06/05/2014 09:09 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Sugar Myth Busters: 5 Reasons Not to Sour on Yogurt

As a registered dietitian, I'm all for people reading labels and learning more about nutrition. I'm also really careful to make sure my clients know how to read the full label and don't just focus on one ingredient. I believe in looking at the big picture of the foods you choose. That's why when we zero in on one ingredient, sometimes we don't get the full picture.

Take for example fat. A little fat in your diet is actually good for you and I love to cook with ingredients like avocados which are full of good fat and potassium. But if we remember the low-fat, no-fat diet craze of the 90s, we'll also remember the introduction of a lot of processed foods that offered NO FAT -- and a whole lot of chemicals in its place.

Same goes for sugar. We're getting wiser as consumers and looking out for sugar is great. But when we only look at the sugar points on a cup of yogurt for example, we might mistakenly think that sugar is comparable to a cookie, candy bar or even a Twinkie. And that's simply not the case because much of the sugar in yogurt is naturally occurring because of the lactose and fruit ingredients.

So, here are my top five reasons you shouldn't ditch yogurt and grab a Twinkie instead:

  • Protein -- More than just a buzzword for dieters, protein is a critical part of any healthy diet. It's a basic building block of our bodies. And, when paired with sugar, protein can help the body digest sugar more slowly, inhibiting the harmful sugar spikes you'd get from a soda, candy or Twinkie, for that matter.
  • Calcium -- Remember hearing as kid that you should drink milk for strong bones? The same is true of yogurt, in particular yogurt with added vitamin D that helps boost calcium's effects on your bones no matter your age.
  • Potassium -- How often do you think about how much potassium you're getting in your diet? As a yogurt eater, you won't have to worry about it. Yogurt provides a source of potassium we all need for nutritional balance -- especially when it comes to balancing our intake of sodium.
  • Live Active Cultures -- Depending on the kinds of cultures in any given yogurt, you may see a number of health benefits. But across yogurts, the presence of these cultures is what makes yogurt easier to digest for most than a simple glass of milk. This is especially important for people who are lactose intolerant and need ways to add protein, calcium and potassium to their diets.
  • Naturally Occurring vs. Added Sugar -- Look at the nutrition label on your next cup of yogurt. While sugar is listed only once, if it's anything other than plain yogurt, you're seeing the measurement of two kinds of sugar -- naturally occurring and added. In most yogurts, about half of what is listed is naturally occurring from the lactose in milk. Nutritionists don't consider these sugars to be harmful.

Still concerned about sugar? Plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt are great alternatives. Just don't make a snap decision based on one number. If you do, you'll be leaving behind calcium, protein, vitamin D and potassium -- all nutrients that are lacking in the modern American diet that you're definitely not going to get it with a Twinkie.