Yogurt is not only delicious, it is an ideal choice for a healthy snack or even breakfast.
Yogurt is high in calcium and probiotics, both of which have a long list of health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, calcium has the ability to protect against certain cancers, boost bone health, prevent diabetes and lower high blood pressure.
When a body is deficient in calcium, it can lead to a condition called osteoporosis, which causes bones to become brittle and break easily.
Probiotics are a beneficial bacteria found in yogurt that have a long history of regulating the digestive system.
There are various forms of yogurt such as Greek yogurt, frozen yogurt and various others. Below, we will discuss the various types of yogurt, what yogurt is made of and which ones are the most beneficial for your health.
What is yogurt?
Yogurt originally began in Turkey as thick, tart milk and can now be found all over the world. Each region produces yogurt in various ways, although the basics are the same-fresh milk is stored in a container to which live cultures are added, thickens and develops a sour taste.
This fermentation process produces a substance known as lactic acid, which acts as a preservative, keeping the cultured milk product edible for an extended period.
All of these cultures help to maintain a healthy digestive system and boost the immune system.
What are probiotics?
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, probiotics are defined as ‘a living microscopic organism that has been scientifically proven to benefit health’.
They are generally considered to be bacteria, but may also contain other organisms such as nutritional yeast. In many cases, they are similar to the beneficial bacteria produced by your body and the digestive system.
These beneficial bacteria are part of the large amount of microorganisms that currently inhabit your body.
Microbiota is the term used to describe this community of microorganisms.
Although some of these organisms are detrimental to your health and can cause disease, many are necessary for proper digestion and good health.
This is where probiotics step in..
“The term probiotic literally means ‘for life,’” says Linda Antinoro, RD, who works in the Nutrition Consultation Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“One of the better known benefits of probiotics is that it helps with gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. Helping to enhance the immune system and cancer risk reduction as well as weight management is less conclusive, but there’s some speculation that probiotics may help.”
Not all yogurt is beneficial to the digestive system.
Yogurt must contain, at the very least, 1 million cultures per gram in order to provide the digestive system with enough enzymes to function at optimal levels.
To ensure the yogurt you are purchasing meets this requirement, look for the Active Cultures seal on the label.
Are probiotics proven to enhance digestion?
There is mounting evidence that shows the bacteria present in yogurt is crucial for proper immune system function and enhanced digestion.
According to Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, San Francisco-based nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, roughly 70% of the immune system is located in the gut. The probiotics found in yogurt is its first line of defense.
Yogurt is also recommended by the American Gastrointestinal Association to help ease diarrhea, constipation and various other digestive woes.
A 2009 a study was published in the Journal of Digestive Diseases that showed probiotics can help improve irregularity, prevent constipation and improve lactose digestion, meaning it has various healing effects on the digestive system.
What to look for when buying yogurt
There are many various types of yogurt, although not all of them have the same nutritional qualities.
The healthiest choice is plain yogurt with no added fruit or sweeteners.
Most fruit-flavored yogurts contain artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup, with little to no active cultures. This will do nothing to heal your gut, and instead will cause weight gain.
Make sure any yogurt you purchase contains at least 200 mg of calcium and added vitamin D. Vitamin D is important to help your body properly assimilate calcium.
If the yogurt container mentions that it has been heat treated, leave it alone. This means that any active bacteria present has been destroyed during the manufacturing process.
Greek yogurt has a creamier texture (due to a straining process) than standard yogurt, because the whey has been removed. It does not contain much calcium, although it does have more grams of protein per serving than most other yogurts.
Although it does have a few active bacteria present, Greek yogurt contains lower amounts than standard yogurt. Make sure to check the label to see if extra bacteria have been added.
Frozen yogurt is no better than ice cream when it comes to enhancing digestion. The freezing process destroys any live cultures that may have been present, making it non-beneficial to the digestive system.
Organic yogurt simply means that the milk source was derived from a cow that has received no growth hormones or antibiotics.
Unless specifically stated on the label, they generally contain no more active bacteria than standard yogurt.
Soy yogurt is a good alternative for vegans and vegetarians. Although it may be lower in vitamin C, soy yogurt contains the same amount of probiotics and proteins as milk-derived yogurt.
Whipped yogurtsare often high in sugar and contain fewer proteins than other types.
Yogurt drinks, unless specifically stated on the label, generally contain high amounts of sugar and low amounts of probiotics.
Most nutrition specialists states that yogurt should definitely become a regular part of a healthy diet, although it may not be able to help everyone.
Angelone states, "Yogurt can help maintain a healthy digestive tract, but when somebody has a medical condition or is taking antibiotics, it won’t hurt, but it just may not be enough."
Do you eat yogurt as breakfast or snack? and do you eat it other superfoods like chia seeds and honey? We'd love to hear your favorite yogurt and how you eat it! Leave us a comment below to let us know!