The benefits of yogurt

October 30, 2007

What's tasty, easy, and has lots of health benefits? Yogurt!

First off, your body needs to have a healthy amount of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract, and many yogurts are made using active, good bacteria. One of the words you’ll be hearing more of in relation to yogurt is “probiotics.” Probiotic, which literally means “for life,” refers to living organisms that can result in a health benefit when eaten in adequate amounts.
Miguel Freitas, PhD, medical marketing manager for Dannon Co., says the benefits associated with probiotics are specific to certain strains of these ""good"" bacteria. Many provide their benefits by adjusting the microflora (the natural balance of organisms) in the intestines, or by acting directly on body functions, such as digestion or immune function. (Keep in mind that the only yogurts that contain probiotics are those that say ""live and active cultures"" on the label.)
And let us not forget that yogurt comes from milk. So yogurt eaters will also get a dose of animal protein (about 9 grams per 6-ounce serving), plus several other nutrients found in dairy foods, like calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium.
In fact, the health benefits of yogurt are so impressive that many health-conscious people make it a daily habit. Here are three possible health benefits of having a yogurt a day.
May help prevent osteoporosis
“Adequate nutrition plays a major role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, and the micronutrients of greatest importance are calcium and vitamin D,” says Jeri Nieves, PhD, MS, director of bone density testing at New York’s Helen Hayes Hospital.
Calcium has been shown to have beneficial effects on bone mass in people of all ages, although the results are not always consistent, says Nieves, an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University.
“The combination of calcium and vitamin D has a clear skeletal benefit, provided the dose of vitamin D is sufficiently high,” she adds.
May reduce the risk of high blood pressure
A recent study, which followed more than 5,000 Spanish university graduates for about two years, found a link between dairy intake and risk of high blood pressure.
“We observed a 50% reduction in the risk of developing high blood pressure among people eating 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy a day (or more), compared with those without any intake,” Alvaro Alonso, MD, PhD, a researcher in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an email interview.
Although most of the low-fat dairy consumed by the study subjects was as milk, Alvaro believes low-fat yogurt would likely have the same effect.
With active cultures helps the gut
Yogurt with active cultures may help certain gastrointestinal conditions, including:
Lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, Colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
That's what researchers from the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University concluded in a recent review article.
The benefits are thought to be due to:
Changes in the microflora of the gut, the time food takes to go through the bowel and enhancement of the body's immune system.
7 tips for buying and eating yogurt
Here are 7 things to consider when buying and eating yogurt.
Decide between whole-milk, low-fat or nonfat yogurt
When buying yogurt, your first decision is whether you want regular-fat, low-fat, or fat-free. You probably have a favorite brand, with just the right texture or tang for your taste buds. If so, stick with it. But do check the label for sugar content. Some flavors and brands have more than others.
Choose your sweetener
The other decision is whether you want artificial sweeteners (which are used in most “light” yogurts) or whether you’re OK with most of the calories coming from sugar. If you are sensitive to aftertastes, you may want to avoid light yogurts. If you don't mind NutraSweet, there are lots of light yogurts to choose from, and all taste pretty good.
Look for Vitamin D
When enjoying calcium-rich yogurt, why not choose one that also boosts your intake of vitamin D? Some brands list 0% of the Daily Value for vitamin D; others have 20%. (See the table above.)
Make yogurt part of the perfect snack
Make the perfect snack by pairing high-protein yogurt with a high-fiber food like fruit (fresh or frozen) and/or a high-fiber breakfast cereal. You can find many lower-sugar breakfast cereals with 4 or more grams of fiber per serving.
Whip up a creamier smoothie with yogurt
Make your smoothie creamy and thick by adding yogurt instead of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Cup for cup, light and low-fat yogurt is higher in protein and calcium than light ice cream. It's also usually lower in fat, saturated fat, and calories.
Customize your yogurt
If you want to create your own flavored yogurt, start with your favorite plain yogurt and stir in all sorts of foods and flavors. Here are a few ideas:
Add chopped strawberries (1/4 cup) and 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Strawberries and Cream Yogurt.
Add canned crushed pineapple (1/8 cup) and a tablespoon of flaked or shredded coconut to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Pina Colada Yogurt.
Add 1 tablespoon of cool espresso or extra-strong coffee and 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Mochaccino Yogurt.
Add 1/4 cup chopped orange segments or mandarin oranges and 1 tablespoon reduced-sugar orange marmalade to 6 ounces of plain yogurt to make Orange Burst Yogurt.
Eat yogurt at work
Buy some yogurt and keep it in the office refrigerator (don’t forget to put your name on it). On those days when you need a morning or afternoon snack, that yogurt will be ready for you.
(Source: WebMD.com)