Yogurt has been around for at least a couple of thousand years. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naturalist who lived between 23 and 79 AD, is given credit for the oldest writings mentioning yogurt.1 Of course, now it can be found in every grocery store in a number of varieties from 10 percent fat to fat free, from sweetened to non-sweetened to artificially sweetened. Yogurt can be made from the milk of cows, goats, ewes (sheep) and even water buffalo and camels. Plant-milk yogurt can be made from soy, almonds, rice and coconut. Varieties of flavours abound. It also comes in different styles such as Balkan, Swiss and Greek. In addition to the usual form, you can also drink it as a beverage or have a fro-yo on a hot summer’s day. Even the spelling of the word yogurt has a number of variations including yogourt, yoghourt and yoghurd, to name a few. Most people believe that yogurt is a very healthy food choice, which for the most part it is. However, in this article I will review not only the wide number of health benefits of this versatile food, but also share with you some of the pitfalls.
Let’s take a look at the wonderful health benefits of yogurt.
1. Healthy Nutrients: Yogurt contains protein which helps build and maintain muscle, tendons, ligaments, skin, hair and nails. Nutrients like Vitamin D, Vitamin B-2 and B-12 and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium are found in yogurt. It’s important to note that Vitamin B-12 is only found naturally in animal products. So if you’re vegan and you are choosing yogurt made from plant-milks, Vitamin B 12 and other nutrients are usually added. If it says “fortified with” on the label, that means that the vitamins and/or minerals have been added to the product to make up for the fact that either the nutrients are not naturally found in the ingredients or they have been lost during processing.
2. Gut Health and More: Over the past few years there has been more public awareness about probiotics and how they help our digestive system and our bodies to be healthy. Probiotics refer to the “good” bacteria that live in our digestive system like Lactobacillus. You can actually buy probiotics in capsule form to enhance your gastrointestinal tract but they are also found in the live bacterial culture used in yogurt. The healthy gut bacteria help to keep the “bad” bacteria and other things like yeast and parasites from overgrowing and causing us to be ill. Eating the live bacterial culture in yogurt can also help with women’s vaginal health.
3. Protection from Toxins and Heavy Metals: Probiotics found in yogurt, particularly the bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus or L. rhamnosus for short, have been found to protect pregnant women from heavy metal poisoning. One study was done in Tanzania in a town on the shores of Lake Victoria which is polluted with mercury and other toxins. “The team found a significant protective effect of the probiotic against mercury and arsenic in the pregnant women.”2 In fact, the researchers even went so far as work with a community kitchen to help them make yogurt containing L. rhamnosus to assist more people who live in the area.
4. Disease Prevention: An extensive study done through the Harvard School of Public Health looked at research done that studied thousands of people over time to see what factors played a role in preventing diabetes. While the overall total consumption of dairy products wasn’t connected with a higher risk of developing diabetes, when they looked at individual dairy products, like cheese, milk and yogurt, they uncovered something interesting. They “found that consumption of one 28g serving of yogurt per day was associated with an 18 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”3 This was consistent with previous research that suggested calcium, magnesium, or specific fatty acids present in dairy products may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
According to research that was presented at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions, “adding more yogurt to your diet without increasing the number of calories you eat may help lower your risk of high blood pressure”.4 The two thousand study participants who were followed over a 15 year period “were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure if at least 2 percent of their daily calories came from yogurt, which would be like eating at least one six-ounce cup of low-fat yogurt every three days.”4
5. Other Uses for Yogurt: According an article from Health.com, dermatologist Dr. Hema Sundaram says, “Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is a component in some in-office chemical peels. It gently exfoliates the top layers of the epidermis, which can clear up blemishes and discolorations, and may even reduce fine wrinkles.” There are recipes for DIY facial masks using Greek style yogurt although I personally haven’t tried this. The article also says that the lactic acid in yogurt which is produced by the live bacterial culture makes yogurt a good natural cleaning option for polishing brass.5 Who knew?
Well, it’s pretty obvious there are many health benefits to eating yogurt. However, if you don’t read labels, there can also be a number of pitfalls if you don’t know which yogurt to choose.
1. High Fat Content: Be sure to read the label to see how much fat you are consuming whether the yogurt is dairy based or plant-milk based. While we all need to have a certain amount of fat in our diet, there is also something called too much of a good thing. Low or non-fat yogurt is a good option.
2. High Sugar Content: Recently I was comparing the labels of two low fat Greek Style yogurts, vanilla versus plain. I was amazed to see that a single serving (3/4 of a cup) of vanilla yogurt contained 16 grams of sugar while the plain only had 3 grams. Considering that the World Health Organization is recommending that we don’t eat more than 25 grams of added sugar (that is, over and above what is naturally found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables), 16 grams of sugar in a single serving of yogurt is high. Swiss style yogurt with fruit added is also very high in added sugar. Your best choice is plain yogurt and then add your own fresh fruit. If it’s still not sweet enough, you can always use a natural sweetener like Stevia. I recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners. (Refer to my June, 2015, article, Gimme some sugar….or not.)6
3. Artificial Sweeteners: Avoid artificial sweeteners in yogurt and any food. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to contribute to weight gain, certain ones like sucralose, which is also marketed as Splenda, have been shown to kill of healthy gut bacteria (which we definitely do not want to do) plus artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and sucralose are actually showing up in the rivers feeding into bodies of water such as the Great Lakes! That means we’re literally polluting our water with artificial sweeteners.
4. Artificial Colours and Flavors: Again, read the label. Many of the fruit yogurts have artificial colours and even flavors added to them. A few years ago I was in a grocery store looking at a brand of organic yogurt. I was shocked when I read the label because although the yogurt was made from organic milk, there were some artificial ingredients that had been added.
I’ve recently become a huge fan of plain non-fat Greek style yogurt. It’s so versatile! I’ll take some and add my favourite spices and presto, I have a lovely veggie dip. Similarly, if I add a bit of vanilla, organic coconut and a pinch of Stevia, I have a healthy dessert option. Add fruit and it’s even better!
I hope you’ve found this article helpful in assisting you to make healthy choices the next time you are buying yogurt at the grocery store. Healthy self is your best self.
- http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/asfm-ppc100614.php (Protection from heavy metal poisoning in pregnant women and children.)
- http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-11/bc-day112014.php (Type 2 diabetes prevention.)