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Yogurt is an ancient food, thought to have been consumed as far back as 2000 BC. But because of all the variations on the theme that we have today, the ancients wouldn't recognize yogurt as the yogurt they once knew. Once upon a time yogurt was simply a starter culture of bacteria added to pasteurized milk, and what you saw was what you got; a full fat product with live beneficial bacteria to aid digestion. Today, yogurt has almost taken over the dairy aisle. Now we have yogurt with fruit, Greek yogurt, yogurt with omegas and vitamins, and some yogurts have a restricted fat/sugar content or none at all. However, today's yogurt is still a rich source of calcium, protein, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, omega-3's and so long as it says "live/active cultures" on the label, you know it's also a source of live beneficial bacteria. In order to maintain this beneficial bacteria in your gut, it's recommended that you eat a small amount of yogurt every day. In addition to intestinal health, the calcium will help keep your bones strong. If bone health is an issue, an added dose of vitamin D with your calcium makes it even more effective. You can get vitamin D in liquid form and all you need is a drop or two stirred into your yogurt. Yogurt is a great snack, simply by virtue of its handy snack-pack sized containers, however it is also a nutritional and effective way of keeping yourself full until your next meal. Or make it into a complete meal by adding fresh fruit and granola. And, while the research continues, there is emerging evidence that yogurt is easier to digest than milk and may be tolerated by those with lactose sensitivities. If you're watching your carbohydrate intake, plain yogurt is a good option as it generally has a lower carbohydrate count.
Prebiotics, Probiotics and Beneficial Bacteria
Prebiotics, sometimes known as "fermentable fiber", are non-digestible bits of food that we eat. Why would we even consider eating something that is non-digestible? Simply put, because prebiotics have immense benefits for our digestive system. Think of the humble flax seed that everyone is consuming these days. In seed form, it comes out the same way it went in, but provides all sorts of benefits on its way through. On top of being a prebiotic, it acts like a little wire brush, scrubbing away all the stuck-on gunk as it makes its way along your intestines. First identified in 1995 by Marcel Roberfroid, his definition in the 2007 Journal of Nutrition stated, "A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host wellbeing and health."
Consuming prebiotics allows for the growth of bio-cultures, (living, "friendly" bacteria probiotics) in the intestine. A prebiotic effect occurs when there is an increase in the activity of healthy bacteria (bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) in the human intestine. The existence, and good health, of friendly bacteria in the intestine help combat invading pathogens (unwanted bacteria) that could, if left to their own devices, cause disease.
Probiotics are also friendly bacteria that support our intestinal flora, occurring naturally in our stomach and bowels. Increasing the amount of friendly bacteria naturally helps combat harmful bacteria and promotes good digestion, boosts immune function, increases your resistance to infection, helps with stool regularity, and creates a much-needed balance between the good and bad bacteria in your system. It is important to replenish your healthy bacteria on a daily basis and especially after taking a course of antibiotics. It's simple enough when you think about it; antibiotics kill off probiotics, so remember to ask your primary health care provider about taking more beneficial bacteria if antibiotics have been a part of your life.
To read the full article on pre and probiotics, CLICK HERE.
In your search for understanding of beneficial bacteria, you'll come across some funny looking Latin words. Let's take a look at a few of the more common ones and, more importantly, how to pronounce them so that people don't think you're calling them names when you use the words in a sentence.
LACTOBACILLUS (lak-toe-bak-sil-us) and ACIDOPHILUS (a-sid-ah-fill-us) Often mentioned together, or noted like this: L. Acidophilus, lactobacillus acidophilus is a species in the genus Lactobacillus. In Latin, lactobacillus acidophilus literally means "acid-loving milk-bacterium". L. Acidophilus ferments sugars into lactic acid and, coincidentally, has an optimum growth temperature of 98.6F or 37C. Does that temperature sound familiar? No wonder this beneficial little creature colonizes happily in our digestive system. L. Acidophilus has been shown to decrease the incidence of diarrhea in infants and adults. It has led to a significant decrease in levels of toxic amines in the blood of dialysis patients and may facilitate lactose digestion in lactose-intolerant people. In addition to settling your digestive system and aiding in the digestion of lactose, L. Acidophilus may also be helpful in reducing serum cholesterol levels, enhancing the immune system and helping to prevent colon cancer (as noted by a 2000 review in Immunology and Cell Biology).
Acidophilus bacteria have been found in foods such as milk, yogurt and baby formula in the U.S. since the mid-1970's. Another strain of lactobacillus, lactobacillus reuteri, secretes factors that regenerate the immune system and fight disease-causing bacteria. Other beneficial strains of Lactobacillus include casei (pronounced cay-see-eye), rhamnosus (pronounced ram-noo-sus), and bulgaricus, all of which have shown to reduce diarrhea according to the publication American Family Physician.
BIFIDOBACTERIUM (bih-fih-doe-bak-tear-ium) This species, often denoted as B. Infantis and B. Animalis, help reduce diarrhea and mitigate Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). An Immunology and Cell Biology review cites several studies that have shown that Bifidobacterium species can enhance immune system function and help prevent colon cancer. 2
Different Types of Yogurt
Yogurt products come in a wide variety of flavors, forms and textures. Here are the common terms associated with yogurt products available today. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established some of the definitions while others were determined by the manufacturers.
Lowfat and Non-fat: There are three types of yogurt: regular yogurt, lowfat yogurt and nonfat yogurt. Yogurt made from whole milk has at least 3.25 percent milk fat. Lowfat yogurt is made from lowfat milk or part-skim milk and has between 2 and 0.5 percent milk fat. Nonfat yogurt is made from skim milk and contains less than 0.5 percent milk fat.
Lite (light) yogurt: 1/3 less calories or 50% reduction in fat than regular yogurt.
Swiss or Custard: Fruit and yogurt are mixed together for individual servings. To ensure firmness or body, a stabilizer, such as gelatin, may be added. These products are also referred to as "blended" yogurt.
Frozen yogurt: Many manufacturers, according to their unique recipes, will mix a yogurt component with a pasteurized ice cream mix of milk, cream, and sugar, plus stabilizers or other ingredients needed for desired consistency. This frozen yogurt base mix can then be blended with fruit or other ingredients and then frozen. The freezing process does not kill any significant amount of the cultures—in fact, during the freezing process the cultures go into a dormant state, but when eaten and returned to a warm temperature within the body, they again become active and are capable of providing all the benefits of cultures in a refrigerated yogurt product.
Not all products termed "frozen yogurt" actually contain live and active cultures. Some so-called "frozen yogurts" use heat-treated yogurt, which kills the live and active cultures, or they may simply add in cultures to the mix along with acidifiers, and skip the fermentation step all together.
"Contains active yogurt cultures": Yogurt labelled with this phrase contains the live and active bacteria thought to provide yogurt with its many desirable healthful properties.
Heat-treated: Yogurt labelled with this phrase has been heated after culturing, thereby killing the beneficial live and active yogurt cultures.
Liquid or drinkable yogurt: Fruit and yogurt are blended into a drinkable liquid.
"Made with active cultures": FDA regulations require that all yogurts be made with active cultures. Only those that are not heat-treated, however, retain live and active cultures when they reach consumers.
Sundae or fruit-on-the-bottom: Fruit is on the bottom, so that turned upside down, it looks like a sundae. Consumers can mix the fruit and yogurt together to make it smooth and creamy. 3
If you're watching your carbohydrate, sugar and calorie count, you'll want to make sure you read and compare labels as there is a great variation between types of yogurts and different manufacturers. Some people fall into the "oh well, it's all natural" mindset and, while this is true, yogurt can (if you're not vigilant) pack a substantial carb/calorie-filled punch.
Making Yogurt at Home
You may want to try making yogurt at home and there certainly seems to be many methods (everything from stovetop to slow cookers) and videos out there showing you how. Here's a link to a wonderfully simple, clear and concise video that uses a yogurt maker. One of the best reasons for going to the trouble of making yogurt at home is that your yogurt will always be the freshest it can be.
Watch the video on how to make Homemade Yogurt
Just a reminder: you are working with milk, be it raw or pasteurized, so always follow directions carefully and ensure that the milk reaches the right temperature and cools to the right temperature and that you use a milk thermometer to be precise.
Nutter's Can Suggest…
Nutter's carries the Yogourmet brand of electric yogurt makers and the Yogourmet starter crystals you need to make yogurt at home.
Recipes That Use Yogurt
The most obvious use for yogurt is as a thickener for smoothies. In this case, get a lower fat version so that your healthy smoothie doesn't begin to climb the calorie or fat ladder too quickly. Stick with the freshest or frozen fruit and don't be afraid to throw in a hand full of kale or spinach (whiz them up in a blender before adding to your smoothie). You won't taste them and the minerals they add are well worth it.
YOGURT FRUIT SMOOTHIE
½ cup vanilla yogurt
1 cup vanilla almond/rice/soy milk (your preference)
½ banana, cut into slices
6 frozen strawberries (or any frozen fruit mix you like)
Protein powder (optional)
Place all ingredients in the blender. Loosely place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the blender and fit on the lid (this prevents the lid from getting dirty). Starting with the lowest setting, turn the blender on and slowly increase to medium speed. Blend for one minute. Pour into large glass and enjoy!
If you're taking any powdered or liquid supplements (such as magnesium or vitamin D), why not throw them in your smoothie as well? Just make sure to steer clear of the cranberry juice if you do.
HEALTHY YOGURT-BASED VEGGIE DIP
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup non-fat mayonnaise
1-2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1 green onion, chopped
¼ tsp. crushed garlic (or more, to taste)
1 package dry, low-sodium vegetable soup mix
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and let sit, covered, in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Get inventive! Try using the yogurt as a base, add a little low-fat cottage cheese if you like, chop up some fresh herbs that are to your liking and mix together. If you're not confident enough in your culinary skills, you could also try this recipe from Jamie Oliver…sounds great, thanks Jamie!
COOL CRUDITÉ VEGGIES WITH A MINTED PEA AND YOGURT DIP.
3. The Official Web Site of the National Yogurt Association
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.