Why do you eat yogurt?
In this country we eat yogurt mainly because we are told it is good for us. The TV commercials, our doctor, our parents—somebody told us to start eating it for some reason. Unless we were born into a family who had an ethnic connection to yogurt as a regular part of their diet, most of us would never even try it. Do we even know what yogurt is? How did yogurt come to be considered good for us? Why is it good for us? Is all yogurt good for us?
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product. You start with some kind of milk, generally cow's milk, add some dairy cultures (beneficial bacteria or "probiotics"), keep it warm for a period of time, and let the bacteria do their work. The milk's physical components (fat, protein, sugar, and water or whey) are digested by the bacteria and are changed in subtle ways causing the milk to thicken.
Yogurt, cheese, butter milk, kefir, bread, tempeh, shoyu, pickles, wine, and beer are all members of a food group called "super foods." These super foods are the result of microbial or enzyme (yeast, bacteria, fungus, rennet, etc.) action on common foodstuffs that transform them into nutritional power houses by breaking down and altering certain molecules into a more usable form. This allows for easier digestion of the food and an increased level of nutrient absorption.
These microbes hang around, populate our gut, and continue to help digest all the food we eat. This population of gut microbes is also our main source of B vitamins (especially B12) and trace minerals, which are needed by our internal systems to function properly. Most of the super foods mass produced today have their microbes killed by heat treatment and are not passed on to our body. That is why yogurt with live bacteria is considered to be such an important part of our diet.
All yogurt is not meant to be a supplier of probiotics and will not maintain your gut bacteria population at healthy levels. Most of the popular yogurts today are marketed as a confectionary dessert food item, and not the traditional staple meal that yogurt has historically been. The bacteria are typically used simply as a texture and flavor enhancing agent. Some yogurt is heat treated after fermentation to kill the bacteria. For most of us, yogurt is nothing more than a supposedly healthy replacement for ice cream.
All yogurt, even in this country, used to be sold plain with no flavorings or thickeners. It was also all tart, because of the high bacteria count and long fermentation process with produced high levels of lactic acid.
Someone got the bright idea that it would sell better if sweeteners were added. That happened during the first frozen yogurt wave that hit the states in the late 1970s. The fermentation process was also changed to produce a mild flavor.
Since sweetened flavored yogurt sold far better than tart yogurt, most other manufacturers followed suit or risked losing their market share to their competitors. As a result, the mass market yogurt of today has been altered from a health supporting staple food to a desert item filled with harmful levels of sugar, thickeners, and chemical additives.
Our body requires live microbes to be present in order to properly digest the food we consume and protect against illness and infection. Our intestinal tracts are inoculated with bacteria during pregnancy and from our mother's milk shortly after birth, which helps us digest our food properly and efficiently. Bottle-feeding, age, use of antibiotics, chemotherapy, or poor dietary habits can cause our intestinal bacteria to be severely depleted.
The bacteria transferred to the gut from the consumption of yogurt helps to restore our natural bacteria population, and help fight off invasion by other bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses. Foreign, harmful bacteria have a hard time getting a toehold in our body if there is already a healthy thriving beneficial bacteria colony taking up the available space and food.
Research done by Russian biologist Ilia I. Metchnikov (Nobel prize 1908) suggested that regular consumption of yogurt can help to achieve a longer and healthier life span. His research focused on the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe, including
, due to its high
concentration of centenarians. Metchnikov helped launch yogurt's reputation as
one of the original health foods during the health food movement of the early
1900's and again in the 1960's. Bulgaria
The probiotic (bacteria) unit of measure, called a CFU or Colony Forming Unit, denotes active, reproductive bacteria as opposed to inactive or dead bacteria. A single bacterium can divide and form a "colony" of many bacteria. Commercial labs can analyze samples and report a certain number of CFUs per gram of product. The most recent independent lab analysis of White Mountain Foods yogurt reported 400 million CFUs per gram of yogurt. That's up to 90 billion per one cup serving, making our yogurt one of the most probiotic-dense foods on the market.
While eating real yogurt occasionally is good for our overall health and provides many nutritional and probiotic benefits even in small amounts, to maximize the digestive and probiotic value of
yogurt one should incorporate it into their daily diet as a staple food. Consuming
one cup or more at a time, every day, will provide a steady stream of live
probiotics that survive beyond initial digestion and contribute in a
significant way to the support of our health.
Check out our recipe page for more imaginative and traditional ways to incorporate yogurt into your everyday diet.