In Praise of Yogurt

While yogurt is perhaps the most widely-known and used fermented food in North America and parts of Europe, the yogurt fad is not a new one. We have been obsessed with yogurt for thousands of years.

The word yogurt is derived from the Turkish word “yogurt” but since it is eaten in nations around the world and has been for so many years, the exact origin of yogurt are unknown. It is believed that the Babylonians started the fermentation of milk in 5000 BC to create yogurt. Since some yogurt contains the probiotic species L. delbrueckii bulgaricus, which is believed to have originated on the surface of a plant, it is believed that milk may have become inadvertently inoculated with a plant containing this bacteria, resulting in fermented milk, or yogurt.

Yogurt appears in ancient Indian and Persian records but the oldest writings are attributed to Pliny the Elder who wrote that some “barbarous nations” could “thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity.” Yogurt has also been a part of the Russian, Western Asian, Southeastern and Central European cultures for many years. Russian Nobel laureate and biologist Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov believed that regular consumption of yogurt was responsible for the unusually long lifespans of Bulgarian peasants. Mechnikov may have been correct. More and more research on yogurt’s health benefits indicates it may be helpful for many conditions and in the prevention of additional health concerns.

Serious Health Advantages of Eating Yogurt Regularly
Some (but not all) yogurt has been found to reduce cholesterol and normalize blood sugar levels; reduce homocysteine levels which in turn should reduce the risk of the many diseases linked to high homocysteine levels, such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart attack and stroke; reduce the duration of respiratory infections; improve learning and memory; and even to have anti-cancer effects. Keep in mind that the health advantages are based on the specific strains of probiotics found in the products, so it is always a good idea to try different products periodically. That way you may obtain a greater variety of health-boosting strains. Better yet, try making your own.

Alternatives to Cow’s Milk Yogurt
You don’t have to eat dairy to receive yogurt’s many health benefits. There are many vegan alternatives to cow’s milk yogurt, including: coconut, soy (choose organic only as soy is a heavily genetically-modified crop), cashew and almond yogurt.

Buying Tips
Whichever kind you purchase, make sure to check for “live cultures” either on the ingredient list or somewhere on the package. Also, beware of hidden sugars that could sabotage the best efforts of the probiotics contained in yogurt. Check the number of grams of sugar along with the serving size to determine how much sugar you’ll get. Avoid any products with greater than 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is still fairly high and should be reserved as a treat rather than eaten on a regular basis.

Making Your Own Yogurt
Making your own yogurt is actually quite simple. It simply requires heating the milk or milk alternative you choose until it is warm but not hot, pouring into a clean non-metallic container such as a glass bowl or ceramic crock, open a couple of capsules of your favorite probiotic and dump the contents into the milk, stir, cover and let sit undisturbed in a warm spot for 6 to 8 hours or more for a tangier yogurt. Scoop out the thickened yogurt and leave the whey for another day. Yes, you can add the whey to dips, dressings, smoothies, and other foods too as it also contains beneficial probiotics.

For more information check out my book The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out (DaCapo, 2015, Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM).

Related
8 Tips to Buy Better Yogurt
9 Surprising Ways Yogurt Gives Your Health a Serious Boost
The Food that is Three Times Healthier than Yogurt

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William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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