Save the Greek Economy (and Yourself) with Yogurt

Last Updated May 19, 2010 6:52 PM EDT

The Greeks have been taking a lot of heat lately for letting their economy deteriorate to the point where it's, oh, playing havoc with the bond market, causing a worldwide stock slide and generally disrupting global finance. They've been accused of everything from tax evasion to chronic laziness. But the Greeks may save the world in other ways â€" at the supermarket.

One of the most nutritious foods you can eat â€" and one that can help you lose weight, get fit, and even fight diseases such as diabetes â€" is Greek yogurt. Although it's been around for centuries, only recently has it become widely available and more affordable in the U.S., as well as being recognized as a nutritional powerhouse.

One cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt typically has zero cholesterol, 22 grams of protein (the equivalent of three eggs) and a nice dose of calcium, potassium and gut-friendly, immunity-boosting "active bacteria cultures." Plus, it's richer and creamier than regular yogurt. The featured attraction in that lineup, though, is the protein. It has four specific benefits:

It helps you feel fuller longer. Protein-rich foods digest slowly, which means you won't be hungry a few hours later and end up elbow-deep in a bag of Cheetos.

It keeps blood sugar levels stable. Eat a carb-rich bagel or some sweetened cereal for breakfast, and your blood sugar will look like the blueprints for a new rollercoaster at Great Adventure. Slow-burning protein helps smooth out highs and lows in performance and mood.

It feeds your muscles. If your fitness goal is better muscle definition, the best way to achieve it is by ingesting some protein immediately after a workout. Protein is to muscles what milk is to infants â€" it helps them grow big and strong. At roughly 130 calories per cup, nonfat Greek yogurt is also a smarter, more natural snack than fancy energy drinks, bars or shakes.

It helps you stay mentally sharp. Protein foods deliver a steady supply of energy to the brain. If you have an important meeting coming up, snack on a cup of Greek yogurt beforehand and graciously accept any comparisons with Zeus.

With all these advantages it might seem like Greek yogurt is the nutritional equivalent of a vacation in Mykonos. But there's one catch. The flavor is a bit tangy. Some might say sour. So be prepared to give yourself a few tries before getting used to it. And add some honey. Read labels carefully, too. Because it has become popular so quickly, imitators are rampant. Watch out for words such as "Greek-style" and brands that contain lots of sugar or other sweeteners. Choose plain, low- or no-fat varieties and add your own fresh fruit or granola, as well as that honey. Some of my favorite brands are Fage, Chobani and Oikos. (All these sites offer money-saving coupons.)

Greek yogurt isn't just for eating out of a cup, either. Use it as a healthful base for dressings, sauces and dips â€" essentially the same way you'd use mayonnaise, sour cream or regular yogurt.

Come to think of it, maybe we should consider donating a portion of the proceeds from every cup sold to the Greek economy. Now that they're helping spark our health recovery, we could return the favor.