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Yogurt for Health

Bowl of Yogurt for Health

Ancient Yogurt

Yogurt has been produced for at least 4,000 years. Legend says that an angel taught Abraham how to make yogurt.

Yogurt is a cultured milk product, made by adding certain "good" bacteria to milk, skim milk, and/or cream. It wasn't always easy to come by. Making your own was a lengthy, complicated process.

Today, yogurt is available at stores and supermarkets as well as health food stores all across America.

Following are some tips on reading the labels on yogurt cartons:

Yogurt Carton with Fruit

  • Contains active yogurt cultures means that the bacterial cultures are still present in the yogurt because it has not been heat-treated. Check to see that they are not stabilized with starch or gelatin. U.S. Government regulations require a minimum of two cultures, but some yogurts have as many as five distinct cultures.
  • Whole milk yogurt must contain 3.25-percent to 4-percent butterfat, the same as whole milk.
  • Low fat yogurt contains the same amount of butterfat as the low fat milks from which they are made. This amount can be between 0.5-percent to 2-percent butterfat.
  • Nonfat yogurt or fat-free yogurt must contain less than 0.5-percent butterfat. If the label also says "lite" or "light," it may indicate that the yogurt has been sweetened with aspartame rather than a natural sweetener.
  • Made with active cultures means that the yogurt was probably heat-treated, thereby killing the active cultures that produced it.
  • "Certified organic" yogurt has been made from milk produced by cows raised under strict organic standards, including an organic diet, no routine treatments with antibiotics or growth hormones, and a healthy growth environment. See: What is Organic?
  • Sundae-style yogurt has fruit at the bottom of the container, topped with plain or flavored yogurt.
  • Blended yogurt, also called Swiss pudding or custard style yogurt contains pureed fruit or other flavoring ingredients, and a starch or gelatin to give the mixture body.

In the 1970's, few Americans had ever tasted yogurt. Today the average US. consumer eats about five pounds of yogurt per person in a given year. Europeans are eating twice that amount Yogurt is thought to improve our immune system defenses, reducing the risk of colon and breast cancer. There is no doubt that yogurt is a good source of calcium. Plain yogurt has 400mg per-cup more than a cup of skim milk. Yogurt is also rich in protein (8g per cup) and contains as much potassium as a banana, as well as riboflavin (vitamin B2), phosphorus, and magnesium.

Yogurt's Bacteria

Yogurt is crawling with bacteria -- and the more of it you eat, the better. Be sure to buy yogurt with a seal that guarantees it has live, active cultures. These cultures -- especially acidophilus and bifida -- colonize the lower intestines with beneficial bacteria while muscling out disease-causing bacteria. Eating yogurt may help prevent diarrhea in people taking antibiotics. Yogurt is easy to digest, especially for those who are lactose intolerant, and is an excellent source of calcium, protein, riboflavin (a B vitamin), vitamin B-12 (which may be low in vegetarian diets) and vitamin A. To avoid unwanted saturated fat, choose non-fat or low-fat yogurt.

Cooking With Yogurt

When cooking with yogurt, the sweeter flavor of plain low fat yogurt is your best bet because nonfat yogurt has a thin, slightly sour taste. As with other high-protein, high-acid foods, spare the heat. Use low cooking temperatures and short heating periods for best results. Whenever possible, add the yogurt at the end of the cooking period, just in time to let the yogurt mixture come up to serving temperature. If the yogurt is added at the start of the cooking period, you can avoid separation or curdling by stirring a stabilizing mixture of flour or cornstarch blended with a little water into the yogurt.

To keep a thick consistency, it helps to not stir yogurt into other ingredients-instead, fold the yogurt into the mixture. When substituting buttermilk with yogurt, thin the yogurt with a little water or milk to the right consistency. When using yogurt for baking, add 1/2-teaspoon baking soda for each cup of yogurt used.

Use plain low fat yogurt as a substitute for sour cream; you'll save 280 calories per cup. Yogurt can also be used as a partial substitute for mayonnaise (use 50-percent yogurt, 50-percent mayonnaise).

Fat free plain yogurt (1 cup) gives you 49 percent of your daily calcium, 12 percent of magnesium and 18 percent potassium.

Yogurt becomes sharper with age. Stored at a refrigerator temperature of 35 to 45-degrees, yogurt will keep fresh for up to two weeks. The fresher when used, the better the flavor and consistency.

Keep live and active culture yogurt stocked in your refrigerator for a low fat or non-fat alternative to mayonnaise and sour cream in sauces, dips and dressings and more. It's so easy to use everyday that you'll discover the possibilities are endless!

Yogurt

Tips for Yogurt

  • Check labels for "live and active cultures".
  • Buy plain low-fat yogurt and add your own fruit. This saves money and calories.
  • Try kefir, a fermented "milkshake" with the same expected benefits as yogurt.
  • If yogurt has become sour, put it in a muslin cloth and drain all the water. Add milk to make it as good as fresh in taste. use the drained water in making tasty gravy for vegetables.
  • To keep yogurt fresh for many days, fill the container of yogurt with water to the brim and refrigerate. Change the water daily.

Incubating Homemade Yogurt

Try one of these methods to incubate homemade yogurt.

  • Wrap the just filled canning jar in a wool blanket, down jacket, or sheet of bubble plastic.
  • Put it in a box along with a hot water bottle and pack crumpled newspapers loosely around both.
  • Turn an electric heating pad to its lowest setting and wrap it around the jar.
  • Set the jar in a metal box with a glowing Christmas tree bulb.
  • Put it in a gas oven with only the heat from the pilot light.
  • Turn on the TV and set the yogurt jar on top.

Light Yogurt. Light yogurt's have fewer calories because they're artifically sweetened. Unfortunately, some brands - like Breyer's Light, Breyers Light YoCrunch, Yoplait Fiber One, Yoplait Light Thick and Creamy, and Dannon Light and Fit 0 percent Plus -- use acesulfame potassium, which hasn't been adequately tested.

Brand Examples

The cultures found in yogurt can both fight disease and keep them from happening. The best kind to get are those with no added sugar, low fat, and loaded with Vitamin D.

Bad: Trader Joe's Greek Style Apricot Mango Yogurt. This one goes overboard with 300 calories, 16 grams of fat, of which 8 grams are saturated, and 23 grams of sugar. Say no to this one.

Good: Dannon Light 'n Fit Greek Vanilla. Plain nonfat yogurt is a nutritional powerhouse. However, if you prefer it with a touch of sweetness, this Dannon choice lives up to its name with only 80 calories, 0 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar per serving.

Vitamin D. Some yogurts are now fortified. That's a plus if you don't take any extra vitamin D, but the levels - typically 40 IU to 100 IU (10 to 25 percent of the Daily Value) -- don't come close to what most experts recommend (1,000 IU a day).

Greek Style Yogurt. They have more protein and less calcium than ordinary yogurts. Try the fat free versions. FAGE (pronounced FAH-yeh) Total 0 percent, for example, is so rich and creamy that you'll swear it's full fat. Greek yogurt is high in protein, with bloat-busting probiotics. It's ideal for pre-or-post workout snacking.

Nutrition Nibble: Plain low fat yogurts save calories. Add your own fruit and/or sweetener for sweetness.

Mixed Fruit Yogurt Sundae Recipe

1 cup vanilla nonfat yogurt
1 diced plum
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup low fat granola
Ten chopped honey roasted peanuts

Place nonfat yogurt in serving bowl and sprinkle fruits, nuts and granola over the top.

Yogurt Shake

1 cup plain yogurt
1 small banana
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice
Sugar or honey, to taste
4 ice cubes

Place all ingredients into blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth. Yields about 2-l/2 cups.

Shake variations: Instead of banana, use l cup cubed melon, l/2 cup fresh or frozen berries, l/2 cup pineapple, l peeled and chopped kiwifruit or l/2 peeled and cored apple.

Match for Mayonnaise

Substitute plain, non-fat or low fat yogurt for one-third to one-half the mayonnaise normally used in tuna, chicken and potato salads, as well as for coleslaw or on sandwiches. You'll enjoy the familiar tang and creaminess of mayonnaise without the excess fat.

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