Healthy Habits: Yogurt
Yogurt is fermented milk made with different strains of good bacteria which produce lactic acid and other flavor compounds. Lactic acid production allows the coagulation of milk and results in a thick, smooth and tangy dairy product. Yogurt can take on many textures and flavors depending on what types of bacteria are used and what ingredients are added during processing.
Consuming yogurt is a great way to increase your protein, vitamin D and calcium. A stroll down the yogurt aisle may leave you wondering which of the multiple varieties is “healthier”. Some yogurts are less healthful than you might think. Checking the ingredient label and nutrition facts to find a yogurt product with few ingredients and little added sugar will help you choose the variety offering a balanced nutrition profile.
Yogurt has many beneficial properties. The good bacteria, also known as probiotics, can help boost your immune system, line your digestive tract and has been shown to improve lactose digestion. In an effort to improve shelf life, some manufacturers will heat treat yogurt after fermentation which destroys live bacteria. Regulations require manufacturers to disclose this information on the label. Choose a yogurt with live active cultures because a heat treated yogurt won’t provide you with the benefit of probiotics.
Other healthy properties of yogurt include Vitamin D and Calcium. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium is needed for strong bones, blood clotting and muscle contraction. Choose a yogurt with 30-40% of the daily value. You will find less calcium in yogurts containing more added, less nutritious ingredients.
Yogurts can be made with full fat, low-fat, or skim milk. Plain yogurt requires only two ingredients; milk and bacteria cultures. Purchasing plain yogurt and adding your own fruit or flavoring allows you to control the amount of additional calories you consume. You will find longer ingredient lists in fruited and flavored yogurts which contain more added sugar and less protein. Some additional ingredients you will find in yogurt are stabilizers and sweeteners.
Stabilizers like gelatin, whey protein, pectin or carrageenan are additional ingredients often used in fruited yogurt to maintain a smooth body, texture, and shiny appearance. Stabilizers create a gel structure that prevents separation and reduces the amount of water seepage.
Sweeteners can be caloric (sucrose, cane sugar, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup) and non-caloric (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose). Flavored yogurt will have either one or many sweeteners. Milk naturally contains the sugar, lactose, thus providing the yogurt with some carbohydrates. Check the nutrition facts label to distinguish between natural and added sugars.
Whether you are choosing a Greek, Australian, French, American, strained or unstrained, fruited or whipped yogurt, be aware of the protein to sugar ratio. You want to look for higher protein, less sugar. Many flavored yogurts are full of sugar equal to or more than a candy bar. Look at these as a dessert rather than a healthy snack and consume in moderation.
This week’s healthy habit: Try plain yogurt as a substitute for sour cream or add your own fruit for an easy snack.