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Research finds almond yogurt to surpass dairy and plant-based alternatives in overall nutrition

Packages of Activa yogurt, which contain probiotics, on a grocery shelf in Chicago.
M. Spencer Green
Packages of Activa yogurt, which contain probiotics, on a grocery shelf in Chicago.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have found almond yogurt to be the most nutritious of plant-based alternatives to dairy yogurt.

Many consumers consider plant-based yogurt to be a more eco-friendly alternative to dairy. According to UMass, the market is expected to surpass $6 billion in the next decade.

But UMass Amherst food scientist Alissa Nolden said some of those plant-based alternatives may lack key nutrients.

"If a consumer were to have the expectation that it has the same nutritional profile and it does not, it could potentially have big impacts on their overall diet quality," Nolden said.

So researchers in her lab, including lead author Astrid D’Andrea, compared more than 600 dairy and non-dairy yogurts.

They looked at ingredients people want, such as protein and fiber, and those people don’t, such as saturated fat and sugar. Taking in the full nutritional profile, they found almond yogurt to come out ahead of both dairy and plant-based alternatives like oat and cashew yogurt.

But Nolden said it’s hard to know whether the nutrition
comes from — the nuts themselves or additives in the yogurt.

"We're looking at the complete nutrition facts score," she said."If we were to remove the almonds, what other things are present? Perhaps the almond yogurt has a better sensory profile to begin... so less sugar needs to be added or less fat needs to be added."

In the future, Nolden said the research could lead to a hybrid yogurt using both plant and dairy products.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.