Two Thumbs Up for Yogurt

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Yogurt is one of those foods that you just can’t say enough about. Yes, I’ve written about it in the past (several different times), but it seems like there’s always something to share about its health benefits — hence, the focus of my posting this week is, once again, yogurt.

In case you’re interested, yogurt is a fermented food made from milk and/or cream. Bacteria are added to heated, pasteurized milk, which is then incubated at a specific temperature to encourage the growth of the bacteria. The bacteria break down the lactose (milk sugar) to lactic acid, which thickens the milk and gives it a tangy flavor. Once that’s done, the yogurt is cooled and at this point, sweeteners, fruit, or other ingredients may be added. It’s a pretty simple process and many people make their own yogurt at home.


Two benefits
Yogurt actually has many health benefits, but I wanted to focus on two in particular this week.

Diabetes prevention. The CDC recently released their diabetes statistics report, and the results aren’t looking too good: Roughly 29 million people in the U.S. now have diabetes, and another 86 million have prediabetes. While diabetes prevention involves a number of lifestyle changes, including weight loss, you might be interested to know that yogurt may play a role.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge in England looked at data from more than 25,000 people, comparing the diets of 753 of those people who developed Type 2 diabetes with 3,502 people who did not get diabetes. Their findings? The folks who ate yogurt at least four-and-a-half times a week were significantly less likely to get diabetes than those who didn’t eat yogurt that often. What’s in yogurt that might be protective? There are a number of possible ingredients, including calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and fatty acids. However, the researchers believe that probiotics (good bacteria) in the yogurt likely play a role.

Obesity prevention. Is there a magic bullet that protects against weight gain? Not really. But eating yogurt may help. A new study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases links a high intake of yogurt (at least seven servings a week) with a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Researchers at the University of Navarra (in Spain) looked at how much yogurt 8,516 people ate over about seven years. None were overweight at the start of the project, but at the end, 1,860 were overweight or obese. The people who ate yogurt at least seven times a week, along with eating fruit (and few desserts) were much less likely to have gained weight than those who didn’t eat as much yogurt. The researchers speculate that the protective factor may be the calcium in the yogurt that helps to oxidize fat.

The best yogurt
Choosing a “good” yogurt can be somewhat confusing. Many yogurts are full of sugar and are about as healthful as eating ice cream. Here are some pointers to steer you in the right direction:

Sugar. All yogurts naturally contain about 12 grams of sugar. This is sugar from the lactose in the milk. Every 4 grams of sugar above those 12 grams is like eating a teaspoon of sugar. So, a yogurt that contains 25 gram of sugar, for example, is like swallowing 3 teaspoons of sugar. Try to avoid yogurts that list sugar as one of the first two ingredients. Don’t forget, too, that sweetened yogurts are fairly high in carbohydrate: Yoplait Original Strawberry Banana yogurt contains 33 grams of carbohydrate per 6-ounce container, for example.

Nonnutritive sweeteners. Light-style yogurts are lower in calories than other types of yogurt. The tradeoff is that they often contain gelatin, food starch, or cornstarch, and one or more nonnutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. Some people prefer to stay away from these sweeteners. The decision is up to you.

Protein. Yogurt also naturally contains protein from milk. Your yogurt should contain at least 8 grams of protein per serving (usually, 6 ounces). Protein helps fill you up and maintains muscle mass. It can also help you better manage your blood sugar levels. Greek yogurt provides more protein per serving, usually about 14 grams per 6 ounces.

Good bacteria. The idea of eating bacteria may seem odd, but remember that yogurt naturally contains healthful bacteria called probiotics. Make sure your yogurt states “contains live and active cultures” on the container.

Fruit. Make sure it’s real. Many fruited yogurts contain very little fresh fruit; most of the time, what little fruit is in the yogurt comes along with a bunch of sugar and food coloring. Ideally, buy plain or vanilla yogurt and add your own. Skip the candy mix-ins, too.

Fat. You don’t necessarily have to eat nonfat yogurt, unless you happen to like it. Nonfat yogurt isn’t always lower in calories than low-fat yogurt, as manufacturers may add extra sugar to it.

Alternative “milk.” Not everyone can tolerate cow’s milk. Fortunately, there are a number of options, including coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk yogurts. Keep in mind that they may not provide as much protein as cow’s milk yogurt, and they sometimes contain more calories. It’s a matter of reading the label.

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