The past few years have seen a lot of hoopla about yogurt—especially in upstate New York, which a number of production plants for Greek-style yogurt call home. UR Medicine Registered Dietitian Rachel Reeves dishes out background on the tangy treat.
Health Matters: So, what’s the big deal about yogurt?
Reeves: It’s a great source of calcium and protein, it’s beneficial to your digestion, and it’s a sneaky substitute in the kitchen.
In the process of making Greek-style yogurt, more liquid whey is skimmed off than when regular yogurt is made, so the Greek-style yogurt is more concentrated (evident in its thick texture). This means it contains significantly more protein than regular yogurt, which may be related to the recent craze.
Health Matters: Who might benefit from eating yogurt? Is it good for kids?
Reeves: With some exceptions, yogurt’s good for everyone. If you’re lactose intolerant, then it might be best to stay away from it (although you might still give it a shot—yogurt has less lactose than other dairy foods). Otherwise, have at it! Your system can put up with even so much as a container or two a day, although variety in your diet is desirable, too.
However, be sure to take a close look at the ingredients label, and steer clear of those with lots of added sugar
, which many yogurts aimed at kids tend toward. If you need it to be a little sweet or textured, try buying plain yogurt and mixing in fruit, maple syrup, or nuts.
Health Matters: Some yogurt containers say the product is “probiotic.” What does that mean?
Yogurt’s Origin: A Lucky Accident?
Word has it that yogurt’s beginnings can be traced to travelling cultures who may have stored milk in vessels they fashioned from the stomachs of dead animals. There, the milk would have interacted with bacteria in the sack—which would have hung around even after the animal died—and fermented, forming something similar to what we snack on today.
Reeves: All yogurt is made using bacteria, which acts to ferment the milk and lend yogurt its consistency and sharper taste.
“Probiotics” is another name for bacteria. Some brands of yogurt may be intentionally manufactured to contain more probiotics than others, and some may be flashing the banner to get your attention.
That’s because probiotics are growing in popularity. People are understanding that they can help digestion by promoting healthy gut flora—microorganisms that live in your digestive tract and aid in metabolizing food, suppressing potentially harmful bacteria found in the intestine, and strengthening your immune system.
When reading a yogurt label you want to find “live active cultures” like Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Also, yogurt that’s been heat treated (pasteurized) wouldn’t contain live bacteria because the heat kills it—so it wouldn’t really support your gut flora.
Simply put, healthy gut flora can impact your overall health—and one surefire way to get them is with yogurt.
Health Matters: Probiotics—any relation to antibiotics?
Reeves: Yes. If you're fighting a bacterial infection, your doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics. These drugs work to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. One catch here is that antibiotics wipe out not only the bad bacteria you’re battling, but also the good ones.
If you’re taking antibiotics, some folks think it’s wise to eat yogurt, with its many probiotics, to restore your gut’s good bacteria.
Health Matters: You called it a sneaky substitute in the kitchen. Can you share some examples?
Reeves: Absolutely. Here are some tips:
Drop it onto a baked potato instead of sour cream. Particularly if you use savory spices to dress it up, you won’t miss the sour cream.
Use yogurt in veggie/fruit dips in place of whatever creamy agent your recipe calls for (ranch dressing/mayo/cream cheese). Again, with the other seasonings, it’ll be hard to tell that the secret ingredient is yogurt.
Replace half of the cooking oils (olive oil, vegetable oil, butter) you use with yogurt. Making cookies? Try this 50-50 swap—you might be surprised to find them even a little more moist than you’re accustomed to.
Whip up this Greek Yogurt No-bake Cheesecake. You have to try it to believe it. Just mix together these ingredients and portion into any container you like. Makes 30 servings.
32 oz Greek yogurt
12 oz whipped topping (like Cool Whip)
¾ c powdered sugar
Health Matters: Anything else you’d like to add?
Reeves: There is a darker side to the Greek-style yogurt boom to be aware of as you choose what to buy. The production process that creates Greek-style yogurt yields a toxic byproduct that’s very acidic, and its disposal can be problematic. It’s important the byproduct not enter the water supply, as its acidity is potentially lethal to fish and other aquatic life.
Lastly, you can make your own yogurt, either with a machine, or with supplies that may already be in your cupboards and drawers.
Rachel Reeves, RD, is a clinical dietitian in adult medicine in the Food and Nutrition Services Department at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital. She has a personal interest in food anthropology, sports nutrition, and physiology.