Most yogurts are slow digesting, particularly if they are high in fat and protein, low in added sugars, and contain fiber.
However, the nutrient profile of yogurts varies widely depending on the brand and flavor, so figuring out whether or not yogurt is fast digesting can be a challenge if you don’t know what to look for.
As a dietitian, I aim to teach people how to distinguish faster-digesting yogurts from slower-digesting ones, so that they can make informed choices to support their training.
- Dairy yogurts (Greek and Icelandic) are higher in protein than non-dairy yogurts (soy, almond, coconut, and oat), which makes them slower to digest.
- Yogurts typically digest within 1-3 hours, depending on their nutrient profile. If you are lactose intolerant, you might find that dairy yogurts take longer to digest than non-dairy yogurts (lactose intolerance varies between people).
- Flavored yogurts will digest faster than unflavored yogurts regardless of the type of yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) because of the added sugars.
Understanding The Glycemic Index
The nutrient composition of yogurt (the number of carbs, protein, and fat) will impact how quickly it digests and how it impacts your blood sugar.
To categorize foods based on their rate of digestion and impact on blood sugar, we use the Glycemic Index, which scores foods on a scale of 0 to 100 based on how much they raise blood sugar levels.
Higher GI scores indicate a rapid spike in blood sugars and lower GI scores indicate a steady increase in blood sugars.
Foods with a low GI (1-55) and medium GI (56-69) are slower-digesting because they take longer to break down and absorb, whereas foods with a high GI (70-100) are faster-digesting because they break down and absorb more quickly.
While the GI rating is important, there are also other factors that impact the rate of digestion which I’ll discuss next.
Is Yogurt A Quick Digesting Protein?
Most yogurts are slow digesting, with the majority having a GI between 11-55 according to the International tables of glycemic index values. Yogurt is typically slower digesting because it contains a mix of carbs, fats, and protein, and protein and fat are slower digesting nutrients than carbs.
Yogurt typically digests within 1-3 hours, but there is variation in the GI rating (and the digestion rate) based on which type of yogurt you eat and how you eat it.
The rate of digestion will change between dairy yogurt, dairy-free yogurt, fat-free yogurt (0%), high protein yogurt (i.e. Greek), or if it’s accompanied by other foods.
For example, if you have 0% fat Greek yogurt, this will digest faster than 5% fat Greek yogurt. This is because fat is slower to digest so the yogurt with the higher fat content will have a slower rate of digestion.
The rate of digestion will also change if you pair yogurt with other foods. If you have 0% fat Greek yogurt mixed in with a bowl of oatmeal, granola, and nuts, then this will digest slower than if you eat the same yogurt on its own.
This is because granola, oatmeal, and nuts contain other nutrients (fiber, protein, starch, and fat) which slow down the digestion of the meal.
It is also important to consider that many yogurts can be low in protein and fat, but high in added sugar. If you’re reaching for regular yogurt (not Greek or Icelandic) that is packed with fruit compote or flavored with added sugars then it will be faster to digest.
For example, if you opt for a fat-free fruit-flavored regular yogurt, it will digest quicker than a fat-free unflavored yogurt because it contains more sugar. In this case, the high sugar content is what makes the yogurt digest quicker.
In fact, when looking at the International tables of glycemic index values, the GI of a black cherry yogurt is ranked at 67 (medium GI), which comes close to a high GI rating (70).
- Related article: What Are Fast Digesting Foods? 10 Examples & When to Eat
Types of Yogurt And Their Rate Of Digestion
It is difficult to classify yogurts based on their digestion rate because there are lots of varieties and brands containing a mix of nutrients.
“Many forms of yogurt can be found including plain yogurt, fruit flavored yogurt (including fruit-on-the-bottom and blended forms), whipped yogurt, granola-topped yogurt, drinkable yogurt, frozen yogurt, and Greek yogurt with varying fat contents (regular, low fat, and nonfat)”Kayanush J. Aryana – Journal of Dairy Science
As there are many different types of yogurt on the market, my advice would be to rank them based on their macronutrient content, because we know that higher protein, fat, and fiber content slows digestion.
So if you want a faster-digesting yogurt, opt for low-fat, low-protein, and higher-carb (sugar) varieties.
If you want a slower digesting option, then opt for higher fat and protein yogurt, and if possible, with some fiber too.
Here’s an overview of some of the most popular dairy and dairy-free yogurts to help guide you.
Dairy yogurt is made from milk and live cultures. The two primary protein types found in milk are casein and whey, with whey being a faster-digesting protein compared to casein.
Milk protein is considered a complete protein because it contains many essential amino acids. This means it has all the amino acids your body needs to put toward muscle growth and repair.
- Plain Greek and Icelandic yogurts are both very similar. They have a thicker consistency than regular yogurt. They are high in protein (~ 10g per 100g) with lower sugar (naturally occurring) contents, and can have varying fat contents (0%, 2%, or 5% of fat).
They also come in flavored forms, with these varieties having more sugar. Some examples include Fage or Isey Skyr yogurts.
- Regular yogurt has a smooth consistency, and can also be found as drinkable yogurt. It is low in protein (4-5g per 100g) and can have varying sugar and fat contents.
Plain/unflavoured forms contain less added sugar than fruity/sweetened forms. An example is Yeo Valley mango (regular) yogurt.
Related article: Which Yogurt Has The Most Protein? (Check out our list of 30 different brands)
Non-dairy yogurt is made from plant sources.
Plant protein is considered an incomplete protein because it contains fewer essential amino acids so it does not contain all the amino acids your body needs to use the protein optimally.
However, it does contain a higher amount of fiber which most dairy yogurts do not contain.
- Soya yogurts, made from soybeans and sometimes mixed with pea protein, are the only dairy alternative with higher protein contents (4-6g per 100g). Carbs and fats in this type of yogurt are also lower than in other plant-based forms.
Think Alpro Greek Style or Silk soya yogurts.
- Coconut varieties, made primarily with coconut milk and coconut cream, are low in protein (2g per 100g) and can have varying contents of fat and sugar. Pay particular attention to the saturated fat content, as this can be quite high (~10g per 100g).
Examples include SoDelicious or Coconut Collab coconut yogurts.
- Almond-based yogurts, mostly made from almond milk and almond butter, are generally low in protein (2-3g per 100g), with varying fat and sugar contents and some fiber (~3g per 100g).
Some can be low in sugar too, for example, Ayo and Silk almond yogurts.
- Oat yogurts, made from oats and oat milk, can be high in fat (10g per 100g) and sugar (9g per 100g), and low in protein (1-3g per 100g).
An example is Oatly yogurt, which also has a Greek-style version with less sugar (4g per 100g).
Does Dairy Or Non-Dairy Yogurt Digest Faster?
Regardless of whether yogurt is made from dairy products or not, if it is fat-free, low in fiber and protein, and high in sugar, then it will digest faster.
Regular dairy yogurt and non-dairy yogurts are similar, so they will digest at similar rates.
However, higher protein varieties of dairy and non-dairy yogurts will be different because Greek and Icelandic yogurt has more protein per serving than soya (the highest protein dairy-free option) so high protein dairy yogurt will digest more slowly than non-dairy high protein yogurt.
Another important aspect to consider is how well people can digest dairy products. Nowadays it is very common for people to have difficulty digesting dairy because of lactose intolerance, which affects around 65-70% of the world’s adult population.
Lactose is found in dairy products and those who are intolerant to it find it hard to digest dairy products because they lack or have low levels of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is critical for breaking down sugar (lactose) found in milk, and consequently in dairy yogurts.
This means that dairy products would have a slower rate of digestion for those with a lactose sensitivity than someone without a lactose sensitivity. Those who struggle to digest lactose should switch to non-dairy yogurt options to avoid digestive distress and speed up digestion.
- Check out our complete list of the fastest-digesting carbs.
Benefits Of Eating A Slow Digesting Protein Like Yogurt
Some yogurts (like Greek yogurt) contain probiotics, as well as vitamins and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, all of which keep your gut and bones healthy.
Probiotics, which include living organisms called Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (often referred to as “good” bacteria), balance the bacteria in your gut by increasing its diversity, leading to better overall health.
So when you read the labels, make sure you see the “Live & Active Cultures Seal” to get the highest-quality yogurt with more nutritional benefits.
2. It Can Be Filling
Yogurt can keep you full for longer periods of time, especially if you’re choosing higher-protein yogurt.
This can be extremely helpful when you’re going long periods without eating, or if you’re trying to lose weight.
Go for Greek, Icelandic, or Soya yogurt which will keep you full the longest because of their slower digestion and protein’s ability to suppress hunger hormones.
Drawbacks of Eating A Slow Digesting Protein Like Yogurt
1. Not A Fast Energy Source
One potential drawback to having yogurt is that it does not provide you with fast-acting energy like a faster-digesting food such as a ripe banana.
If you are feeling low on energy and need a quick boost right before exercise, then you shouldn’t reach for a yogurt.
2. It Can Contain Lots Of Fat And Added Sugar
Some varieties can be high in fat and added sugar, depending on the type of yogurt you reach for, which can increase your calorie intake.
Yogurts with whole-fat dairy (4%) that contain added sugar will be the most calorie dense.
These high-fat/high-sugar varieties might not be the best option if you are trying to lose weight, so it is important to read your yogurt label to ensure it aligns with your goal.
When Should You Eat Yogurt?
Although you could really eat yogurt at any time, there are certain situations when opting for yogurt is more advantageous.
- If it’s fat-free and eaten on its own, reach for a yogurt 60-90 minutes before a workout. However, if you only have 15-30 minutes before your workout, reach for a ripe banana instead.
- If it contains fat, and you want to pair it with other foods (i.e. fruit and granola), 3 hours before exercise is best, as this time frame allows it to digest fully before your workout.
- After a workout, a high-protein yogurt can support muscle recovery. Pair it with a carb source such as oatmeal, it can be an optimal post-workout recovery meal to replenish your glycogen (energy) stores.
- As a nutritious snack in between meals. You can add fruit or nuts to the plain/natural forms to make the snack more satisfying and keep you full for longer.
How To Make Yogurt Digest Faster or Slower
1. Check The Nutrition Label
If you want the yogurt to digest faster, ensure you opt for a brand that is 0% fat (or close to this), and lower in protein with added sugars, such as regular cherry yogurt.
If you want the yogurt to digest slower, opt for a brand that contains more protein, fat, and fiber, such as plain Greek yogurt or almond yogurt.
2. Have It On Its Own
If you want the yogurt to digest faster, choose to have yogurt by itself rather than paired with other foods as the less overall volume will help speed up digestion and reduce your intake of other macronutrients (fat, protein, fiber).
3. Have It With Other Foods
Adding yogurt with other foods can make it digest slower by increasing the volume of food you have to digest and increasing the number of macronutrients that you’ll have to break down.
I suggest adding yogurt to smoothies or oatmeal or making a Greek yogurt parfait with nuts and fruit.
About The Author
Giulia Rossetto is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist.
She holds a Masters in Human Nutrition (University of Sheffield, UK) and more recently graduated as a Dietitian (University of Malta).
Giulia aims to translate evidence-based science to the public through teaching and writing content. She has worked 4+ years in clinical settings and has also published articles in academic journals.
She is into running, swimming and weight lifting, and enjoys spending time in the mountains (she has a soft spot for hiking and skiing in the Italian Dolomites).