In a nutritional comparison of plant-based and dairy yogurts, almond milk yogurt has emerged as the most nutrient-dense option, according to research led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst food science major, Astrid D’Andrea.
The findings were published in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
The study analyzed the nutritional information for 612 yogurt products, launched between 2016 and 2021, using the Mintel Global New Products Database.
The dataset included full-fat dairy, low- and nonfat dairy, and plant-based yogurts made from coconut, almond, cashew, and oat.
To measure the nutritional value of each yogurt, the research team employed the Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) Index, a scoring system that rates foods based on nutrient density.
The NRF Index takes into account the presence of “nutrients to encourage” like protein, fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamin D, and “nutrients to limit,” including saturated fat, total sugar, and sodium.
The researchers discovered that while plant-based yogurts typically contain less total sugar, less sodium, and more fiber than dairy yogurt, they generally offer less protein, calcium, and potassium.
However, when considering the overall nutrient density, almond milk yogurt proved superior to both dairy yogurt and all other plant-based alternatives.
The low levels of total sugar, sodium, and saturated fat contributed significantly to the high scores of almond and oat yogurts.
Based on the NRF Index, the yogurts were ranked from highest to lowest nutrient density: almond, oat, low- and nonfat dairy, full-fat dairy, cashew, and coconut.
Implications and Future Directions
The study’s results could serve as a guide for the food industry in its quest to improve the formulation and nutritional composition of plant-based yogurts.
The researchers suggest creating a hybrid yogurt – both plant- and dairy-based – that could increase protein, vitamin B12, and calcium content while reducing total sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.
A recent study from the same lab led by visiting researcher Maija Greis found that consumers preferred a blended yogurt over a wholly plant-based one, further underscoring the potential of this approach.
Senior author Alissa Nolden, a sensory scientist and assistant professor of food science, remarked, “If we can blend plant-based and dairy yogurt, we can achieve a desirable sensory profile, a potentially better nutritional profile, and have a smaller impact on the environment.”
The UMass Amherst team calls for further research into the concept of blended yogurts, based on their promising findings.
If you care about liver health, please read studies about dairy foods linked to liver cancer, and coffee drinkers may halve their risk of liver cancer.
For more information about health, please see recent studies that an anti-inflammatory diet could help prevent fatty liver disease, and results showing vitamin D could help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The study was published in Frontiers in Nutrition.
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