Yogurt is recognized as a solid nutritional choice that delivers multiple benefits with each spoonful. It is made from pasteurized milk that has been fermented, and contains active cultures known as probiotics. Probiotics are live microbial food ingredients that, when ingested in sufficient quantities, provide notable health benefits. These living organisms have been recognized for centuries for their potential in fighting yeast infections, boosting the body’s immune system and possibly preventing certain types of cancer. Particularly important as we age, adding probiotics to the diet repopulates the intestinal track with beneficial bacteria that protect against infection-causing toxins. In addition, yogurt offers plentiful calcium, potassium, protein, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12.
Greek yogurt adds even more to the full plate of benefits. In most Greek varieties, much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar found in traditional yogurts is strained out, giving this yogurt a thicker, creamier texture while being lower in sugar, carbohydrates and sodium. Greek yogurt also contains twice the protein content of regular yogurt, helping to promote a feeling of fullness when eaten. A typical six-ounce serving provides 15 to 20 grams of protein, an amount equivalent to two to three ounces of lean meat. The richer taste makes it a satisfying substitute for more fattening ingredients such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream or oil. The only caution: opt for low fat or fat free varieties, as full-fat Greek yogurt often contains up to 16 grams of saturated fat, almost all of the daily allowance based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
How should consumers make smart choices when attempting to sift through the literally dozens of yogurts on the market today? First, be aware that not all yogurt contains the beneficial live and active cultures. Some brands are heat-treated to increase the shelf-life and decrease tartness, which kills off the good bacteria. For that reason, opt for those labeled with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. Established by the National Yogurt Association, the seal guarantees specific minimum levels are present at time of manufacture – at least 100 million cultures per gram for regular yogurt, and at least 10 million for frozen. While the program is voluntary, and not monitored by the FDA, many manufacturers seek to earn the seal as proof that buyers will receive the full health attributes of their yogurt product.
Additionally, aim for a brand that includes at least 15 percent of the daily calcium requirement. Beware of additions like hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners. Finally, keep the calories down by skipping toppings and avoid yogurts that list sugar as the first or second ingredient.
Be sure and stock up on your healthy choices. A Harvard School of Public Health study that followed more than 120,000 people over the course of two decades showed that yogurt, among all foods, was most strongly correlated with weight loss. That’s why yogurt remains a superfood mainstay – an easy-to-swallow way to fight infection, ingest nutrients and control weight.