What’s in your yoghurt
Delicious, creamy and easy to digest – but not all yoghurts are created equal. Here’s what to look out for
IT’S one of the oldest dairy foods in the world and these days there are so many varieties that deciding which one to choose can be confusing. Yoghurt has been around since humans started domesticating dairy animals. Milk didn’t stay fresh long, so it was necessary to find ways to store it – which was when the natural fermentation process was discovered.
Back then it was basically curdled milk. These days we have full-cream yoghurt, double-cream, low-fat, fat-free and pretty much every fruity flavour under the sun.
So which one should you choose to get the most health benefits? We asked three dieticians for their views. IT’S MORE NUTRITIOUS THAN MILK Yoghurt has all the essential nutrients found in milk, plus the added benefit of friendly bacteria, Cape Town dietician Elienne Horwitz says. The bacteria used in the fermentation process are good for your digestion.
She says yoghurt is usually made by introducing the bacteria lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus to fresh milk. This starts the fermentation process that
results in the break- down of lactose (milk sugar) and casein (milk protein), resulting in a thicker consistency.
Yoghurt is a great source of macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fat, Cape Town dietician Lize Stander says. But it’s also rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins B6 and B12. YOUR TUMMY’S FRIEND Thanks to the fermentation process, yoghurt is easier to digest than milk. During fermentation the compounds found in milk are broken down into smaller compounds that are more easily absorbed and used by the body.
Some people who are lactose intolerant are able to eat yoghurt without adverse effects because the lactose is broken down and converted into lactic acid during fermentation. CHOICES, CHOICES! The most common types you have to choose from are plain, flavoured and Greek. The plain kind is simply fermented and has no added sugar or sweetener. Flavoured yoghurt, on the other hand, has added sugar as well as fruit and flavourings.
Greek yoghurt and double-cream yoghurt are thicker because they’re made by straining the whey (watery liquid) from plain yoghurt to make the product richer and creamier. They also contain more protein than regular yoghurt and have no added sugar.
Bulgarian yoghurt isn’t strained, so it contains more whey and isn’t as creamy and thick as Greek yoghurt. It’s also made with more strains of bacteria – in addition to lactobacillus bulgaricus and
streptococcus thermophilus, it has bifidobacterium and acidophilus – making it one of the best probiotics you can find.
You can also choose from full-fat, lowfat and fat-free. In terms of fat content, full-fat is fine if you’re on a Banting or paleo eating plan, Horwitz says, but if you’re not, it’s best to stick to the low-fat kind.
If you want to get the most out of your yoghurt, choose wisely, says Kirby Hendricks, a registered dietitian from Alex Royal Dietetics in Cape Town. The added sugar, and therefore higher kilojoule content, of flavoured yoghurts means you should limit your intake of these if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, she says.
Check the sugar content on the label, Horwitz adds. “If a serving has 20g of sugar, that’s equal to five teaspoons,” she says.
All three dieticians agree that food colourings and other unnatural additives – including stabiliser (modified starch), preservatives such as benzoate or gelatin to add creaminess – are a big no-no, so avoid brands that contain these.
Rather go for plain yoghurt made without these additives.
“Natural yoghurt with probiotics or live cultures is probably the healthiest of all yoghurts,” Hendricks says.
There are now also plant-based, nondairy, lactose-free yoghurt alternatives, made from coconut, soya, almond, cashew nut or rice milk.
These are a great option for those who want to avoid dairy entirely, such as vegans.
Drinking yoghurt, which is easy to grab on the go, is yoghurt mixed with milk or fruit juice and generally has the same health benefits as yoghurt – but check the sugar content as these products tend to have added sugar and flavourings. OTHER WAYS TO EAT YOGHURT Yoghurt isn’t only for breakfast or a quick snack. You can incorporate plain yoghurt in your diet in many other ways.
It can be substituted for the fat in recipes for cakes, muffins and breads.
Spice it up with your favourite herb or spice to make a low-fat dip to serve with fresh veggies – a great snack alternative to chips and cheese dips.
You can also use yoghurt instead of mayonnaise or as a salad dressing.
It works well as a tenderiser or to marinate meats and poultry.
And next time you make a baked potato, ditch the sour cream and top it with yoghurt instead.
Bulgarian yoghurt is one of the best probiotics you can find