Not all yoghurt is equal, therefore not all yoghurt is healthy.
Yoghurt is made by mixing dairy milk or cream with live bacterial cultures which allow for it to ferment. In this process the natural milk sugars (lactose) are consumed by the organisms in the culture and lactic acid is formed which allow for it to thicken and curdle and gives yoghurt its distinctive flavor. Good quality, pure yoghurt is a good source of protein, calcium, and good bacteria for the digestive system, which, as part of a balanced diet, can improve a person’s digestive function and overall health.
The most common bacteria used in the fermentation of milk to make yoghurt are lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophiles, bit some varieties contain other strains as well.
The addition of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processing makes some yoghurts unhealthy. Many of the fruity, flavored varieties have very little nutritional value and usually have very high levels of sugar which are counterproductive. These often have so little of the culture in them that they are literally just flavored pudding alternatives. Ideally your yoghurt should contain less than 10g of sugar per 100g serving and should preferably not contain artificial sweeteners as these also kill off the good bacteria.
When yoghurts are heat treated, the bacteria are killed off and they no longer have the same health benefits. Many products that are coated with yoghurt merely contain a yoghurt powder and very often contain oil, sugar, and whey protein which classifies them as sweets and not health foods.
Since yoghurt is a dairy product, a person with a milk allergy should avoid it completely, but if they are only lactose intolerant, they should be able to tolerate yoghurt. Non-dairy yoghurts can be good alternatives, and these are usually made from soy or coconut, but do watch the carbohydrate or sugar content.
Yoghurt is available in full fat, low fat or fat-free.
Greek yoghurt is also a good option and forms a vital part of a Mediterranean eating style. I personally prefer to recommend full fat products because they do not have added sugars to make up for the reduced fat content. Rather have a small quantity of full fat plain yoghurt than a large quantity of fat-free yoghurt. Most times if you read the labels, you will see that the sugar (or carb) content is higher on the fat-free product and there is usually not a big calorie difference. From a health and weight management perspective, we need healthy fats to keep us full and to help our bodies function well. If we have insufficient fats, it can cause cravings for other unhealthy foods.
Kefir is another alternative to yoghurt and can be made at home.
It is also a very healthy source of good bacteria for those who do not have a dairy allergy. Kefir grains can be bought from some health or online stores and, depending on the weather, can take two to 5 days to make. Once the kefir organism is established, it grows so you can break pieces off to share with friends or you can have multiple batches going throughout the year, especially in winter when it takes longer to ferment.
Frozen yoghurt does not carry any specific health benefits and may have more sugar than ordinary ice cream. You can make your own frozen yoghurt using a full cream plain yoghurt mixed with fresh fruits which would be a healthier option.
Good quality yoghurts are a good source of probiotics which are beneficial bacteria for the digestive system. A healthy digestive system is vital for optimal immune function so adding yoghurt and other fermented foods to your diet can help to increase the various colonies of good bacteria that grow in the intestines.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 3 June 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am