Product review: Is coconut yoghurt really a healthy dairy alternative?

Coconut yoghurt is not a healthier option.

Supplied Coconut yoghurt is not a healthier option.

OPINION: Dairy free diets are on the rise with a number of people turning to dairy alternatives for reasons such as intolerances, allergies, or following a plant based diet.

Coconut yoghurt is one such product that has risen in popularity as a result.

There's no denying that coconut yoghurt is a tasty addition to cereal, baking, with fruit or simply just by itself.

But at nearly three times the price of the old standard dairy yoghurt you may wonder if it stacks up nutritionally and if it is really worth the extra dosh at the checkout.

I've taken a closer look at Raglan's coconut natural Greek-style yoghurt which seems to be a crowd favourite.

This yoghurt is made using organic coconut cream, corn starch and live cultures.

It can be purchased at any of the major supermarkets across the country and comes in a variety of different flavours. Buying a 700g jar will set you back £12 or £1.71/100g.

As this product is made with coconut cream it may come as no surprise that it's high in fat and calories.

Containing a whooping 17.5g of fat per 100g, this coconut yoghurt contains nearly six times the amount of fat compared with a standard dairy Greek yoghurt such as Fresh 'n Fruity and three times the calories.

Yikes.

Despite what you read; the majority of the fat found in coconut yoghurt is saturated fat.

For the average person it is recommended to have less than 20g of saturated fat per day, based on a daily calorie intake of 2000kcal.

So, if you were to eat 100g of this coconut yoghurt it would provide 16.1g of your daily saturated fat intake.

Saturated fat increases our bad cholesterol (known as LDL) which increases our risk of heart disease and stroke.

Typically, saturated fats come from animal products, and there is speculation that the saturated fat found in coconut is better for us than the saturated fat in meat and butter.

However, there isn't enough high quality research to support this at present, so the advice is to limit our intake.

Dairy yoghurts are a great source of calcium, which is important for strong bones and teeth.

One might presume that coconut yoghurt, being a dairy alternative may also contain calcium, but unfortunately this is not the case.

Although calcium can be fortified in products, the majority of the coconut yoghurts on the New Zealand market aren't fortified.

Finally, let's look at the sugar and protein in the Raglan coconut natural Greek-style yoghurt.

The sugar content in this coconut yoghurt is comparable to a standard dairy Greek yoghurt such as Fresh 'n Fruity, however the protein is significantly lower in the coconut yoghurt.

The bottom-line is if you can eat dairy and like the taste of dairy yoghurt then don't make the swap to coconut yoghurt thinking it is a healthier option - it's not.

If you are someone that cannot have dairy for whatever reason then choose a soy-based yoghurt which is a good source of calcium, protein, and lower in calories, and save the coconut yoghurt for a treat.

- Abbey Billing is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian