Yogurt is often seen as a delicious healthy food, one that many of us eat almost daily. However, it isn’t without controversy. After all, yogurt is a dairy product that contains saturated fat and animal protein. This begs the question, is yogurt good for you?
To begin with, we need to talk about yogurt itself. It’s created by fermenting milk with bacteria, which opens it up to all the debate that surrounds milk and other dairy foods. The fermentation process turns some of the lactose in milk into lactic acid. This contributes to the texture and flavor of yogurt, while also making yogurt easier to digest than some other dairy products.
Yogurt isn’t all created equal either. Some versions are strained, like Greek yogurt, where the straining increases the protein content of the yogurt and makes it thicker. You can also find full fat, low fat, and fat free versions of yogurt, some with added sugar and flavoring, others without.
To think about the health implications of yogurt, we need to look at these different types, along with the nutrients and probiotics found in yogurt.
Is Yogurt Good For Your Health?
- Benefits Of Yogurt
- Risks Of Yogurt
- Full Fat Yogurt Versus Low Fat Yogurt
- Risks And Benefits Of Greek Yogurt
- Other Types Of Yogurt
- Why You Should Choose Your Yogurt Carefully
- Other Concerns With Yogurt
- Final Thoughts
Benefits Of Yogurt
It’s A Nutritious Whole Food
Yogurt can be relatively unprocessed and is packed with nutrients. It’s excellent as a source of calcium, potassium, and B vitamins, one that provides plenty of protein too.
Each of the nutrients in yogurt has its own benefits for health. Calcium, for example, is often linked to improved bone health. It does more than that too, like playing a role in muscle development and in the function of your organs.
The vitamin B12 in yogurt is particularly relevant, as this is found almost exclusively in animal foods. If you don’t eat meat, then dairy foods like yogurt may be an crucial source of vitamin B12.
We should talk a little more about the protein too. This comes from milk, so it’s a complete source of protein, giving you all the amino acids that you need. There are two types present – casein and whey. Both types are easy to digest and are high-quality.
Protein is critical for many aspects of your health. It also helps to keep you satisfied, making high protein foods fantastic for weight loss. The protein is one reason that yogurt works so well as a breakfast food.
Can Contain Little Fat
The fat content of yogurt is influenced by the milk used to make it. If low fat milk is used, then the yogurt ends up being low in fat too. This feature combined with the protein content of yogurt makes it an excellent choice for anyone trying to lose weight.
Even full fat yogurt contains less fat than many other foods. After all, a serving or two of full fat yogurt is certainly healthier than a candy bar or a glass of soda (and is more satisfying too).
Yogurt is made using live bacteria and those bacteria are very relevant to our health. This is because we already have beneficial bacteria in our gut, which influence us in many surprising ways. There’s even thought that the health of our gut may influence our brain and many aspects of our physical wellbeing, including our immune systems.
There’s much to be learned in this field, but it’s already clear that beneficial bacteria from yogurt and similar foods can improve the balance of bacteria in our gut. Benefits may include improved digestion, less constipation, and less diarrhea.
However, to get this effect, you’ll need to choose yogurt that contains live cultures. This isn’t a given, as the bacteria can be killed during pasteurization. Look for labels that say “contains live cultures” or ones that list the bacterial species. These will offer the most benefits.
Can Decrease Inflammation
Despite fears that dairy causes inflammation, research suggests that yogurt decreases it instead. The effect appears to be partly because yogurt can give the lining of your intestines more integrity. Doing so helps to protect you from endotoxins that could lead to inflammation.
The way that dairy is fermented may contribute to the anti-inflammatory effect as well.
There Are Other Health Benefits Too
The combination of nutrients, probiotics, and protein in yogurt has many advantages, including the chance to help with digestion. Dairy foods, including yogurt, have also been linked to improved bone health, including decreases in osteoporosis symptoms.
Likewise, yogurt can help to decrease your blood pressure, potentially lowering your risk of heart disease.
It’s Easy To Eat
While you can find nutrients, protein, and probiotics in other foods too, few foods are as easy to add to your diet as yogurt. You can simply eat yogurt as-is, include it in a smoothie, throw it on top of some cereal, or use it as part of your baking.
It’s not so surprising then that people who eat yogurt regularly tend to have better diets overall and consume more nutrients.
Risks Of Yogurt
The first problem with yogurt is lactose intolerance. This is where a person cannot fully digest the lactose that is present in milk and happens because the lactase enzyme isn’t functioning well.
When lactose isn’t digested, it passes whole through the body, leading to symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance is often incomplete, so people can digest some lactose before they experience symptoms. The amount that can be digested varies from person to person, as does the strength of lactose intolerance symptoms.
Other people may have lactose malabsorption. This is where they can still digest lactose, but not well. Lactose malabsorption is more common than lactose intolerance and doesn’t present with the same symptoms.
Still, even if you’re lactose intolerant, eating some yogurt might be an option. This is partly because some of the lactose-containing parts of milk are strained out, so yogurt contains less lactose than milk.
The bacteria used to ferment yogurt may play a role in your ability to digest it too, as these also contain the lactase enzyme. Some people find that they can tolerate yogurt well, even though other types of dairy give them digestive symptoms.
It’s also possible to be allergic to one of the proteins in milk. The symptoms here are often similar to other types of allergies, including hives, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
This type of allergy is most common in children, although adults can develop it too. If you are allergic to milk, then you may need to avoid yogurt as well.
The Saturated Fat
There is also some controversy surrounding the saturated fat in yogurt. Saturated fat is often thought to increase heart disease risk, although some modern theories are debating this idea.
Thankfully, there are some healthy fats in yogurt as well. Plus, low fat and fat free yogurts are common. Because these don’t contain much fat anyway, the saturated fat content is very low indeed.
Full Fat Yogurt Versus Low Fat Yogurt
Here’s an interesting area.
Low fat yogurt is often seen as the best choice. It contains fewer calories and less fat than other types of yogurt. Many of us consume more calories than we need, so low fat foods seem like the obvious approach.
Yet, full fat yogurt isn’t as unhealthy as it might seem. Research even suggests that people who eat full fat yogurt regularly may be at a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even weight gain.
The reason for the effect isn’t clear, however, we know that yogurt does have many beneficial components. Plus, full fat yogurt often contains fewer additives and less sugar than lower fat versions, as it tastes delicious without the need for anything extra.
Risks And Benefits Of Greek Yogurt
The popularity of Greek yogurt has skyrocketed in recent years. It’s seen as much healthier than regular yogurt, largely because it contains more protein. The protein content makes Greek yogurt satisfying, so it will keep you full for longer than regular yogurt.
Greek yogurt is often healthier in other ways too. For example, many products are lower in sugar and carbs than regular yogurt. You’ll still need to check the ingredients label closely, as companies don’t always take the same approaches.
Most other nutrients are similar between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt. This makes Greek yogurt better if you enjoy the flavor and texture, or if you’re looking for extra protein. If less protein is fine, then regular yogurts can still be healthy.
Greek yogurt does have its disadvantages too.
One is that the straining processes remove some of the calcium. Greek yogurt is still a calcium rich food, but you are getting less calcium than you might expect. Some brands add calcium back in as a supplement, while others don’t.
Another is the impacts of the yogurt. Greek yogurt production leads to a large amount of whey – a concerning byproduct that may be dumped or used in animal feed.
While whey is used to create protein powder, this only accounts for a fraction of the amount that’s produced. So, if environmental concerns are important to you, Greek yogurt might be worse than conventional types.
Finally, it’s always worth checking the ingredients label. Some brands of Greek yogurt use full fat milk rather than low fat milk, which increases the fat content.
There are also Greek-style yogurts, which are thickened with pectin rather than being strained. Such yogurts don’t have the high protein content that you find with true Greek yogurt. The pectin can also be a problem if you’re baking with the yogurt.
Other Types Of Yogurt
Low fat yogurt and Greek yogurt at the most popular styles these days, while full fat yogurt is making a comeback.
Still, these aren’t your only options. There are other styles out there, which have their own advantages.
One of these is skyr. Skyr is strained, just like Greek yogurt. It has a similar balance of fat, protein, and sugar too. The main difference is in the bacterial culture used to create the yogurt.
Try one and then the other and you’ll notice some differences in their flavors and textures too. While the two yogurts don’t vary dramatically, you may prefer one over the other.
Greek yogurt comes from Greece and skyr comes from Iceland. Not surprisingly then, other parts of the world have their own variations. There are also foods like quark, which fall halfway between being yogurt and cheese.
Mainstream or not, each type of yogurt has its own benefits. The best choice will really depend on what you’re looking for.
Why You Should Choose Your Yogurt Carefully
In the end, whether yogurt is good for you is determined by the specific product that you choose.
Many companies add extra ingredients to their products, including sugar, preservatives, and natural or artificial flavors.. Sometimes, the yogurt’s nutrition isn’t that much better than a candy bar.
Thankfully, there are many good products too.
Look for ones that say they contain active cultures and have a short ingredients list. Unflavored yogurt is often the best choice. This might sound unappealing, especially if we’re talking about Greek yogurt, which has a distinct sourness.
But, you don’t need to eat the yogurt plain. You can flavor it yourself, like with some fresh berries, cocoa powder, or a little honey. This is a fantastic approach, as you get full control over the ingredients that you use and the amount of sugar in your yogurt.
Make sure to check the ingredients label closely – even if the brand focuses on health. Some companies take unexpected approaches to healthy yogurt. For example, full fat Greek yogurt can end up surprisingly high in saturated fat.
Other Concerns With Yogurt
Concerns around yogurt often start with the fact that it’s a dairy food – made from milk.
That controversy is surely familiar by now. It starts with the idea that drinking milk from another species is unnatural. Mammals produce milk to help their young babies grow and young animals are normally the only ones who drink milk.
Humans are an interesting case. Earlier in our history, we were similar to other mammals and could only digest milk when young. As we aged, the lactase enzyme (responsible for digesting lactose in milk) became inactive.
However, through mutation, many people can digest lactose well into their adult years. Products like yogurt help too, as they’re fermented and are lower in lactose, so they cause fewer reactions than milk.
Still, while many people can digest milk, the question remains of whether we should.
There isn’t really a right or a wrong answer here. Instead, it comes down to your own personal philosophy. So, in this section, we’re going to quickly run through the main areas of debate.
How Yogurt Affects Animals
Milk can seem more humane than meat, as the animals aren’t killed. However, their lives aren’t exactly joy-filled either. Remember, milk is produced for young animals. To use it for human consumption instead, farmers need to impregnate cows and then remove the calves, so that the milk can be harvested.
Some farms focus heavily on being humane and are kinder to cows and calves. You can look for humane labels on your milk. Still, even the most humane farms need to separate calves from their mothers, so there will always be some negative impacts.
Let’s not forget the calves themselves either. Producing large amounts of milk means that cows need to be impregnated often, Female calves may be raised to eventually produce milk themselves, while male calves are more likely to be killed for veal.
The Impact On the Environment
The dairy industry is huge. It isn’t limited to milk either, there are many related industries, including yogurt, cheese, beef, veal, whey protein power… to name just a few.
To meet demand, there are countless farms and farmers across the world raising cattle. The industry is thought to have many negative impacts on the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, runoff into waterways, and taking up land that could be used for more environmentally friendly industries.
There’s also the sense that drinking milk from other animals is wrong or unnatural. After all, other animals only drink milk when they’re young and even then, never from other species.
Then again, humans do many things that other animals don’t, including the way that we grow food, our industries, and our ability to communicate across the world. In this light, the fact that other animals don’t drink milk or make yogurt as we do doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
It’s Not All Bad
Besides, the dairy industry has its positive features too. The milk, cheese, yogurt, and other products that are produced do all offer benefits and are important to many people.
Plus, there’s a growing focus on farming more ethically and humanely. While the approaches are far from perfect, animals are being treated better than ever before and the trend is likely to continue.
The size of the dairy industry also means that it employs many people. For some, dairy farming isn’t just how they earn a living, it’s an entire way of life, perhaps something that they have worked on for generations.
It seems that yogurt is more controversial now than ever before. Despite the nutrients and the probiotic benefits, many people are concerned about it being a dairy food, the impacts on the environment, and the potential connection to inflammation.
What this means depends on your priorities.
Dairy foods can clearly be healthy and fermentation makes yogurt an easy-to-digest choice. If you can tolerate dairy, then you could easily include it in a healthy diet.
Still, the nutrients in yogurt can be found in other places. You could easily cut down your yogurt intake or cut yogurt out entirely if you’re not convinced about the health impacts or the ethics of dairy products.