Yogurt's Popularity & Role in Health

July 29, 2015

Pickled and fermented foods have become increasingly popular over the last year. Have you tried pickled cauliflower, onions, or eggplant? These foods made the top of the list of foods predicted to be popular in 2015, according to the latest trendspotting report. Though fermented foods seem to have gained trend status recently, throughout history many of the world’s most valued and flavorful foods, including cheese, kefir and yogurt, were achieved through fermentation.

Fermentation is a process in which bacteria converts a carbohydrate, such as starch or a sugar, into an alcohol or an acid. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk. To make yogurt , Lactobacilli (i.e. L. bulgaricus, S. thermophiles, and L. acidophilus) convert lactose, the natural sugar in milk, to lactic acid, which coagulates milk protein (casein), creating yogurt’s thick texture and making it easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest. When speaking of lactic acid, microbiologist and nutrition teacher Shan Kendall said, “it’s nature’s preservative; that’s what people used before they had refrigeration.”

Although yogurt has been eaten for thousands of years, its link to health effects continues to grow. Research over the years has shown that eating yogurt may help benefit people with lactose intolerance, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Plus, there’s more. A recent review examined emerging scientific evidence that indicated yogurt consumption might help improve the health of people who are obese. The authors explained that obese people may have imbalances in friendly vs. unfriendly gut bacteria (microbiota) and exhibit chronic inflammation perpetuated by body fatness. They reviewed animal and human studies which showed that eating yogurt may improve gut health and potentially help reduce chronic inflammation by enhancing immune responses, improving intestinal barrier function and blood lipid profiles, and regulating appetite. Although the results of these studies are encouraging, randomized controlled trials in humans are needed to support these potential benefits.

Several recent studies have linked yogurt and other fermented dairy foods to health. For example, a large longitudinal study among Brazilian adults without diabetes or cardiovascular disease, found that higher dairy food consumption, especially fermented dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt, were associated with lower measures of blood glucose and insulin. Another investigation among adults enrolled in the INFOGENE study showed that eating yogurt contributed significantly to a healthy eating pattern and was associated with lower body weight, waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference as well as lower total cholesterol and insulin levels.

Although these observational studies don’t prove cause and effect, they provide a good reason to conduct more research. Fermented dairy foods appear to be strongly associated with certain health benefits, but we don’t know exactly what it is about fermentation that is driving these relationships. Randomized controlled trials and mechanistic studies are needed to help us understand this.

As a health and wellness professionals, you recognize yogurt as a fermented food that contributes important nutrients such as protein and calcium, contains live and active cultures to help digest lactose, and may help promote health in several ways, some of which are described above. Your clients may value yogurt as a protein-rich, on-the-go snack, meal replacement or for its versatility. You can feel confident recommending nutrient-rich, low-fat and fat-free yogurt to your clients for all its benefits. 

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