The health benefits of yogurt

Which yogurt is best for your health? Find out how the major brands stack up.

Health benefits of yogurt: what it is, what it does and how to choose the healthiest option

Yogurt, thought to have been part of Middle Eastern diets as early as 2000 BC, is a food we have long been told is good for us. But what was once a simple dairy product has changed. These days the choices in yogurt are much broader -– and more confusing –- than ever. Many yogurts have fruit and flavour added, some yogurts claim to be fat-free, while others advertise low calories or no added sugar. Some manufacturers are adding vitamins, omega-3s and probiotics to further enhance health benefits. What does all this mean, and how do we choose what's best for us?

Yogurt: A natural creation
Yogurt is a healthful food made by adding a starter culture of bacteria to pasteurized milk. The bacteria naturally act on the milk's sugar to create lactic acid, which gives yogurt its characteristic thick, creamy texture and tangy taste. Some yogurts are heat-treated to increase shelf life, which kills the bacteria and its healthful attributes. The words live or active, used to describe bacteria in the list of ingredients, let consumers know the bacteria is living and functional. To keep the bacteria alive, keep yogurt refrigerated and eat it soon after the container is opened.

All those additives
Flavoured yogurts often contain additional ingredients; as well as sugar and fruit, they may contain everything from artificial dyes to preservatives and sweeteners (natural or artificial), to ingredients that enhance flavour. Thickeners or stabilizers such as gelatin are commonly added to create a thicker texture and increase shelf life. While not harmful, thickeners and stabilizers are used instead of more nutritious (and costly) dairy ingredients such as milk powder, which can also thicken yogurt and increase its shelf life.

Some health benefits of yogurt
• Yogurt is rich in calcium, which is essential for maintaining colon health and reducing the risk of colon cancer.

• Calcium works with the live cultures found in some yogurt to increase absorption by the bones, making yogurt an excellent choice to help prevent osteoporosis.

• Yogurt is an important source of calcium for people who have difficulty digesting the lactose (sugar) in milk, because yogurt contains lactase -– the enzyme we need to break down lactose for proper digestion.

• Yogurt is rich in protein, B vitamins and essential minerals and low in carbohydrates. It's also low in fat (if you choose yogurt made from nonfat or low-fat milk).

Beneficial bacteria
Eating yogurt may help with digestion, but for yogurt to have this positive effect, you not only have to eat it with live bacteria, but you should also eat it daily. Why? Only a small amount of the bacteria it contains can withstand the acidity of our stomachs and reach the intestines. As well, the bacteria will pass through your digestive system within a day or two, so to ensure that it is in your intestines at all time, you should eat yogurt every day.

Not new, but improved
To make yogurt even healthier for consumers, some manufacturers are adding certain key nutrients that are often deficient in our diet. Check labels for nutrient contents.

Folic acid: Deficiency of this B vitamin is associated with congenital malformations in infants. Synthetic folic acid added to food is absorbed at almost twice the rate of that found naturally, making its addition to food extremely beneficial to pregnant and nursing women. Low levels of folic acid are also linked to coronary heart disease and stroke. You can find folic acid in Yoplait Source Cardio yogurt.

Vitamin D: Some yogurts contain this vitamin, which is important for helping our bodies absorb and use calcium. Vitamin D is especially important for people over 50, who need twice the amount as those under 50. You can find it in yogurts such as Astro Jeunesse, Yoplait Source, and Danone Activia, Cardiva and Silhouette.

Omega-3s: Since our bodies can't synthesize these essential fatty acids, we have to get them through food. Omega-3s contribute to normal growth and development of our brain, eyes and nervous system; they can also reduce the risk of heart disease, inflammatory problems and depression. You can find them in yogurts such as Astro BioBest Omega 3, Danone Cardiva and Yoplait Source Cardio.

Page 1 of 3 – on page 2: how yogurt is a smart nutritional choice!

All rights reserved. TVA Group Inc. 2015