Yogurt has been a staple in the health food culture since the 1950s. Yogurt starts as fresh milk or cream that is often first pasteurized, then fermented with various live bacteria cultures and incubated at a specific temperature to encourage bacteria growth.
The bacteria convert the natural sugars in the milk to lactic acid (giving yogurt its tangy taste) and then the yogurt is strained to remove excess liquid and create the desired creamy consistency.
Whether yogurt is a healthy choice depends on the individual and type of yogurt being consumed. There are plenty of yogurts that are high in protein, low in added sugar and free of unnecessary additives, but there are just as many if not more yogurts that have as much sugar as a can of soda and a list of ingredients you would not recognize as food.
For someone with a milk allergy, any kind of yogurt would be off limits. Lactose intolerant individuals may be able to tolerate yogurt depending on their level of intolerance.
Types of yogurt
Yogurt has several common spellings depending on the area of the world. Yogurt, yogourt, yoghurt and yoghourt are all correct.
Yogurt products come in a wide variety of flavors, forms and textures. How good a yogurt is for you depends on the type of yogurt being consumed.
Low fat or non-fat
Low-fat yogurt, also labeled reduced fat yogurt, is made with 2% milk. Non-fat yogurt is made with 0% or skim milk.
Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt. It can withstand heat better than regular yogurt and is often used in Mediterranean-style cooking and dips.
Greek yogurt is made by further straining regular yogurt, removing the liquid whey and resulting in a higher protein content due to its thicker concentration.
However, this further straining decreases the calcium content. Greek yogurt is available in full fat, reduced or low fat and non-fat or 0%.
Similar to Greek yogurt, skyr (pronounced skeer) is an Icelandic-style yogurt that is dense, creamy and high in protein. Compared to regular yogurt, skyr requires 4 times the amount of milk to make and contains 2-3 times more protein.
According to the National Yogurt Association:
"Not all products termed 'frozen yogurt' actually contain live and active cultures. Some so-called 'frozen yogurts' use heat-treated yogurt, which kills the live and active cultures. To make sure that a frozen yogurt contains yogurt produced by traditional fermentation and has a significant amount of live and active cultures, look for the NYA Live & Active Cultures seal."
Even with the live and active cultures, do not assume that a frozen yogurt is a healthy choice. Many frozen yogurts have just as much sugar per serving as the ice cream sitting next to it in the freezer section.
For people who do not consume dairy, there are non-dairy yogurt alternatives such as soy yogurt and coconut milk yogurt.
Eating yogurt is one of the most common ways to consume the healthy bacteria beneficial to the gut known as probiotics. Probiotics are effective in regulating the digestive system and decreasing gas, diarrhea, constipation and bloating.
Some research has suggested that probiotics can boost the immune system, help with weight management and reduce the risk of cancer.1 Consuming yogurt and other probiotic foods may even enhance absorption of vitamins and minerals.
The two most common bacteria used to ferment milk into yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles, but many yogurts contain additional bacteria strains.
To help consumers identify yogurts with live and active cultures, the National Yogurt Association has implemented the LAC (Life & Active Cultures) seal, found on the product container. In most cases, the number of live bacteria declines the longer the product sits on the shelf.
Dairy products are one of the best dietary sources of calcium in terms of bioavailability. Calcium plays a primary role in the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth and is also important for blood clotting, wound healing and maintaining normal blood pressure. Always try to pair calcium-rich foods with a source of vitamin D, as vitamin D helps the small intestine to absorb calcium.
Massive amounts of sugar and artificial sweeteners
On its own, yogurt is a low calorie, high nutrient food packed with protein. However, many manufacturers load their yogurts with sugar, artificial sweeteners and unrecognizable ingredients.
Always read the ingredients label and avoid heavily processed foods as much as possible. Manufacturers can stick whatever they want on a package to make it look healthy, but they cannot hide the actual ingredients. All yogurts will contain some natural sugars, but look for a yogurt with under 10 grams of sugar per serving.
Packaged products like cereals and bars claiming to be "made with real yogurt" contain only a small amount of yogurt powder, which is heat-treated, killing the beneficial bacteria that yogurt is known for.
When yogurt is heated to 120 degrees F, the beneficial bacteria are killed and no longer of benefit.2 The same goes for yogurt-covered raisins, pretzels, granola, etc. All contain yogurt "coatings" made from a combination of sugar, oil, whey and yogurt powder.
Safe for lactose intolerance?
People who experience discomfort, bloating or gas after consuming liquid milk or ice cream can often tolerate yogurt without symptoms. The lactose content in yogurt is very low, and the bacteria help the digestion process.
Try a small amount of yogurt (1/4 cup) first to see how your body reacts. Because many people who are lactose intolerant are calcium deficient, yogurt can be a very important component of their diet.
How to incorporate more yogurt into your diet
Quick tips from a registered dietitian:
Avoid flavored yogurts with heaps of sugar. Instead, sweeten plain yogurt yourself with fruit.
- Start with plain, unsweetened yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fruit, a small amount of pure maple syrup or honey
- Avoid most pre-made fruit and yogurt parfaits, which have tons of unnecessary added sugars
- When baking, substitute the butter or oil in the recipe with plain or lightly sweetened yogurt
- Use plain Greek yogurt to top your baked potato or tacos. Plain, unsweetened yogurt tastes just like sour cream but with twice the protein!
- Look for a yogurt that has more grams of protein per serving than sugar.
Healthy recipes using yogurt:Carrot cake power smoothie
Pumpkin pie power smoothie
100-calorie cranberry dark chocolate muffins
Cranberry-maple breakfast bars
Green chile and spinach quesadillas.
Recent developments on yogurt from MNT news
Yogurt is frequently lauded for its healthful properties, but a new study investigating the effects of regular yogurt consumption has suggested that it does not lead to improvements in health.
Researchers are calling for clinical trials to test whether eating yogurt helps avoid type 2 diabetes, after they found higher intake of the dairy food was linked to lower risk of developing the disease.
According to a recent study published in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, yogurt containing probiotic bacteria successfully protected children and pregnant women against the effects of heavy metal exposure.