For many years there has been a long debate over whether or not yogurt is healthy and good for you. Some argue that it is high in saturated fat, while others voice concerns about sugars, additives and sweeteners. In short, yogurt is good for you, and you should eat it (alongside other full fat dairy products), but always in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Yogurt, especially full fat yogurt, is typically bursting with probiotics that are good for gut bacteria, as well as protein, calcium, potassium and B-Vitamins. Greek yogurt for example offers more protein than regular, low-fat or natural yogurt, and is low in crabs – perfect for those wanting to lose weight or stick to a low-carb diet. While yogurt also contains sugar, some of that sugar is actually natural sugar (lactose) that comes from the milk the yogurt is made from. This sugar is also offset by the protein, calcium and potassium that is in the pot, too.
Yogurt is made by heating milk in a vat, which is then fermented with a yogurt culture. Other gut-friendly cultures and fruit are sometimes added, depending on the type of yogurt being produced. Health benefits of yogurt range from relief of bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), to lower risks of developing heart disease, helping to maintain strong teeth and bones and aiding digestion. Adding sugar and the over-processing of yogurt can however make it unhealthy. Yogurt is essentially fresh milk or cream that has been pasteurised and then fermented with live cultures, before being kept in a sealed container at a certain temperature to develop bacteria. This ferments the lactose within the yogurt, producing lactic acid, which gives yogurt that slightly sour edge.
Whether a specific type of yogurt is more healthy than others is a subject that has long been up for debate. To put it simply, Greek yogurt, although creamier and richer in flavour, is very similar to regular natural yogurt in terms of nutritional value. It is lower in sugar and carbohydrates, and packs in more protein. Also, unlike flavoured or fat-free yogurts, Greek yogurt doesn't contain excessive amounts of sugar or sweeteners/additives, leaving you free to sweeten the yogurt to your own preference using fruit, honey or maple syrup. However, unlike natural yogurt, Greek yogurt contains less calcium, as this tends to be removed during the straining process. Although straining gives Greek yogurt a thick texture, it does remove around half of the calcium content, making it slightly less healthy. Some brands put a calcium supplement back into the yogurt to compensate for this, but others don't. This is worth considering if you have been advised to eat more yogurt to combat health issues such as osteoporosis.
Yogurt-flavoured products are just that – flavoured, and are not typically made from fresh yogurt. Examples are cereal bars which contain a yogurt layer claiming to be 'made with real yogurt', when in actual fact these are made with just a small amount of yogurt powder and sugar, whey and oil. This yogurt powder is heat treated, which kills friendly bacteria and has very little nutritional value.
Eating yogurt is generally a healthy choice, but it all depends on the amount you are consuming in relation to the rest of your diet, and the type of yogurt you are eating. Generally speaking, yogurts are healthy because they aid the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, contain live cultures, give a boost of calcium, B-vitamins and protein, and help to boost the immune system through the probiotics within them. It has even been suggested that consuming yogurt helps protect against the development of type 2 diabetes. Be aware though that some yogurt isn't healthy, and that yogurts with additives, extra sugar and sweeteners can mean that you are actually consuming more calories than you realise. All yogurt contains some natural sugar, but generally speaking, a yogurt that contains less than 15g of sugar per serving is the only kind that can really be considered 'healthy'. As a rule of thumb, the lower the sugar content, the more healthy the yogurt is overall.
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