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Yogurt has been around for ages and is actually one of the world’s oldest processed foods. Today yogurt is readily available; it is commonly savored as a health snack and utilized in a variety of recipes.
Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with specific “good bacteria” known as probiotics. The probiotics found in yogurt promote overall gut health by 1) reducing harmful organisms, 2) producing substances that help stop harmful organisms from growing, and 3) improving your body’s immunity. The live bacteria used in the fermentation process transform liquid milk into a thickened product and is what gives yogurt a slightly sour taste. To make sure that the yogurt product you are choosing has gut healthy probiotics, look for Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. reuteri and Bifidobacterium bifidum on the label, the National Yogurt Association’s “Live and Active Cultures” seal or make your own homemade yogurt with active cultures. See University of Missouri Extension’s Making Yogurt at Home: Country Living Series.
According to a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, all yogurts contain the following important nutrients:
- Calcium = important for maintaining bone health
- Vitamin D = helps with calcium absorption and enhances immune function
- Protein = function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins
- Potassium = plays a role in helping the body maintain a healthy blood pressure
- B vitamins = essential for many functions in the body including converting food into fuel that allows us to stay energized
To ensure that you are getting all the nutritional benefits yogurt has to offer, don’t forget the whey! Whey is the liquid that can accumulate at the top of a yogurt container. You may have poured it out before, but think again because that liquid contains much of the yogurt’s calcium. You can just stir the liquid back into the yogurt or use it in smoothies or in place of water when making hot cereal for example. Greek yogurt has most of the whey removed though a processes of straining. The processes used to make Greek yogurt is what creates a thicker, more concentrated product with higher protein content and less calcium (unless calcium is added back in). Reading the nutrition facts label on the yogurt container can help you determine the nutrient content of each specific brand. Greek yogurt has a creamy texture, even in low-fat versions. Check out Food & Nutrition.org’s The Great Greek Yogurt, which includes numerous recipes for healthy dips, sauces, salad dressings and desserts.
Yogurt contains naturally-occurring sugar because of the presence of lactose. Even though lactose is found naturally in yogurt, it still contains less than ice cream or milk. Therefore, yogurt may be a good option for a person with lactose intolerance who still wants the nutritional benefits of dairy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that individuals, 9 years and older consume 3 servings of dairy each day. An eight-ounce container of yogurt equals one serving of dairy.
For additional information about yogurt check out Eatright.org’s Prebiotics and Probiotics: The Dynamic Duo. In addition, the University of Florida IAFS Extension’s Shopping for Health: Yogurt provides helpful information about the different types of yogurt.