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

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