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Greek yogurt is the latest 'perfect' food

Repeat after me: There is no single food or diet that will shield you from disease, obesity and cranky people.

But that sure doesn't stop savvy food marketers from trying to convince us otherwise. And so every now and then, a food rises to the top of our collective consciousness and before you know it, it's The Perfect Food.

Right now, Greek yogurt is that darling.

Now, don't misunderstand. Greek yogurt has plenty of fantastic qualities: It's lusciously thick, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. But we wouldn't even be in this conversation if we hadn't gotten here through our love and respect for regular yogurt. So don't forget, both styles of yogurt — regular and Greek — are good for us in a lot of important ways. They're great sources of gut-friendly probiotics, calcium, bone-building phosophorus and blood pressure-regulating potassium. Both are healthy choices for meals and snacks.

Greek-style yogurts, though, are going to pack almost twice as much protein, which helps curb those midday hunger pangs. Plus, there's that benefit of lower carbohydrates. And it's actually a satisfying substitution for sour cream.

However, because the term "Greek" is unregulated, imposters abound. How do you tell if the Greek yogurt you're buying is what it says it is or just an artifically thickened imposter?

The genuine product achieves its thick and creamy character through a process in which the liquid portion in milk called whey is strained off from the solid portion. With the whey removed, there's less sugar, which reduces the carbohydrate content. Plus, the concentration of milk solids increases Greek yogurt's protein content dramatically. Most brands weigh in at almost twice as much protein as regular yogurt, meaning that a typical serving of Greek yogurt packs as much high-quality protein as you'll find in 3 ounces of lean meat, an appealing trait for folks interested in healthy ways to build muscle.

At the commercial level, straining off the whey adds time and expense to the process. So some brands with the word "Greek" in the label are mimicking the texture of traditionally made Greek yogurt with the addition of thickeners, such as carageenan, locust bean gum, guar gum and corn starch. You'll find these ingredients on the label, which is why it's important to read the fine print. Genuine Greek yogurt should contain only milk, live, active cultures and flavoring agents.

And by the way, if you want to ensure that your yogurt — Greek or regular — contains those live, active cultures (which we've come to recognize by the term "probiotics"), make sure the label states that it "contains live, active cultures," and not just "made with live, active cultures."

All yogurts start out with live, active cultures, but during the pasteurization process, they're destroyed. So if you want the benefit of probiotics in your yogurt, make sure those live, active cultures have been added back in.

So the next time you're standing in the yogurt aisle and find yourself overwhelmed by all the Greek-style choices, take a breath, put on your reading glasses and check out the fine print.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.