Being an informed consumer is so much more difficult than it used to be. Life is just full of choices. When it comes to grocery shopping, the less processed, the better. The same can be said about yogurt. Buying the plain, lowfat or nonfat yogurt is really the best. It is also less expensive. Plain yogurt is versatile. It can be sweetened, flavored with vanilla or lemon, served on a baked potato or served with fruit, among other things. You can also add powdered cocoa to plain, nonfat yogurt for a new twist.
Yogurt is indeed a super food. But it is not just delicious and nutritious. Many people turn to yogurt to help them get enough calcium to meet their daily needs. Typically, a cup of yogurt has 450 milligrams of calcium, compared to 300 in a cup of milk. This is 30 to 50 percent of most people's daily needs. Vitamin D fortification of milk products is optional. If vitamin D is added to yogurt, it must be indicated on the product label. What people may not realize is that yogurt has much more to offer than just calcium. Yogurt is also packed with high-quality protein, magnesium and a variety of vitamins. Numerous health benefits beyond its nutritional value have been associated with consuming yogurt. These specific health benefits depend on the strain and viability of the culture in yogurt. This is why it is important to choose yogurt with a seal indicating that it contains live, active cultures.
It is important to understand the difference between a yogurt that has live cultures and one that does not. The National Yogurt Association has adopted a seal that can be used only by yogurt manufacturers whose products contain a minimum number of live yogurt cultures per gram of yogurt at the time of manufacture. "LAC-labeled" yogurts are always kept refrigerated before sale and have a relatively short shelf life. Heat-treated yogurts, on the other hand, do not contain live cultures. They do not need to be refrigerated and have longer shelf lives. The most important difference, however, is the health benefits derived from eating yogurts with live cultures, which are not present in heat-treated yogurts.
Yogurt is a mixture of milk -- either whole, reduced-fat, lowfat or nonfat -- and cream fermented by a culture of lactic acid-producing bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus hermophilus. Other bacteria, for example acidophilus, and other strains of the above bacteria may be added to the culture. Foods that have live bacteria in them are called probiotics and yogurt is one of the best know probitic foods. We naturally have bacteria in our intestines, and the key is to increase the health-promoting, friendly bacteria as much as possible. The bacteria found in yogurt actually help to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Camphylobacter, and Staphylococcus. Research has given us good reason to believe that yogurt can help restore and maintain a healthy environment in the intestinal tract for the indigenous flora so essential to digestion and good health. These healthy bacteria help replace the beneficial intestinal flora that can be killed by antibiotics. The bacteria also help to boost our immune systems, enhance digestion, increase mineral absorption, synthesize certain B vitamins, decrease recurrence of vaginal yeast infections and reduce the incidence and duration of some types of diarrhea. Scientists have found that intake of yogurt with active cultures may fight other sources of infection and protect against cancer.
For those who cannot tolerate milk because of the lactose, which is the sugar in milk, yogurt is usually well-tolerated. The bacteria in yogurt with active live cultures break down some of the lactose in milk. In some cases, the bacteria may stay alive for a while in the intestinal tract, and in this case, they will continue to help digest the lactose. Also, many yogurts contain lower amounts of lactose than milk. As yogurt ferments, some of the lactose changes to lactic acid. Importantly, starter cultures in yogurt may produce the enzyme lactase, which digests lactose. The semi-solid state of yogurt also contributes to improved tolerance to lactose. So if you are lactose intolerant, give yogurt a try.
Sweetened fruit yogurt is somewhat less nutritious because the fruit and sugar, usually preserves, takes up space in the cup, so you get more sugar and less yogurt. Current recommendations suggest that yogurt is an excellent food for children over three months of age. It can be introduced gradually into the diet as the child begins to learn to eat solid foods, usually between four and six months. In fact, the semisolid, spoonable form of yogurt makes it especially well-adapted for older infants. Yogurt provides an excellent source of calcium and protein for children who may not always be willing to eat the most nutritious foods. Because of its protein content, yogurt can be used as an alternative to meat in school lunches under a rule that was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 2, 1997.
Is making your own homemade yogurt worth the effort? Homemade yogurt will have the same nutritional content as the milk you use to make it. However, you want to use a yogurt starter with the live and active culture seal to start the fermentation process. You can make a quart or a gallon at a time. The process begins with a purchased yogurt with live active cultures. It is obviously much less expensive to make your own and really is quite simple. For directions on making yogurt at home, contact your local Extension agent.
There are many wonderful reasons to eat yogurt. Don’t wait, start today.