If you’ve ever hung out with co-workers trying to lose weight, you’ve experienced yogurt at its plainest. But beyond those little plastic cups lies an often overlooked source of protein waiting to fuel your body.
“I think yogurt is a perfect post-workout food,” says Lindsay Langford, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a registered dietitian with St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. And here’s why it tops her list:
- With between 6g and 9g of complete protein per serving, regular yogurt holds its own against other protein sources. For extra muscle power, though, try the thicker Greek yogurt, which can have twice as much protein per serving.
- In addition to having all the essential amino acids, yogurt has both quick-burning whey protein and the more slow-acting casein, a sure-fire win when it comes to muscle recovery.
- Yogurt can also refill your energy stores burned off during that extra mile on the track, with carbohydrates from both the milk sugars and added fruit, plus it has potassium—which will replenish the electorlytes lost to your sweaty jersey.
- And finally, with both calcium and vitamin D, yogurt packs a wallop for your bones.
Now, if your mind draws a blank when faced with the supermarket's endless wall of yogurt, simply stick with the high-protein Greek variety for post-workout snacks, says Langford. Then choose either low-fat or fat-free to limit the extra saturated fat in your diet, and if added sugar’s a concern, buy it plain—and add your own fruit.
Most of all, though, don’t let yogurt’s reputation fool you. As these six easy recipes and snack ideas will prove, it's much more versatile than just a quick snack in a cup. Read on...and power up.
You can’t beat traditional when it comes to yogurt, says Langford. And a yogurt parfait is the perfect way to start your day. In a large glass or cup, simply create alternating layers of 1 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup granola, and some fresh fruit. (Aside from being a good breakfast, it's a killer snack and dessert option, too.)
Yogurt has a great consistency for smoothies, says Langford, and the sky’s the limit here. Blend yogurt with fresh fruit, spinach, or lettuce for a green antioxidant boost, or even mix in some whey protein for extra protein power. And if bananas are your thing, freeze them to throw in your smoothie later—for an even more potent dose of potassium.
Impress your girlfriend the next time she’s over by making this honey mustard yogurt dip, which pairs nicely with everything from carrot sticks to chicken satay. Simply mix 1/4 cup honey mustard with 1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt (optional: 2 tablespoons fresh dill). Or you can even spice up game night with a buffalo yogurt dip for wings—just mix 1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce.
Bored by your grilled chicken breast? To give it a kick, mix up the following marinade in a bowl: 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 crushed garlic clove, and 1 tablespoon cilantro. Place chicken breasts in a covered dish with the marinade, and shake to coat the chicken well, then let it soak up the flavors in the refrigerator for four hours. Grill or broil as usual.
If in doubt, swap it out—yes, plain yogurt can be used to slash the fat and up the nutrition in tons of different recipes. For example, you can use it to replace mayo in chicken or tuna salad, to pinch-hit for heavy cream in your favorite mashed potatoes recipe, or to sub in for oil (at half the volume) when baking brownies or muffins.