Plain yogurt is a great stand-in: It mimics cream's silkiness when whirred into soup, makes a quick, tangy spread for bread that's better for you than cream cheese, and enriches baked potatoes but has less fat than sour cream. Yet it wasn't long ago that this culinary chameleon was viewed in this country as little more than a health-food fad. Nowadays, nutritionists say, yogurt's stellar reputation is deserved.
"Yogurt is a very nutrient-dense food, high in protein, calcium, vitamins B6 and B12, and magnesium," says Fran C. Grossman, a nutrition consultant in New York City. Live cultures (check the label) can benefit people who are lactose intolerant; these good bacteria help digest milk sugar, making yogurt a safe treat. (They might even boost the immune system, but this isn't universally accepted by health experts.)
So which yogurt should you choose? Plain low-fat yogurt has half the cholesterol and saturated fat of the whole-milk kind. Nonfat yogurt is even better for you, of course, but can lack the creaminess that low-fat yogurt retains. We especially like Greek-style yogurt, which has the best texture of any. All unadorned yogurts are improvements on prefab ones with sugary fruit preserves. For the best sweet treat, stir your own fresh fruit into yogurt -- it, too, will be plain delicious.