Part of Middle Eastern diets for 4,000 years, yoghurt has had a long life – and a historic association with longevity. Yet, despite enduring popularity, there are still those suspicious of adding bacteria to their diets.
Yoghurt is the end product of the bacterial fermentation of milk, made by adding a starter culture of bacteria to pasteurized milk. The bacteria naturally act on the milk’s sugar to create lactic acid, giving yoghurt its thick, creamy texture and tangy flavour.
The bacteria aid digestion while passing through the digestive system within a day or two. It’s also a dairy product that even those with moderate lactose intolerance can enjoy without ill effects because yogurt contains lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose (milk sugar) for proper digestion. And yoghurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins B6 and B12, and has the energy fuel of carbs.
Calcium maintains bone and colon health and reduces the risk of colon cancer and osteoporosis.
Studies have shown that yoghurt can even help suppress the appetite and boost metabolism. Ana Luque, in her 2008 book “The Yoghurt Diet” noted that eating three servings a day promotes weight loss (her tests showed those who ate yogurt had 81 per cent more fat loss than the control subjects).
There are numerous varieties of yoghurt on store shelves — in tubs, one-serving cups, and squeezable tubes, or as a sundae with fruit on the bottom. There are even dessert and drinkable offerings, soy-based, heart-friendly, custard, heat-treated, and, of course, frozen.
There are yoghurts with fruit and flavour added. Some claim to be fat-free while others are advertised as low calorie or no sugar added. Still others have added vitamins, omega-3s, and even probiotics — enzymes that improve digestion and bolster the immune system.
All these choices can be confusing, so which are the healthiest yoghurts? The likely answer is the least purchased kind: plain, nonfat, organic yogurt with active cultures.
In fact, look for any yoghurt made without gelatins, sugars or artificial sweeteners. Check the label and ensure that “skim milk” or “yoghurt” is listed as the first ingredient. Compare calories carefully. Some yogurts have 180 calories per cup, others only 80.
Versatile yoghurt is a sweet treat. Enjoy it in a variety of ways: with honey, in a smoothie, or with granola or fruit. Substitute yogurt in place of sour cream or use it as a great dip or sauce.