Yogurt is easy to digest, improves immune system

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By Cheryle Syracuse

If you’re looking for a little culture in your life (or maybe I should say diet), pick up some yogurt. If you haven’t looked in the yogurt section of the grocery store lately, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and types of yogurt now available.
Technically, yogurt is cultured milk. There’s nothing new about cultured products, as they have been around since prerecorded history. It is this “culture” that causes the yogurt to be thick. According to the National Yogurt Association, the process of making yogurt is very similar to that used when making beer, wine or cheese. Beneficial organisms ferment and transform the milk.
This fermentation process is what creates yogurt, with its unique taste, texture and healthful attributes. Yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium. Many people eat yogurt in place of drinking milk. Yogurt is easy to digest, even for people with lactose intolerance.
Real yogurts have live and active yogurt cultures. These cultures are thought to do everything from improving digestion, to reducing your risk of intestinal infection and improving immunity. When purchasing yogurt, look for brands that contain live active yogurt cultures.
The latest yogurt craze is Greek yogurt. Most people I talk to love the thick, creamy texture of Greek yogurt, but everyone always comments about the price. One of the reasons it costs so much is that it takes twice as much milk to make Greek yogurt than it does to make regular yogurt.
The term Greek yogurt refers to a yogurt that has been strained to remove the liquid whey. The term Greek yogurt, as it is used today, appears to be coined by a Greek dairy company when it started importing its strained yogurt into the United States.
Now most of the Greek yogurt we see in our grocery stores is made in the U.S.
Straining the whey out of yogurt not only makes it thicker, but also concentrates some of the nutrients. A cup of Greek yogurt gives you almost double the amount of protein in regular yogurt and usually contains fewer carbohydrates. Unfortunately, removing the whey makes it lower in some minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium.
If you’re being a yogurt purist, it should contain only milk and yogurt cultures. In many cases, milk protein concentrate, added sugars, thickeners, gelatin, sugar substitutes, fruit and grains are added to yogurt. These are not “real” yogurts.
Yogurt can be made with a variety of milk. If you’re looking to avoid excess fats and saturated fats in your diet, choose low-fat or nonfat yogurts.
Nutritionally, your best choice is a plain yogurt. Ounce-for-ounce, plain contains more calcium and protein and less sugar and calories than a sweetened yogurt. You can flavor your own yogurt with vanilla and/or fresh fruit. Added ingredients can more than double the calories in yogurt.
When selecting yogurt for the most nutritional benefits, look for those that contain at least 30 percent of the daily value of calcium per eight ounces. Also, look to see if it contains vitamin D. Some do, and this helps your body more readily absorb the calcium.
In addition to eating on its own, yogurt can be an excellent addition to a healthy kitchen. It can be used in place of mayonnaise and sour cream to lower fat and increase calcium in recipes.
For dressings, dips and other cold recipes, use plain nonfat yogurt in place of regular sour cream. Note: this doesn’t work in heated recipes because plain nonfat yogurt will curdle if heated.
Use plain yogurt in place of mayonnaise for salads. If you’re making sweet salads, such as Waldorf or carrot salad, you can replace all of the mayo with yogurt. For more savory salads such as potato salad, tuna salad or chicken salad, replace half of the mayo with nonfat plain yogurt.
Nonfat plain yogurt can also be used as a basis for salad dressings. Per one-half cup of yogurt, add one teaspoon of oil and three tablespoons of vinegar; season with herbs, such as oregano, thyme and black pepper, for a creamy Italian dressing. For a honey mustard dressing, add one tablespoon each of mustard and honey.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.