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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Naturally Cultured Yogurt, A High-Class Health Food

Yogurt has been part of the human diet for thousands of years.  And good thing, because all natural yogurt is one of the most nutritious foods available to us—it’s rich in vitamins and minerals and it provides an excellent source of calcium and protein.  All of these nutritional benefits are the building blocks of healthy body tissues, and all are essential for gastro-intestinal health.

What is Yogurt?

Yogurt is milk that has been inoculated with live active cultures such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus) andPlain Yogurt Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus).  The active cultures break down the sugars in milk to produce lactic acid.  If you drink milk, your body has to go through the process of breaking it down to produce lactic acid.  With yogurt however, this process is done before you eat it, so in Ayurvedic medicine (which has recommended yogurt as a medicinal food for thousands of years), it is considered to be a "pre-digested" food – one that is very easy on the digestive system.

Cup Full of Benefits

Since it is a pre-digested food, the nutrients of yogurt are rapidly absorbed by the digestive tract and assimilated into the body tissues.  The live active cultures in yogurt are known as probiotics – beneficial bacteria that naturally reside in your digestive tract.  Let’s sample the benefits associated with consuming this all natural treat:

  • Yogurt enhances digestion
  • Yogurt helps to build the lining of the digestive tract and fortify the digestive system’s natural defenses against harmful food-borne bacteria, such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Listeria, and the yeast Candida
  • Yogurt also helps to reduce inflammation in the body and assists it in dealing with heat from the environment. Yogurt and yogurt derived foods such as frozen yogurt and lassi (yogurt blended with water and digestive spices) provide wonderful antidotes to the heat of the summer sun

The Case for Probiotics

The most common probiotic live cultures found in yogurt are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria (Bifidus), and Lactobacillus casei.  Probiotics are recommended by nutritionists everywhere as their health benefits are manifold:

  • They support immunity and gastrointestinal health by suppressing pathogenic bacteria
  • They prevent diarrhea
  • They build up and improve the mucosal lining of the GI tract, preventing Leaky Gut Syndrome—a condition where the intestinal barrier allows an excess of bacteria and toxins to enter into the bloodstream, causing increased food and chemical sensitivities
  • They increase metabolism
  • They prevent and alleviate lactose intolerance
  • They improve the body’s carbohydrate and protein usage

Calcium & Protein—Vital Nutrients for Optimum Health

Rich in CalciumCalcium is one of the most important minerals for our health, essential for building and maintaining bone mass.  Bones actually contain most of the body’s calcium, and once you are past adolescence and early adulthood, the body is no longer able to build calcium in the bones. Without an adequate intake of calcium foods at that time, the body tends to draw calcium from the bones instead, reducing bone matter.  Calcium also helps to curb premenstrual stress, lead poisoning, and kidney stones, and it is essential for the health of your hair, nails, nerves, muscles, and blood clotting capability.  Protein rich foods give us amino acids—the building blocks for skin, muscle, hair, DNA, enzymes, and hormones.

Yogurt is high in both protein and calcium.  The fact that it is very easily digested makes it an ideal food for everybody, especially young children who need to build up high reserves of calcium before they hit puberty and adolescence.  Even though milk is not advised for babies (since its proteins can cause micro-intestinal bleeding in infants), yogurt is a perfectly acceptable and nutritious food, given that the milk proteins are pre-digested before the yogurt is eaten.  Although non-fat and low-fat varieties of yogurt are commonly available, full-fat yogurt is most beneficial for children who require a healthy proportion of good fats in their diet to support the development of their brain.  Soy yogurt and goat milk yogurt are also available for the lactose intolerant.

Choices for Sustainability

The yogurt section in the average grocery store is stocked with an entire assortment of brands and flavors.  Since each claims to be more flavorful and nutritious than the last, it is sometimes difficult to know how to sift through the different yogurts out there as you make your selection.  The rule of thumb for green products is that they must be produced in a sustainable manner, under environmentally sound conditions.  For yogurt, this means that the most important thing to keep in mind is the best yogurt is fermented from milk produced by cows that are treated well.

While many organic dairies exist, not all of them can claim to offer organic dairy products from cows that are treated humanely.  Several factors contribute to the well-being of livestock animals, including:

  • A clean environment
  • A spacious, grassy grazing area
  • No bovine supplements, growth hormones, or antibiotics

Conduct some research into the practices of your favorite yogurt manufacturer to look for evidence of "green" yogurt standards before supporting a product.  You might even find a smaller, sustainable dairy at your farmers’ market that makes organic yogurt by a small-scale manual process for your local community to enjoy.  Farmers selling at farmers’ markets will likely have certification that they provide hormone-free or range-free yogurt, both of which are in sync with green living values.  Some sustainable dairy farms even offer consumers shares in a cow, so you might consider investing in your own cow, should you find the right opportunity.  Visit The Eat Well Guide, hosted by Sustainable Table, to find a sustainable dairy farm near you.

All natural, organic yogurt has a naturally sweet and creamy flavor that can be enjoyed without adding sweeteners.  Although many grocery stores sell an abundance of fruit-flecked yogurt, Eastern and Western nutritionists have differing opinions on the digestive wisdom of mixing fruit with yogurt.  Nutritious grains such as oatmeal, rice, and quinoa make ideal accompaniments for organic yogurt.  Researching yogurt can be time intensive, but it is well worth the exercise.  Since many dairy farms offer an array of products, researching yogurt can teach you much about the quality of milk and other dairy products offer by the farm.  This is the only way to make sure that you are enhancing your health while supporting the cause of humane treatment for livestock.  Then, sit back and enjoy the creamy goodness and health benefits that nature provides.  Yum!

Article Contributors: Reenita Malhotra Hora



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