A Discussion about Protein in Greek Yogurt

The following question recently appeared on my blog regarding the protein content of Greek yogurt: “If Greek yogurt is plain yogurt with the whey removed and whey is 100% protein, then why is Greek yogurt higher in protein than plain yogurt?”

First, I would argue the whey drained from regular yogurt (homemade or commercial) is not 100% protein, but mostly water instead.  Perhaps the commenter was thinking of dried whey which would be highly concentrated, of course.

Nevertheless, here’s the math.

  • Start with 81.4 grams protein found in 8 cups (10.2 g per cup) of regular yogurt the way I make it.
  • Drain yogurt resulting in 4 cups whey containing 7.6 grams protein according to the Calorie Counter.
  • That leaves 73.8 grams protein in the drained (or is it strained?) yogurt.
  • Add 8 ounces skim milk (for creamy texture) for an additional 8.1 g protein, resulting in a total of 82.1 g of protein in 5 cups drained yogurt (Greek yogurt).
  • 82.1 divided by 5 = 16.4 g protein per cup of Greek (drained) yogurt.
  • Compare 10.2 g in one cup of regular yogurt to 16.4 g in 1 cup Greek yogurt.

Remember–my Greek yogurt is homemade so the numbers vary from batch to batch. I drain off a variable amount of whey each time and add back a variable amount of skim milk (for creaminess). The numbers used in this explanation are based on 8-ounce servings. The nutritionals given on my blog are based on a 6-ounce serving because that is what you see commercially. (Specifically, the numbers on my blog are based on Fage non-fat Greek yogurt since I have not had mine professionally analyzed. I’m assuming they are close.)

Protein–it’s just one more reason to eat yogurt–daily.

Disclaimer: I’ve had formal training in nutrition but I am NOT a registered dietitian. Even though the answer to the above question is mostly just math, I ran it by three different registered dietitians and they all approved.

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patty July 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I strain my yogurt with #4 cone shaped coffee filters lining a regular strainer over a bowl. Super easy, cost effective, and an easy clean up!

Luis January 3, 2013 at 2:09 am

A little late to this discussion but it might be useful. Whey as the byproduct of cheese or yogurt making is 60 to 70% carbohydrates, mostly lactose. Whey PROTEIN on the other hand is whey that has been processed to remove carbs and lipids. Whey protein ISOLATE is over 90% protein. So why is greek yogurt higher in protein compared to regular yogurt? Because by volume you are eating more lacto-proteins and less carbs (drained whey) in every spoonful.

Paula January 3, 2013 at 11:26 am

Thank-you for this simple but explicit explanation. Perfect!!!

Marian July 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I’ve just started making my own yogurt and I heat it in a crockpot on low for the first stage, 2.5 hrs and it seems to be okay. I’ve just started straining it thru cheesecloth. Would you believe I sold my boullion strainer at my garage sale a while back. “what was I ever going to do with it again !! O:((

Paula July 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Oh no, you sold your strainer? I guess that’s always a risk you run when you get rid of stuff.

melinda June 9, 2012 at 9:39 am

Greek yogurt is made with goats milk. This is why it is higher in protein than yogurt made with cows milk.

Reici June 5, 2012 at 6:34 am

So if a high protein yogurt doesn’t have any extra ingrediants added to it to make it “high protein”, why aren’t all yogurts high protein? Is it just short cuts in the manufacturing process? Just curious. I just started making my own yogurt and I want high protein. I was going to add dried whey but was not sure that was the ticket. I suppose I could add it just before serving? How long do you recommend keeping in the refrig? Thanks for all of the “How To’s”

Peggy May 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm

I’ve been making my own Greek yogurt for years. I do it mostly the same way as you, but when I incubate it, I just set it in my electric oven and turn the light on. No preheating is necessary – the heat from the light warms it up just fine. I generally leave it to incubate anywhere from 12 and 15 hours. I also use a drainer I found on amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Cuisipro-Donvier-Yogurt-Cheese-Maker/dp/B000064841/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1336882539&sr=8-3 rather than cheesecloth or anything else. I save the whey and use it as part of the broth in homemade soups (but only those that work with a slightly tangy base broth).

Cathi April 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Wonderful website! The microwave heating method is the way to go. I cool the bowl of heated milk in the sink in ice water for about 10 minutes to get the correct temp before I add in the starter. I zip the bowl into a wool vest that i accidently put into the dryer! My oops makes a great insulator. My husband dubbed my end product- Grey Vest Yogurt. The oven preheat, two towels, light on and a heating pad holds temp perfect. I bought a bouillon strainer just like yours and i am not sure how my kitchen has survived without one! Love it. I have not had any solids seep through. I put in a only a few large serving spoons into the strainer and pour the remaining yogurt in. I only strain for about 10 min because I like it a bit softer. Your video made the whole process so much easier. Thanks so much.

Paula April 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

You’re welcome Cathi. So glad to hear you bought the good strainer. It’s worth it. paula

saadat saghafi April 11, 2012 at 4:47 am

hi dear we have much whey of yogurt in our factory?how much its protein?which product that we can make with this material ? its lactose is very high,how we can eliminate of lactose?
thank you.have best time.

Audra Carr April 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

Hi. Thank you for your weblog. I tried my first batch of yogurt last night. I love the results but I am going to keep trying different incubation methods discussed on your site to see if I get different results. I used a 1/2 gal of fat free skim milk and Fage Yogurt for my starter in a ziplock bag in my old crock pot because my oven won’t go below 170. At one point I turned the low setting back on to get it back up to temperature. Of course I forgot it and left it on and it got up to about 150 degrees. I realized I had cooked it. So I followed your advice and chilled the bag (to as close to 110 as I could measure with my meat thermometer )in an ice bath and added 2 TBS starter (I used Oikos the second time because I was out of Fage. ) I realize now you said 2 tsp of starter, but other sites say 2 TBS so I went with that. I covered the crock pot with towels and left it overnight. By morning it looked thicker, but still watery. I checked the temp and it was not warm enough. I turned the crock back on to low and left the lid off. Within an hour, it had separated out into A LOT of whey and thick solids. I did not have a strainer small enough, and coffee filters sounded messy. I been looking for cheese cloth for weeks with no luck. So last night I had the brilliant idea to use several layers of tulle. I cut about 18″ of tulle and hand washed it and dried it overnight.
When I was ready to strain today, I folded 3 layers in my strainer over a glass bowl and poured out my ziplock bag. It worked like a charm. I was able to pick up the tulle and squeeze out extra whey. I ended up with 2 cups of really thick yogurt. It is almost like cottage cheese or fresh mozzarella. It has a very mild taste, much less tart than even Fage. I kept the 6 cups (!) of whey and will use it in smoothies. My husband and I are on a low cal diet and I thought it would make a healthy (whey) beverage. We are already using concentrated whey powder shakes.
So, what if anything did I do wrong? You seem to get a lot more yogurt out of your batches. Did I over cook? I would appreciate any advice.

Paula April 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Hi Audra,
Wow! I’m impressed with your persistence. Keep after it until you get your system down. Did you ever try turning on your oven for 1 minute and then turning off, and leaving the oven light on? Do that and wrap your yogurt-in-a-bowl in a thick towel and you won’t have to think about it again. I would probably not use a zip-lock bag–too unstable. A big bowl or jar would be better and hold the temperature of your yogurt. Somehow, you’ve got to find a way to keep a steady temperature.

Also, using any kind of cloth to strain is going to get old. Have you read my post about straining and good strainers?

For me, the whole process has got to be easy and no-fuss so I look for every shortcut I can without compromising the end product. Try again and let me know how it goes. pr

Krishna Kumar September 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Hi Paula,
It is very impressive that the way you prepared the Greek Yogurt.
Provides good information for making healthy and probiotic yogurt.
I would like to start a small scale industry in preparing the greek yogurt with mouth watering flavours. Need your valuable advice.Please let me know your contact details.

Thanks and regards,

carolyn November 17, 2011 at 7:08 am

I use only skim milk .Perfect each time.I also let my incubation period extend for 24 hours and it has more of a tangy taste . yum yum.

Paula November 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

Hi Carolyn,
People often ask me how long they can leave yogurt to incubate. When I say 24 hours I think they don’t always believe me. Thanks for the confirmation. Personally, I don’t like it so tart but maybe this will help somebody else who does.

Ruth October 13, 2011 at 7:15 pm

We’ve been making our own yogurt for about a year, quite regularly for the last few months. We have been using cheesecloth to strain the yogurt because we, also, like the greek-style yogurt better. I recently found your website and was encouraged by the possibility of using a boullion strainer without needing cheesecloth, so we bought one at a restaurant supply store. However, when we went to strain our first batch, it seemed as though a lot of solids were still going through the strainer, so we quickly removed the yogurt and reverted back to the cheesecloth. We thought, perhaps, that our yogurt just wasn’t as thick as yours. On our next batch, our yogurt looked as gelatinous as what your website shows in the picture, but we still had solids coming through the strainer. So, we once again went back to the cheesecloth. So, my question is, when you strain, do you have NO solids go through the stainer? Or does a small amount go through at first, but as the whey strains off, most solids remain in the strainer?

Paula October 13, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Ruth, I’ve had your question before and it’s a good one. Yes, my yogurt is quite thick–especially when I use non-fat milk. Two suggestions: Wet the strainer first. Then spoon the yogurt into the strainer one spoonful at a time in the beginning. After you’ve put about 2 cups in the strainer, you can pour the rest in slowly and gently. Yes, sometimes I do lose a few solids in the beginning–maybe a couple of teaspoons and then the whey runs clear. Many times I lose none. I don’t mind losing a little–it’s worth it not to deal with a cloth. You could always strain into another container and then pour the whey and solids back through the strainer a second time but I never do.

There have been a few instances when my yogurt did not set up right due to human error. Then it would pour through and I would have to quickly grab my cheesecloth to save it. YUK! But normally, it works great. One more suggestion. You can always chill your yogurt before you strain which will make it thicker. I don’t do this because it slows the whole process down but you might try it if the other suggestions don’t work. Hope this helps. paula

One last observation: For me, nonfat milk sets up the thickest. The few times I’ve used whole milk or even 2%, it does not get thick enough to strain without a cheescloth or a t-shirt. What kind of milk are you using?

Matthew Bettinger December 29, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I’ve been looking for the nutritional value of homemade greek yogurt for a long time. Thanks. I agree with your protein math, but I end up with twice the carbs you do. Could I ask how you came about your carb numbers? Thanks.

Paula December 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Hi Matthew, I took the nutritionals from the nonfat yogurt listed on the Fage website (http://www.fageusa.com/products.aspx#/zeroPercent/Plain) since I have not had my own yogurt professionally analyzed. I’m assuming they are close.

Susie June 14, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I am one of those RDs romaine is talking about….it makes sense to me! Greek yogurt is definitely a great way to add more protein to your diet, especially if you aren’t a big meat eater or are vegetarian. 🙂

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