Yogurt has become a go-to snack for many people because it contains beneficial probiotics, is a great source of protein and vitamins, is low in sugar, and keeps us full. But can it also help lower your levels of “bad” cholesterol?

Several studies have examined the effect of eating yogurt on cholesterol levels.

A 2013 study linked yogurt consumption to healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In the study, yogurt eaters seemed to have a better metabolic profile than those who didn’t eat yogurt. This means they had lower body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, as well as lower levels of triglycerides, fasting glucose and insulin, and blood pressure. They also showed higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.

Other research has linked yogurt’s ability to lower cholesterol to its probiotic content, such as a British study’s finding that two daily doses of a probiotic lowered key cholesterol-bearing molecules in the blood, as well as levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. The study was not able to determine if the positive effects were due to the probiotics themselves or the yogurt itself, or a combination of both.

Though these findings related to yogurt’s ability to lower cholesterol are by no means definitive, there are no doubt some other health benefits to eating yogurt. It’s a great source of healthy probiotics, vital nutrients and vitamins, and muscle-building protein.

Learn the health benefits of Greek yogurt »

First, though, it’s important to understand the differences in types of yogurt. Some are laden with sugar, and that’s definitely not good for us. While some people insist that full-fat yogurt is best, there are varieties with no fat or 2 percent fat (fat can affect cholesterol levels, too).

A single-serving cup of plain yogurt made with whole milk contains:

  • 104 calories
  • 7.9 grams of sugar
  • 5.5 grams of fat

Throw in some fruit flavors, and you’re looking at:

  • 194 calories
  • 19.4 grams of sugar
  • 5.7 grams of fat

By contrast, the same serving of plain nonfat Greek yogurt contains:

  • 100 calories
  • 5.5 grams of sugar
  • 0.7 grams of fat

Note that the sugar in the plain yogurts comes from lactose, the sugar naturally found in milk. Compare this to the fruit yogurt, which contains around 12 grams of added sugar, excluding natural milk sugar. That is a full 3 teaspoons worth of sugar added to that serving of yogurt! Which yogurt is right for you? Anything that looks too sweet to be true may be more of a dessert treat than a nutritional meal or snack.

According Cleveland Clinic, plain nonfat yogurt is the healthiest choice, whether it is original or Greek style. Greek yogurt does contain more protein, which can keep you feeling fuller for longer, but both types of yogurt have great protein, probiotic, and calcium content.

Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts, on the other hand, tend to include extra calories and often contain more than three times the amount of added sugar as plain varieties.

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Instead of purchasing flavored yogurts that may have excessive sugar added to them, many people have found interesting ways to flavor up plain varieties of yogurt. Add fresh fruit, dried fruit, or a small amount of another sweetener. Even if you add a sugar sweetener, such as honey or agave nectar, you most likely will not add as much as they do when manufacturing the yogurt. There are also yogurt drinks, which are like smoothies, and offer a different way to consume yogurt. Again, pay attention to the sugar content.

Whether yogurt can actually lower cholesterol may not be clear, but yogurt undoubtedly has numerous health benefits.