Yogurt - A Timeless Health Food

January 28, 2011

Many of us consume yogurt for its health benefits- do you know how to tell if the yogurt you buy really does have health benefits.

Yogurt, once relegated as a “health food” is now a staple in many of our home refrigerators and is available on breakfast menus across the country. It is convenient and touted for its many health benefits- it’s a great source of protein, calcium and B vitamins. But first let’s remind ourselves, what is yogurt anyway? Yogurt is made from milk and lactic acid producing healthful bacteria, either lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus or acidophilus. The process is similar to that used when making beer, wine or cheese; in that beneficial organisms ferment and transform a basic food. The fermentation process creates the unique taste, texture and healthful attributes of yogurt that Middle Eastern civilizations have been using to produce yogurt as far back as 2,000 BC.

The health promoting properties of yogurt have only recently been discovered (relative to the amount of time people have been consuming it), and continue to be researched. Yogurt’s nutritional profile is strong as mentioned, but the unique aspect of yogurt is the presence of live bacteria or probiotics, which affect the digestive tract and our overall health.

The various health benefits of probiotics have been repeatedly demonstrated through rigorous clinical trials. They are beneficial in the breakdown and absorption of certain vitamins, production of fatty acids to improve the intestinal barrier, stool regularity, immune function (70 percent of which is housed in the gut), and possibly lessen the severity of certain allergies. Probiotic research is constantly being updated and the list of possible benefits is impressive. It is important to keep in mind that the benefits are strain and dose-specific. Not all probiotics have demonstrated health benefits and, there is no guarantee that the organisms will be alive or effective at the time of ingestion.

Check for "live and active cultures": All yogurt products DO NOT contain live cultures or probiotics – check for the “live and active” seal on the package –in order for manufacturers to carry the seal, refrigerated yogurt products must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram, and frozen yogurt products must contain 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Read labels carefully. Products labeled “made with active cultures” may have gone through a heat treatment that actually kills the beneficial bacteria!

If your buying yogurts for “digestive health,” make sure the probiotics have been clinically tested and proven beneficial.

Check the “best by” or expiration date: This puts the odds in favor of the effectiveness of the “live and active cultures”
Yogurt Varieties
Regular Yogurt: This is a mixture of whole milk of at least 2.35 percent fat and cream with the addition of the bacteria culture. It should be fresh tasting, creamy, and slightly tangy. One cup has about 150 calories, 8 g of fat and 296 mg of calcium.

Low Fat Yogurt: This is made with low fat milk that ranges from 0.5 to 2 percent fat and some additional water plus the bacteria culture. One cup has about 155 calories, 4 g of fat and 447 mg of calcium.

Non Fat Yogurt: This yogurt is made from nonfat milk (less than 0.5 percent fat) and additional water, plus the bacteria culture. One cup has about 137 calories, 0.4 g of fat and 488 mg of calcium. Remember that the “non fat” regulation set by the FDA allows for up to 0.5 grams of fat and a product may still be labeled as “non fat.”

Flavored Yogurt: Yogurts these days are flavored with coffee, vanilla, fruits or fruit jams, which turns yogurt into a sweet dessert. They are frequently high in sugar and fat and may have additional additives like gelatin for stabilizing and artificial preservatives for the fruit. If consumed in small quantities, this is a pleasant way to get calcium in the diet. One cup has about 200 to 250 calories, 3 to 5 g of fat and 239 to 419 mg of calcium.

Read the label; it’s all about ingredients. Choose yogurts that have the least amount of ingredients, ideally milk and live cultures. If you like a particular flavor, compare brands to find the one with the least amount of ingredients, or better yet, mix up your own flavor at home. A drizzle of honey or agave syrup, a drop of vanilla extract, or a bit of chopped fresh fruit or nuts. You make it at home, and you choose your ingredients.

For more on probiotics: http://www.supermarketguru.com/index.cfm/go/sg.viewArticle/articleId/1447