IT'S not just branding; yoghurt is really great for your body. It has a host of health benefits, especially for your bone and digestive health. But like any other processed food that you consume, there are some key things that you should watch out for to ensure that you are really being good to your body by eating yoghurt.
Vanessa White-Barrow is a registered nutritionist, senior lecturer and head of the School of Allied Health and Wellness at the University of Technology, Jamaica. She explains how yoghurt is made and differentiates between the types of yoghurt that you will find on the shelf.
“Yoghurt is really made by fermenting milk with good bacteria called probiotics, which gives it the unique benefits for which yoghurt is known” she says. “These good bacteria in yoghurt promote healthy gut bacteria, and can be very beneficial for the digestive tract. Yoghurt is also rich in protein and calcium.”
White-Barrow points out that there are different types of yoghurt, and the nutritional composition varies based on the type.
“There are low and no-fat yoghurt that use skim milk over very low-fat milk. There are Greek and skyr yoghurt that are richer and creamier and very high in protein, while kefir yoghurt goes through less processing and is more liquid. There is also frozen yoghurt, which is a popular ice cream substitute,” she lists.
She adds that yoghurt can also be made with non-dairy milks, such as coconut, almond and vanilla.
White-Barrow details the health benefits of the probiotics that are found in most yoghurt.
“These good bacteria help to regulate the digestive system and decrease gas, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating. They help in the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals from other foods that are consumed, which help with overall health,” she says.
“Some studies have also indicated that probiotics strengthen the immune system, aids in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and reduces cancer risk,” she adds.
She points out quickly, though, that not all yoghurt products being sold commercially include these helpful organisms.
“It's important to read the label of your yoghurt to see whether it includes live probiotics. Products made with yoghurt powder have little to no good bacteria, because of the heat used to process the powder,” she explains. “The most common ones you might see on the label are Lactobacillus bulgaricus [L bulgaricus] and Streptococcus thermophiles [S thermophiles], but other strains may be used.”
In addition to the benefits from the probiotics, the nutritionist notes that the product has other minerals and nutrients that are good for your body.
“As it is derived from milk, yoghurt is rich in calcium, which is essential for healthy bone and teeth development. Vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium are also found in good amounts,” she says.
The side effects, she says, are few, but these depend on the type of yoghurt and whether you have a sensitivity to it.
“The fermentation removes a lot of the lactose from the milk, so someone who is usually lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate yoghurt, but it's advisable to try just a small amount first, or try a non-dairy type,” she says. “Many commercially available varieties also contain sweeteners, additives, and preservatives, that may cause mild reactions or allergies.”
White-Barrow adds that it's essential that you check the calorie content of your yoghurt, especially if you are watching your weight, as some are much higher in calories than others.