Food for Thought: Yogurt’s Amazing Health and Nutrition Benefits

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This is the second Super Food in our big series on foods you should eat more of.

Yogurt is fast becoming one of my favorite foods, if not for my tongue, for my intellect. Yes, yogurt feeds my brain physiologically, but the more I find out about the nutritional benefits of cultured dairy and probiotics, the more impressed I am. I try to eat yogurt at least once a day. Our little family of three goes through about a gallon every week and a half. Mmm, mmm, good.

You can find this technique and other cultured dairy and cheesemaking lessons in video form at GNOWFGLINS eCourses, where I am an occasional guest lecturer.

This was not always the case. In fact, I hated yogurt until halfway through my first pregnancy. I was in a café at dinnertime and realized I needed more protein in my day. My options were slim. Cinnamon roll, baguette, coffee, Danish…you get the idea. I decided to tough it out and get down a yogurt parfait. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad! I found out that vanilla yogurt in one brand fit my palate. From there, I was able to work my way up to the point where I can now eat plain yogurt with just a little honey sweetener and fruit or even with homemade cinnamon applesauce (unsweetened) mixed in.

Like with the beans, I’m going to try to compress a lot of information into some nice bulleted lists. Prepare to be in awe!

Nutrition of Yogurt

Yogurt will give you the following nutritional benefits:

  • Protein (9 g/6-oz serving)
  • Calcium
  • Vitamins B2, B5 and B12
  • Potassium and magnesium
  • Iodine (almost 50% daily value in one cup)
  • Zinc
  • “Probiotics” (This is the big one!)

All those nutrients can improve your health:

  • Prevent Osteoporosis
  • Reduce the Risk of High Blood Pressure
  • Helps gastrointestinal issues:
    • Lactose intolerance
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • H. pylori infection
  • Fight yeast infections
  • Help you feel more full (good for dieters!)
  • May fortify your immune system (since 80% of your immune system is in your gut)
  • Improve cholesterol
  • Lower LDL and raise HDL
  • Protection against Ulcers
  • Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
  • Improve dental health
  • Balances intestinal flora
  • Improves eczema
  • Decreased allergies
  • Some positive affect on asthma

Sources 1 2 3

What is a probiotic?

A probiotic is the opposite of an “anti” biotic:  healthy bacteria necessary for digestive function and life itself. Our digestive system is an ecosystem within us, native to 500 different species of bacteria. Population:  over one hundred trillion strong. Phew! That’s a lot of campers to keep happy! Probiotics supply more fighting forces for the good guys. Because of course, out of Eden, there are always forces of evil trying to squirm their way in…

Why do I want healthy bacteria in my gut?

First, healthy digestion (what goes in is utilized and then, you know, comes out, preferably without much fuss) is always a plus.

Second, 80% of your immune system resides in your intestines. What you eat and the health of your gut has a major impact on your bodily health. “Approximately half of the body’s total enzyme production is used for digestion. Oddly enough, the body places a greater priority on digestion than on overall health.” (source)

Third, a large force of healthy bacteria keeps the bad bacteria out. Ever heard of salmonella, E. coli, or yeast infection (Candida)? Lots of healthy bacteria leaves no room for these guys to shoulder their way in.

How does yogurt provide healthy bacteria?

The two main bacteria in our intestines are Lactobacillus Acidophillus and Bifidobacteria, which are usually among the major players in yogurt. Yep, when you make yogurt, you are growing bacteria, the same little guys inhabiting your insides every day. Fortify the troops!

The Science of Yogurt-Making

Yogurt has two ingredients:  milk and bacteria. You get the bacteria either from a storebought culture/starter or from plain yogurt. When you mix the yogurt or starter into your milk at the appropriate temperature for reproduction, it’s like a teenager having a growth spurt. The bacteria consume food (lactose, see below) and reproduce, thickening the milk as they fill the space. You can culture yogurt for as little as four hours or as long as a few days. Bacteria will continue to reproduce as long as they are under the proper conditions of temperature and space to grow. When you cool the yogurt in the fridge, reproduction stops and the consistency becomes…well…consistent.

This whole “growing bacteria” thing also means you shouldn’t sneeze on your yogurt as your stir in the culture.

What About Dairy Problems?

Yogurt is the coolest dairy product I can imagine. People who have problems digesting dairy cannot digest the lactose in milk. The guts of human infants and calves are two places you’ll find the enzyme necessary for digesting lactose. It’s called lactase, and many of us stop producing it when we’re no longer infants. You can deal with this by finding lactase in fresh milk (unpasteurized), or you can avoid lactose. When all that healthy bacteria reproduces as the yogurt cultures, it converts the lactose into lactic acid. This also help increase the absorption of calcium. When you eat yogurt, you’re consuming much less lactose than you’ll find in milk. The bacteria have eaten it for you. Culturing your yogurt 24 hours can get rid of almost all the lactose in the milk.

Antibiotics:  Invasive Killers

Antibiotics are a good deal when you’re suffering from an ear infection. I got my first and only ear infection when I was an adult and my son was an infant. The irony was not lost on me, and I have a great deal of empathy for crying babes with owie ears! However, antibiotics run through your system and kill all sorts of the “good guys” that they can’t discriminate from the nasties. After taking antibiotics, your “intestinal flora” (fancy language for the bacteria in your gut) is off-balance, leaving you open to new inhabitants. Q:  Which side will win the space? A:  What kind are you going to eat? Consume yogurt with active cultures, and you’re sending reinforcements right where they belong. I might add that antibacterial soap can cause similar problems in our earth’s ecosystem, randomly killing all bacteria in sight.

Why Make Your Own Yogurt?

  1. You’re totally in charge of the ingredients
  2. You can culture long or short, depending on your taste and lactose preferences
  3. Waaaaaay cheaper
  4. I’ll show you how to make homemade yogurt so easily on Monday – no dishes, no fuss, no special contraptions!
  5. What Homemade Yogurt has done for my Family

Looking for other Food for Thought?

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22 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing this great post on how nourishing yogurt is. We eat a lot of it in my family and try to sneak it into all sorts of things like smoothies and cream sauces.

    All the best,
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  2. says

    My mother used to make the most delicious homemade yogurt when I was a kid, and I’ve been sprinkling a probiotic supplement into my store bought yogurt lately to up the strain variation in my does…thanks to this article, I’ve been re-inspired to make my own yogurt at home. There was nothing better than that creamy fresh homemade yogurt! Thanks for the reminder of all the many health benefits found in yogurt.

    -Anna M

  3. says

    We too eat a lot of yogurt! Though I’ve been thinking of making it, I normally buy it from the store. I find we go through at least a quart to two quarts a week, with smoothies, snacks, etc. Yum!


  4. sue says

    I just made some yogurt today using your instructions. Super easy, and super delicious! Thanks for all the information you share. I’m slowly making baby steps toward a real food diet – I am soaking my oats for morning oatmeal (tonight I’m using the whey from my yogurt cheese!!), I soak my whole wheat flour for breads, and as I am running out of staples (rice, beans, yeast for breads, spices, etc.), I buy them in bulk for the reduced packaging. I love your blog and have subscribed in my google reader!

  5. Becky says

    My daughter has a milk protein allergy. Would she be able to eat this homemade yogurt? I am very interested in getting her probiotics, but I need someone I trust to guide me here, and that is you Katie!

  6. Elizabeth says

    Months ago you inspired me to make my own yogurt…and now I can proudly say that I am an experienced yogurt maker! At least once a week! My hub never much cared for yogurt and now everyday when he has it for breakfast or a snack he says it’s the best he’s had! It had definitely become a daily staple in our house! Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Becca says

    Hi, I love yogurt s well! However, I recently watch fork over knives and I plan on reading the China Study. They talked about casein(sp?). Does or how much casein is in yogurt? Curious on your thoughts about this…thanks!

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Well, the china study is going to tell you “no animal products, especially milk” so that kind of shoots yogurt in the foot. I don’t think the casein (protein) can go anywhere in yogurt like the lactose (sugar) does. So it is equal to what starts out in the milk. :) Katie

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