A new culture of yogurt

You probably don't give much thought to yogurt. It's easy and convenient. Tasty and healthy. But not all yogurt is created equal. And there are considerations beyond taste when choosing which variety to take home.

Spoon for spoon, yogurt is nutritionally dense: it's rich in calcium, protein, B vitamins and potassium. But added sugars can negatively impact your "bottom line" - so look closely at your favorite flavor's label. Sometimes, it pays to go plain.

So what's all the fuss about Greek?

Greek yogurt is the newest product in the dairy aisle. It has more protein and less sugar than most other yogurt. Like its American-style counterpart, is made by fermenting milk with live bacteria cultures. Greek yogurt, however, is strained, removing the liquid whey and giving it a much thicker consistency. Removing the whey also strips some of the sugar, giving it a distinctively tart taste.

The texture and high protein content of Greek yogurt make it an ideal substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise in casseroles, dips and salads. Use it in smoothies, atop potatoes, in a parfait with low-fat granola and berries, and as a substitute for butter or oil when baking cakes, muffins and quick breads. If the Greek doesn't grow on you, plain American-style yogurt also can be used as a substitute in cooking and baking.

Is it really healthy?

It's easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices. Yogurt that tastes like cheesecake? What about the one that helps with digestive issues? Fruit on the bottom or mixed in? Whatever the container of yogurt promises, keep your eyes trained on the nutrition label.

Fat content: Nonfat yogurt has the same nutrients as whole-milk yogurt. Whole-milk yogurt is fine for children younger than 2. For everyone else, from preschoolers to adults, nonfat and low-fat options are preferred.

Calcium: Yogurt that contains 20 percent of your daily recommended dose of calcium is the one you want.

Sugars: Yogurt contains natural sugar. Choose yogurt with a sugar content as low as possible - preferably 12 grams or less per six-ounce serving. Yogurt that contains fruit will contain more sugar. Avoid high fructose corn syrup as well as artificial sweeteners. The experts go back and forth, but some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain, not loss.

What does your gut say?

No yogurt can guarantee any health results, but the live cultures in yogurt have been studied extensively, and researchers agree that active cultures may help reduce the risk of lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

Just a spoonful of … flaxseed or fruit?

To boost the healthful properties of your yogurt, stir in a tablespoon of ground flaxseed for added fiber and omega-3s. Or if sweet is what you crave, instead of buying yogurt with fruit on the bottom, choose plain yogurt and add fresh seasonal fruit.