Here are five things you didn’t know about the benefits of yogurt.

Need some ammunition to convince your friends and yourself about the benefits of yogurt?  Read on!

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1. Ongoing research on yogurt’s relationship to yeast infections, cancer, immune function, and cholesterol levels is focused on live and active cultures.

Yogurt must have at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture to provide its health benefits.

All yogurts are required to contain streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus, the living organisms that convert pasteurized milk to yogurt during fermentation.  Some yogurts also contain lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus cultures.  However not all yogurts contain live and active cultures, and some are even formulated with low levels of cultures.

Yogurts that carry the National Yogurt Association’s Live and Active Cultures seal contain the recommended amount of cultures. But because the seal is voluntary, not all yogurts with live and active cultures carry it. In fact, in many countries only yogurt, which contains live and active cultures can be called “yogurt”; otherwise it is classified as another type of food, such as ‘pudding’.

In heat-treated yogurts and most Swiss-style yogurts, the live and active cultures may have been killed during the fermentation process and there is no way to know if these yogurts contain beneficial ingredients.  Some companies heat-treat their yogurt to increase shelf life, decrease tartness, blend the ingredients, or retain the sweet flavor.  Read the label:  If a yogurt has been heat-treated, the FDA requires it to say so on the label.

2.  Yogurt improves lactose absorption in lactose intolerant individuals.

Lactose is the naturally occurring carbohydrate, or sugar, in milk.

About 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant and may experience gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps with the ingestion of milk products.  Yogurt may contain 20-80% lactose, but the live and active yogurt cultures help to break down the lactose for easier digestion. 

These cultures may continue to break down the lactose even in the intestinal tract.

3.  Yogurt may contain more calcium than milk.

For example, 8 ounces of non-fat yogurt may contain up to 450 milligrams of calcium compared to 300 milligrams in 8 ounces of non-fat milk.

Yogurt provides 45% of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) of much needed calcium, as only 70% of women meet the DRI’s for calcium intake.  With added non-fat milk solids, yogurts have increased calcium content, which help women to meet their needs.

Low calcium intakes have been linked to pregnancy induced hypertension and other forms of high blood pressure, a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.  People with low intakes of calcium are also at increased risk of osteoporosis, loss of bone mass. 

Approximately 10 million American’s suffer from osteoporosis and 80% of them are women.

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4.  Sugar-free yogurts that contain Aspartame carry a warning label for people with the rare disease Phenylketonuria.

Sugar-free yogurts may be sweetened with a variety of artificial sweeteners, which are low-calorie or calorie-free sweeteners. 

Aspartame contains phenylalanine, an essential amino acid for most people.  People with a rare inherited disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) are unable to metabolize this amino acid and need to avoid or limit it in their diets. 

PKU is diagnosed during infancy so people who have the disease are usually aware of the need to restrict phenylalanine in their diets.  Aspartame is found in many sugar-free sodas, candy and gum and is in thousands of food products worldwide.

5.  Some yogurts contain as much as 7 teaspoons of added sugar.

Sugar sweetened yogurts contain anywhere from 3 to 7 teaspoons of added sugar. Sugar sweeteners may be in the form of cane sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, sugar beet, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar sweetened yogurt may contain as much as 150 to 300 calories per 8 ounce serving as compared to plain yogurt, which provides only 100 to 140 calories.

Some fruit flavored yogurts are sweetened with fruit juice or preserves. These are also simple sugars, which the body digests the same way as refined sugar.  They can add excess calories as well, so read the label carefully. Don’t assume just because it’s made with fresh fruit that it’s low in calories.

With yogurt’s tangy flavor and creamy texture, it can also be a healthy low-fat treat, snack, or part of a main meal.  Non-fat yogurt contains less than 0.5 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.  But be careful, as not all yogurts are created equal.  Yogurts that are 99% fat-free still contain 2 grams of fat and whole milk yogurts may contain as much as 10 grams of fat per 8 ounces.

A great alternative…

Because yogurt may be low in fat and cholesterol, plain yogurt can be used in place of fatty condiments such as mayonnaise, sour cream, and heavy or whipped cream.  It comes in a variety of textures, ranging from as thin as watery soup to as thick as heavy cream, which can be useful in many types of dishes.

And don’t forget yogurt is a good source of protein – it contains 10 grams of protein per cup, compared to 8 grams in a cup of milk.

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