Yogurt is a common food on many of the superfoods lists and is frequently the only dairy product identified as “super”. It has a well-rounded variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin B2, B12 and B5, phosphorus, iodine, potassium, zinc and protein. Yogurt ranks high among calcium-rich foods, providing approximately 45% of the daily value in a one-cup serving.
Most of the benefits of yogurt arise from a unique “one-two” punch of dairy and live bacteria. The presence of live bacteria cultures in yogurt gives it some advantages that are distinctive to this food.
Some people have questioned the true extent of the influence of live bacteria cultures on health. In spite of this doubt, there are many studies included in respected medical and nutrition publications such as the Journal of Nutrition, Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, Journal of the American Dietetic Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, that document the positive impact of yogurt in areas such as immune system response, cholesterol levels, bone health, arthritis and fat loss.
Many diseases and illnesses are caused by harmful bacteria (germs) that get inside our bodies. There are, however, a host of friendly bacteria that live in the stomach that help keep us healthy. The addition of live, friendly bacteria cultures to yogurt supports these healthy bacteria in their disease-fighting role.
Studies show that the addition of “healthy” bacteria (lactobacillus casei) to the diet enabled subjects to fight off pneumonia more effectively. Their immune systems also recovered to normal levels and activity much more quickly. Even subjects who began the study in a state of malnutrition were able to fight off the pneumonia pathogen more effectively than subjects not receiving the healthy bacteria.
The white blood cell activity of women was studied to determine the effect of conventional yogurt (no live cultures added) versus yogurt with probiotics (“healthy” bacteria). White blood cells are the special infection-fighting cells of the body. The study found that women consuming six ounces of probiotic yogurt experienced an increase in the number and effectiveness of the white blood cells that continued even when the consumption of yogurt had ended.
Live-culture yogurt has a significant positive effect on cholesterol levels, again documented in scientific studies. Not only did levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol drop, but it raised the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. The women in the study experiencing these benefits had consumed three ounces of probiotic yogurt for two weeks, then six ounces of the same yogurt for two more weeks. The increase in good cholesterol as well as the decrease in bad cholesterol was significant.
One extremely interesting aspect of yogurt, and other dairy foods, is the effect on weight loss, especially when it comes to fat around the midsection. As we all know, midsection fat has big impact on overall health and is typically the hardest type of fat to lose. Yogurt can play a significant role in boosting the calcium content of a person’s daily diet and aiding in this role of weight management.
An additional benefit of yogurt is that it can be consumed by people who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance involves a lack of the enzyme, lactase, which breaks down the sugar present in milk. People who are lactose intolerant avoid eating products that contain milk because of the sometimes embarrassing and uncomfortable digestive consequences. Because the lactose in yogurt has already been converted to lactic acid, those who normally stay away from dairy products can eat yogurt without a problem.
Yogurt has some strong health and nutrition benefits and is worthy of significant consideration for both a healthy diet and weight-loss program.