Yogurt is an integral part of the diet in several countries around the world. Besides being rich in calcium and protein, it is an excellent source of several vitamins and minerals. Since yogurt is a cultured milk product, it also enhances healthy gut bacteria — the health benefits of yogurt range from boosting immunity and improving digestive health to protecting against osteoporosis. In this article, you will read more about yogurt and its health benefits.
What is yogurt?
Yogurt is a milk product that is made by adding good bacteria called prebiotics to milk to produce a thicker product. The bacteria ferment the lactose present in the milk to produce lactic acid. The lactic acid then acts on the milk protein to give yogurt its unique texture and flavor.
How is yogurt made?
The popularity of yogurt and its growth in consumption has led to the introduction of various types of yogurts like low-fat yogurt, no-fat yogurt, Greek yogurt, flavored yogurt, and frozen yogurt. However, the primary manufacturing process of all these yogurts is the same.
The composition of raw milk is modified before it is turned into yogurt. It is then standardized, pasteurized, and homogenized. The milk is then allowed to cool to 43 to 46oC before the fermentation culture is added. The cultures consist of lactic acid bacteria – Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus. These fermentation cultures give yogurt its consistency and aroma.
After the yogurt is cooled, sugar, different fruits, and other ingredients are added to produce different flavors of yogurt. The finished product is then stored at temperatures of 5oC to slow down the physical, chemical, and microbiological degradation.
History of yogurt
The word yogurt comes from Turkey, and it refers to the verb ‘yogurmak,’ which means to be curdled or coagulated. The origins of yogurt are not known, but references to yogurt can be found in every ancient culture that kept animals for milk. The earliest yogurts were probably fermented by wild bacteria in goatskin bags.
Around 1900, scientists began studying and isolating bacteria that helped to make yogurt. In 1905 Bulgarian microbiologist Stamen Grigorov discovered Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the bacteria that ferment milk into yogurt. Soon the scientists were able to combine selected strains of bacteria that would culture reliably for commercial creameries.
Nutrition facts of yogurt
A 100 grams serving of plain, whole milk yogurt contains (1) –
- Calories: 61
- Water: 87.9 grams
- Protein: 3.47 grams
- Carbohydrates: 4.66 grams
- Sugars: 4.66 grams
- Fats: 3.3 grams
- Calcium: 121 mg
- Phosphorus: 95 mg
- Potassium: 155 mg
- Sodium: 46 mg
- Folate: 7 µg
- Vitamin A: 27 µg
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein. One cup (245 grams) of plain whole-milk protein contains 8.5 grams of protein. Of this, 80% of the proteins are casein, and 20% is whey.
The fat content of the yogurt depends on the type of milk that is used to make it. Full-fat yogurt contains 3.3% fat, while non-fat yogurt includes 0.4% fat. Yogurt contains trans fats known as ruminant trans fats, which are beneficial for health. Vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid are the two most abundant trans fats in yogurt.
The carbohydrates in yogurt occur mainly in the form of simple sugars like lactose and galactose. Since many yogurts contain added sugars, the amount of sugar in yogurts can range from 4.7% to 18.6%.
Vitamins and minerals
The vitamin and mineral content can vary in different types of yogurts. Plain whole-fat yogurt is rich in calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and vitamin B2.
Yogurt naturally contains a lot of probiotic cultures that are beneficial for digestive health. The main probiotics in yogurt are lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
Health benefits of yogurt
1. Improves digestive health
Yogurt contains probiotics, which are live organisms that prevent undesirable bacteria from overcrowding in the gut. They help fight diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon diseases. Studies have shown that particular beneficial bacteria found in yogurts like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus can ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (2).
A study from France investigated the effects of fermented milk on digestive symptoms and the quality of life of women without gastrointestinal disorders. The results show that the women who took fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium showed significant improvement in digestive health (3). The American Gastrointestinal Association also recommends yogurt for digestive health and to ease diarrhea, constipation, and other intestinal problems.
2. Boosts immunity
Taking yogurt regularly can help strengthen your immunity. Not only is yogurt rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein, it also contains probiotics that help reduce inflammation and prevent illnesses. According to a review of 20 studies published in The British Journal of Nutrition, probiotics help to reduce the duration of acute respiratory illness in children and adults (4). Yogurt also contains trace minerals like zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which help to improve immunity (5, 6, 7).
3. Improves heart health
Eating yogurt is linked to healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. According to a study from Tufts University, yogurt consumers have lower levels of circulating triglycerides, glucose, and lower systolic blood pressure, and insulin resistance (8).
Though yogurt contains mostly saturated fats, this fat does not cause heart disease (9). Some recent studies have shown that the intake of saturated fat from dairy products increases good cholesterol and can protect heart health. Some studies have also found that consumption of dairy products like yogurt can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (10, 11).
4. Prevents osteoporosis
Dairy consumption of milk has always been recommended for preserving healthy bones lowering the risk of osteoporosis. Recent studies have now shown that the use of fermented milk, such as yogurt, helps in the healthy growth of bones in children and reduced bone loss on seniors.
Dairy products are rich in protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin D; all the nutrients that are essential for maintaining healthy bones (12). Fermented dairy products like yogurt provide two additional nutrients, probiotics, and prebiotics. According to a 2018 study from the University of Gothenburg, among women who received probiotic supplements, bone loss was halved as compared to women who received only a placebo (13).
The overgrowth of candida causes vaginal yeast infections. The symptoms include burning, itching, and thick discharge. Increasing resistance to antifungal creams has led many women to opt for home remedies. A 2012 study showed that a mixture of yogurt and honey could effectively treat vaginal yeast infection in pregnant women. Yogurt is an effective remedy because it contains lactobacillus, a beneficial bacteria.
Another study compared the effects of honey and yogurt with clotrimazole vaginal cream in non-pregnant women infected with Vulvovaginal candidiasis. This study showed that the therapeutic effects of yogurt and honey are not only similar to clotrimazole vaginal cream but are more effective in relieving some symptoms of vaginal candidiasis (14).
6. Reduces cancer risk
Studies have found that eating yogurt can reduce the risk of certain cancers. The probiotics in yogurt have anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties. Adenomas are benign growths that can develop into harmful cancerous tumors. According to researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, there is a link between reduced risk of adenomas in men and high consumption of yogurt. These adenomas can lead to colorectal cancer (15). Another study by Vanderbilt University Medical Center showed that a diet rich in fiber and yogurt is associated with a reduced risk for lung cancer (16).
7. Protects brain health
People who eat more yogurt can manage stress better, and people with brain injuries can also benefit from this healthy habit. During a study by the University of California, 36 women ate either a yogurt containing several probiotics, a dairy product that tasted just like yogurt, or no product at all. The results showed that women that ate probiotic yogurt had their innate stress response reduced significantly (17).
Another study researched the effects of probiotic yogurt on the mental health of petrochemical workers. At the end of six weeks, researchers discovered that the participants that were prescribed probiotics observed significant improvements in mental capabilities (18).
8. Helps with weight management
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein and calcium. The calcium and protein content of yogurt influences appetite and energy intake by increasing the levels of hormones like peptide YY and GLP-1 (19). Results from a 2016 review showed that yogurt consumption is associated with lower body mass index, lower body weight/weight gain, smaller waist circumference, and lower body (20).
9. Skin benefits
Yogurt contains lactic acid, which can dissolve dead skin cells. It helps to create a natural glow and prevents breakouts. It also helps to lower the appearance of lines and wrinkles. The topical application of yogurt helps to moisturize the skin. It also relieves sunburn and reduces discoloration.
Side effects of yogurt
Yogurt is generally considered safe for most adults, but it can cause side effects in some people. People with lactose intolerance should avoid yogurt as they might experience diarrhea and stomach pain after eating yogurt.
Some people are allergic to casein and whey, the proteins in yogurt. They can develop rashes, hives, and also go into anaphylactic shock when they consume yogurt. There have been cases where people gave got sick from eating contaminated yogurt. Always buy yogurt that has been prepared and stored correctly.
Yogurt is made by adding good bacteria called prebiotics to milk to produce a thicker product. It is a rich source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. Regularly eating yogurt can boost immunity, improve digestive health and heart health, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, protect brain health, and help in weight management. People with milk allergy and lactose intolerance should avoid yogurt.