The health benefits of yogurt: its all greek to me

The idea of fermenting milk (which in itself is a strange food if you start to think of where it comes from) into yogurt has a very long history dating back probably to Central Asian herdsmen, and was most likely discovered by “accident” from curdled milk. The word itself is Turkish in origin: “yoğurt.”

Nowadays and probably what they already knew back then, yogurt is considered nutritious and important for our health. Why is this and is yogurt really that good for you? To answer that question, one must understand what yogurt is, and why it is touted as a health food. Let’s begin with the primordial: bacterial fermentation. Without it, we wouldn’t have bread, wine, beer!, sauerkraut (which I could live without), dried sausages (also what I could live without, sorry spain), kimchi, vinegar ecetera, ecetera. Fermentation is key to yogurts’ health properties so it seems.

Wikipedia defines fermentation as:
Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts,bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Fermentation in simple terms is the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol. The science of fermentation is also known as zymology, or zymurgy.

Fermentation has been studied for centuries, probably starting with animal sciences and what happens in the “gut” of a ruminant. The tradition of fermenting foods still carries on today. By buddy Jeremy, is a connoisseur of fermentation and uses his mastery in such things as homemade breads and pickles (all done in his mini-Rome cucina). He has a great post on bread up today. I am still trying to convince him to start making beer…but alcohol consumption has been toned down a bit in my household as of late.

In recent years, numerous studies have been published on the health effects of yogurt and the bacterial cultures, also known as lactic acid-producing bacteria or LAB, used in the production of yogurt. The two main LABs are Lactobacillus and Streptococcus species and are also known as “probiotics.”

One review outlined the beneficial effects of LAB consumption as well as rationale for how they exert their effects including modifying the acid/basic properties of the gut, inhibiting pathogens and those foreign bodies one is often exposed to when traveling to exotic lands (this is up for interpretation) from wreaking havoc in your delicate intestinal system by competing with them or having antimicrobial properties. Also, these probiotics can stimulate immunomodulatory cells (keep your immune system strong), and producing lactase which all help to fight infections.

Another study stated that “The benefits of yogurt consumption to gastrointestinal function are most likely due to effects mediated through the gut microflora, bowel transit, and enhancement of gastrointestinal innate and adaptive immune responses.”

Some of the overall benefits include:

  • improving intestinal tract health;
  • enhancing the immune system, synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients;
  • reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals;
  • reducing risk of certain cancers.

The benefits of yogurt and LAB on gastrointestinal health specifically have also been shown to have promising health benefits including constipation, diarrheal diseases, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and allergies. Culturing of yogurt increases the absorption of calcium and B-vitamins. The lactic acid in the yogurt aids in the digestion of the milk calcium, making it easier to absorb.

Of course large variations in the health properties of yogurt is dependent on the strains of LAB used and how often consumed. As always, and sorry to disappoint, studies do conflict on its immunogenic properties and the idea of the “hygiene hypothesis.” More human studies need to be done to truly understand the role of yogurt on human health. As again as always, this proves to be difficult research to do in humans because we eat more than just yogurt in our diets…its all about causality. Sigh…

What other nutritional benefits besides those little bugs can be found in “yoğurt”? It is rich in calcium. An 8-ounce serving of most yogurts provides 450 mg. of calcium, 30% of the adult RDA for calcium. Yogurt is a good source of protein with approximately 10-11 grams of protein in one serving (20% of the daily requirement), often in the predigested form (again thanks to those little bugs).

The new obsession is Greek Yogurt, which is basically like eating cream cheese. It is strained through a bag to remove the whey and well, it is delicious. Dairy and yogurt producing companies have realized this – Danone, Stonybrook, etc – have all jumped on the bandwagon and are making greek yogurt, because well, you know, we are all of greek origin if you go back far enough…And who else can sell yogurt by having a zebra sing a song called “any little fish” with a cow and spoonbill being the backup band? Greek yogurt companies can! But I digress…

I saw a recent blog that people have become obsessed with greek yogurt because instead of going out and eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and feeling guilty about it, you can mow down 150 grams of creamy rich grecian yogurt and get the same culinary pleasure while being “healthy” and letting people know that you strictly stick to the Mediterranean diet…Sound like the dark chocolate justification? It is. Greek yogurt is still fattening and heavy in calories. One 150g single serving is 25% of your day’s fat intake, and that is if you are a 175 pound man consuming 2000 kcal. If you don’t care about calories, then dig in. But if you do care and reach for the greek, go for the lower fat options that are readily available.

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2 Responses to The health benefits of yogurt: its all greek to me

  1. KATE says:

    I HAVE TO HAVE GREEK YOUGART DAILY. I AM SO ADDICTED TO EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. IT’S CONSISTENCY IS A DREAM AND THE FLAVOR IS OUT OF THIS WORLD.

  2. Pingback: Nibbles: Chillies, Catfish, Blight, Beef, Svalbard, Biofortification, Agriculture and health book, Ahipa, GBIF, Pacific, Cassava and marriage, Amazon, Lost genebanks, Vietnamese food, Yoghurt

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