Low-fat vanilla yogurt is basically any yogurt product that is made with low-fat or non-fat milk, then flavored with vanilla. Many different dairies and commercial manufacturers produce low-fat yogurt options, and there can be quite a variety when it comes to what each contains and how each is made. In nearly all cases, the “low-fat” designation comes from the sort of milk used. Even low-fat yogurts are often high in sugar or sugar-like artificial sweeteners that keep the calorie count low. It is usually true that low-fat foods are healthier than regular or full-fat options, but this is not always the case with flavored yogurts.
Yogurt-making is generally a rather simple process. All that is needed is milk and yogurt cultures, usually in the form of enzymes. The milk must be heated, then the cultures added. The cultures activate in warm milk, which “sets” the liquid into a custard-like solid when added in the right proportions. Using low-fat milk yields low-fat yogurt, and adding vanilla often lends sweetness, as well as flavor.
Low-fat milk is milk that has been processed to remove some or most of its natural fat. During pasteurization, milk fat generally floats to the liquid’s surface, and can be skimmed off. Milk fat contains calories, but is not usually considered as unhealthy as other more processed fats. It also contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can help the body absorb and make use of the milk’s high calcium content.
Commercial yogurt manufacturers will often artificially up the nutrient count of low-fat snacks by adding synthetic vitamins back in, once processing is complete. Flavoring is also usually added at this phase. Vanilla yogurt can be flavored in a number of different ways. The most traditional method is to add vanilla beans to the milk as it sets.
Simmering a vanilla bean often adds a richness of flavor that cannot easily be imitated. This method is costly and often time-intensive, however. Adding pure vanilla extract is a more popular option, as is using artificial imitation vanilla flavor.
It is very common for manufacturers to add sugars or other sweeteners to low-fat vanilla yogurt in order to make it more widely appealing. Yogurt made with vanilla beans is often naturally sweet, but often not sweet enough to meet modern consumer standards. Low-fat vanilla yogurt made with imitation vanilla almost always need sweeteners to be palatable to most target audiences.
Raw sugar is the most natural and organic option for adding sweetness. Sugar is often high in calories, however, and contradicts many of the tenets of low-fat diet plans. People who are eating low-fat often also strive to eat low-sugar, which means that they will look for yogurts that are either sugar free or low in sugar, as well as being low in fat.
Natural sugar alternatives like agave and cane juice are costly, but generally uncontroversial. Chemical sweeteners raise more concerns, particularly in the health and medical communities. A low-fat vanilla yogurt that is full of chemical sweeteners and synthetic vitamins is what it promises — low in fat — but this does not necessarily mean that it is healthier than regular vanilla yogurt.
Of course, it is possible to make a wholly organic and all-natural low-fat vanilla yogurt. Finding low-fat products in this category normally requires careful label scrutiny and an understanding of what exactly is being watched for. A low-fat vanilla yogurt with but three or four ingredients is usually more nutritious, on the whole, than one with eleven or twelve.