If You Think Yogurt is Just for Dieters, Keep Reading!
Many people inevitably and predictably stock up on yogurt when they want to lose a few pounds. Some even see it as a badge of honor and will make a point of having a yogurt at mealtime while everyone else at the table is having “real food.” So, it’s not surprising that you probably see yogurt (which is also spelled yoghurt, yogourt or yoghourt) through the “diet” lens.
So what exactly is Yogurt?
Yogurt is fermented animal milk, and it has been around, in one form or another, for literally thousands of years. In fact, one story about its origin is that nomads discovered it when the milk they were carrying in skin flasks fermented after combining with the natural bacteria in the flasks. Today, we know that the bacteria in yogurt ferments the sugars found in milk to produce lactic acid, which gives yogurt its distinctive “bite.” The word itself is Turkish in origin and means “thick or dense” (its verb form means “to be curdled”.) Yogurt was first introduced in the U.S. about a century ago. Today, the average American consumes around 13 pounds of yogurt a year.
One of the more recently discovered benefits of yogurt is that it may help older adults with hypertension lower their blood pressure. There was evidence of reduced hypertension with even small amounts of yogurt consumption. And for people who ate yogurt consistently, some had blood pressure readings that were almost seven points lower than those of people who did not eat yogurt.
Researchers attributed this benefit to the fact that yogurt, and other dairy foods, are full of micronutrients, including calcium, magnesium and potassium, which have been shown to help keep blood pressure in check. It did not, however, have the same effect with people whose blood pressure is in what is considered the healthy range.
Some possible health benefits of yogurt include:
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes: Researchers found that daily consumption of yogurt reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 17 percent. There is also evidence that daily yogurt may also reduce the risk for developing metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes (as well as for heart disease and stroke).
- Gut support: The probiotics found in yogurt may help alleviate symptoms of constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Immune system support: These same probiotics may also support your immune system by reducing inflammation and helping to ensure a healthier gut microbiome. And the other nutrients in yogurt such as magnesium, selenium and zinc are important for healthy immune function.
- Reduced risk for osteoporosis: The calcium, minerals, and other nutrients in yogurt (such as protein, phosphorus and potassium) are important for lowering your risk of osteoporosis.
If you are worried that eating full-fat yogurt may increase your risk for heart disease, you can put your mind at ease with research that suggests that full-fat dairy products neither increased nor decreased the risk for heart disease.
Yogurt is a Nutritional Powerhouse
If you are looking for a food that has most of the key nutrients you need to stay healthy, you may want to consider yogurt. To give you an idea of what this nutritional powerhouse offers, consider that, according to the USDA, 100 grams of unsweetened Greek yogurt has:
- Calcium: 100 mg (RDA is 1,200 mg for women over 50 and 1,000 mg for those under; 1,000 mg for men)
- B vitamins:
- B6: 0.063 mg (RDA is 1.3 mg for men under 50 and 1.7 mg for those over 50; 1.3 mg for women under 50 and 1.5 mg for those over 50)
- B12: 0.75 mcg (RDA is 2.4 mcg)
- Riboflavin (B2): 0.278 mg (RDA is 1.3 mg for men and 1.1 mg for women, pregnant women need 1.4 mg and lactating women 1.6mg)
- Phosphorus: 135 mg (RDA is 700 mg)
- Magnesium: 11 mg (RDA is 310-320 mg for women and 400-420 mg for men; pregnant women require 350-360 mg and lactating women 310-320 mg)
- Potassium: 141 mg (RDA is 3,400 mg for men and 2,600 mg for women; pregnant women need 2,900 mg and lactating women 2,800 mg)
- Protein: 9 grams (RDA is 0.8g per kg of body weight so approximately 46g for an average woman and 56 grams a day for an average woman – aim higher if you are active or an older adult)
While yogurt does not contain vitamin D, many brands are fortified with this important vitamin which helps your body absorb the calcium in yogurt.
Ways to Include Yogurt in Your Healthy Diet
To get the most health benefits from yogurt, it’s important that you avoid those with added sugars and artificial ingredients (the sugar content and ingredients along with other nutritional information are listed on the yogurt container). You want a yogurt with the least amount of ingredients. It’s also important to know that many foods you may see that say “made with real yogurt” may not offer the full range of yogurt’s health benefits (if they offer any at all). The same holds true for many frozen yogurt desserts. Be sure to read the labels!
That said, there are many ways to enjoy yogurt as part of a healthy diet. These include:
Try Different Varieties
- Traditional yogurt
- Greek yogurt (which has been strained to remove much of the liquid making it firmer)
- Liquified yogurt (often marketed as “drinkable”)
- Full fat, low fat, no fat
- Skyr yogurt (a dense Icelandic style which is like Greek yogurt)
- Frozen (just watch the sugar content and ensure there are live bacteria cultures)
Prepare Traditional Yogurt-based Dishes or Invent Your Own
- Dips such as the popular Greek tzatziki which has cucumber, mint, and olive oil
- Cold and hot soups that combine a variety of ingredients such as onions, fruits, nuts, cucumbers, lentils, rice, and spices
- Beverages that use mints, spices, cumin, mustard, fruits, and chilies
- Smoothies with your favorite ingredients (avoid added sugar) – I like adding flax or chia seeds to mine
Use Yogurt to Replace Fats in Your Cooking
Yogurt is a great way to make your cooking healthier. For example, you can use it where you would have used sour cream, such as on a baked potato, or to replace some of the butter or oil in baked goods. I also use it to replace some of the mayonnaise in tuna and chicken salads.
If you have a milk allergy, yogurt is probably not a good food choice for you since you may have the same type of allergic reaction to it as you do to milk (remember that yogurt comes from milk). It also may decrease the effectiveness of certain antibiotics, so be sure to talk with your doctor about your yogurt consumption before taking this type of medication.
While yogurt can help make sure you are giving your body the nutrients it needs, the best way to make sure you are doing so is to get a nutrient test. This will help you determine any other changes you should make to your diet in addition to making yogurt a staple.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses, and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products, and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder