Yogurt has been a staple in certain parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe for centuries, but it wasn’t commercially produced in the United States until the early 1940s, and didn’t become popular here until the 1970s. In more recent decades, this fermented dairy food with a healthful reputation has emerged from the health-food store into the mainstream supermarket in a big way. Consumption is soaring.
Commercially produced yogurt is made by curdling cow’s milk with purified cultures of special bacteria that cause the milk sugar (lactose) to turn into lactic acid. The milk is then warmed in an incubator for several hours, during which time the yogurt thickens and develops its creamy texture and distinctively tart, yet subtle, flavor.
Types of Yogurt
Most people think of yogurt as a healthy food, and many types of it are. Here's a guide to the main kinds you'll see in stores.
Most people think of yogurt as a healthy food. And it certainly is healthy as long as you avoid the high-calorie, sugar-laden varieties, especially frozen yogurt and yogurt with fruit preserves. But most brands sold in the supermarket are laden with sugar or other sweeteners. It's important to read the labels carefully. Limit the sugar-laden varieties, including frozen yogurt and yogurt with fruit preserves, to special occasions.
Cup for cup, yogurt can contain more calcium than milk, depending on the variety you eat. A cup of plain, low-fat yogurt gives you about 400 milligrams of calcium, which is at least a third of your daily needs. Yogurt is also a good source of protein and B vitamins—especially vitamin B12.
Low-fat yogurt and nonfat yogurt are good foods to keep around if you’re watching your weight. Both are relatively low in calories, considering the nutrients they provide, and can substitute for high-fat items like mayonnaise and sour cream in recipes.
In order to thicken or stabilize yogurt and increase its shelf life, some brands have added starches, pectin, gums, or gelatin, so vegetarians beware.
Many flavored yogurts such those with fruit on the bottom or tempting names like Boston Cream Pie contain added sugar—and calories—unless they’re sweetened with sugar substitutes. Choose plain yogurt, because it has the fewest calories. If you’d like, you can add your own fruit or sweeteners.
Probiotics in yogurt
A number of health benefits are attributed to the active bacterial cultures in yogurt. Advertisers have claimed the bacteria help relieve irregularity and decrease colds. But many of the health claims are overstated. Among the hundreds of strains of bacteria identified by scientists, only a very few strains appear able to “colonize” the large intestine to produce such a benefit. And most of the bacteria in yogurt are digested before reaching the large intestine. Also, yogurt that has been heat-treated after fermentation has no live bacteria in it.
One benefit that is clear: People who are lactose intolerant usually can digest yogurt that has live bacteria. The bacteria help the body digest lactose.
The bacteria in yogurt are also promoted as “probiotics,” which help replace intestinal flora destroyed by illness or when antibiotics are taken. There's some evidence that certain strains of probiotics (consumed either in pill form or in food) may help reduce diarrhea, relieve constipation, or have other digestive benefits. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics "support good digestive health" are meaningless. Larger, longer, and better-quality studies are needed to test specific strains for specific conditions and to determine the proper doses and regimens.
If you still want to purchase yogurt with live cultures, look for products that carry the voluntary “Live & Active Culture” seal from the National Yogurt Association. But keep in mind that, unless you are lactose intolerant, there is no evidence that the live cultures in yogurt are going to do much of anything for you.
Yogurt and drug interactions
If you are taking antibiotics, ask your doctor if you should avoid yogurt and other dairy products within two hours of taking the medicine. Dairy can make it harder for some antibiotics such as tetracyclines to be absorbed.
11 Yogurt Recipe Ideas
Yogurt is a beloved snack and breakfast food, but it also works in savory marinades and side dishes. Start broadening your perspective on yogurt with these serving ideas.
Published March 03, 2016