Probiotic-rich dairy foods play a role in a healthy eating pattern.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, calcium and potassium. It contains many vitamins and minerals and is relatively low in calories. Because it offers health benefits beyond basic nutrition, yogurt is a functional food. Yogurt is a cultured milk product, meaning it has been soured and thickened by lactic acid-producing cultures. Many of the benefits of yogurt come from the probiotics it contains.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, or healthy bacteria that are too small to see without a microscope. They live in the digestive tract and are studied for their benefits to the human body. Probiotics are added to yogurt after fermentation for increased health benefits.
Although there are hundreds of different probiotic products in the marketplace, many contain the same strains. An example of a commonly used probiotic is Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, which has been used in many brands of yogurt for over 40 years. Probiotics are identified by genus (i.e., Lactobacillus), species (i.e., acidophilus) and strain (i.e., NCFM).
Most people can benefit from regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods like yogurt. Probiotics can help maintain the balance of bacteria necessary for a healthy digestive system; boost the immune system, shortening the length and severity of sickness; and may reduce eczema in babies.
Traditionally, probiotics were recommended to people on antibiotics to reduce unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea, intestinal pain and bloating. Eating foods rich in probiotics may help relieve these side effects of antibiotics so yogurt continues to be used for this purpose. Research is exploring additional health benefits of probiotics and their impact on immunity, chronic disease prevention and mental health.
Greek yogurt has become a staple on the yogurt shelf because it is creamier and has more protein than regular yogurt. Both products start with milk as the raw ingredient. The difference is in the way they are processed; Greek yogurt is strained three times instead of two. It has about twice the protein, half the sodium and half the carbohydrates of regular yogurt. The result is an attractive snack for young athletes or elderly people who are trying to boost their protein intake. Greek yogurt is also a good source of calcium.
The health benefits of yogurt might be missed by people that are lactose intolerant and avoid dairy products. Fortunately, yogurt contains lower amounts of lactose than milk because the lactose in yogurt is converted to lactic acid by the bacterial cultures. The lactic acid bacteria in yogurt and fermented dairy foods such as kefir can help minimize the effects of lactose intolerance. That means many people who are lactose intolerant can still enjoy yogurt and other fermented dairy products.
Similarly, yogurt and other low-fat and fat-free dairy products can be included as part of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The diet, which is designed to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, includes three servings a day of low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.