurt in terms of nutrition?
Q: What are the “sterols” and “stanols” that I now see added to foods?
Q: Do vitamins have calories?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How does Greek yogurt compare to regular yogurt in terms of nutrition?
A: Greek yogurt is much thicker than regular yogurt because a lot of the liquid whey is strained out. It doesn’t need the pectin or other thickeners found in many yogurts. Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, with 8 ounces of the nonfat version supplying about 20 grams of protein – nearly double the protein content of traditional yogurt. It’s also lower in carbohydrates, which means even less lactose for lactose-intolerant people. Do note, however that Greek yogurt is substantially lower in calcium than regular varieties (about 150 milligrams (mg) of calcium per 8 ounces versus the 300 to 450 mg in plain regular yogurt). Some brands may contain more, so be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label. One more caution: fat and calories are also more concentrated – particularly in full-fat varieties. Eight ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt contain about 125 calories (similar to regular nonfat plain yogurt), but the same portion of the whole milk version contains about 300 calories and more than 20 grams of fat. Fortunately, the characteristic thick creaminess of Greek yogurt is present even in the nonfat form. While Greek yogurt is traditionally unsweetened, some flavored versions are now appearing in the U.S.

Q: What are the “sterols” and “stanols” that I now see added to foods?
A: Sterols and stanols are natural compounds that block absorption of cholesterol from the intestinal tract. Studies show that 2 grams ingested daily can reduce LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by about 10 percent. Levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides are not affected. Sterols and stanols occur naturally in some plant foods (peanuts, for example), but in amounts far below the fortified foods that have proven successful in cholesterol-lowering studies. More concentrated amounts are available in special brands of margarine, juice, salad dressing, cereal and yogurt. Reaching the recommended 2 grams a day may require two or three standard servings of these fortified foods. These products can be expensive, so people with high cholesterol may want to try other dietary interventions first, like reducing saturated and trans fats. If you do choose to add products with added stanols or sterols to your diet, remember to cut back on something else to make up for the 100 to 220 extra calories you’ll get daily.

Q: Do vitamins have calories?
A: No. A vitamin is a compound that our bodies need to complete the multitude of physiological reactions that occur internally each day. Vitamins help us process calories from our food, but they do not contain calories themselves and do not affect weight control. Of course, the foods and beverages that supply our vitamins do contain calories. Still, it’s best to meet as much of our vitamin needs as possible through foods as opposed to supplements. Foods naturally supply optimal combinations and proportions of the various vitamins. In addition, eating a variety of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts ensures that we also receive a wide range of natural substances called phytochemicals. Although they are not vitamins, these substances have been shown to provide many health benefits, including the potential to help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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