Research proves that yogurt is not just a food accompaniment, a dessert or merely a diet food. Evidence is mounting that it is packed with microscopic warriors - beneficial bacteria that are a must for good health. More, it is a nutritional gold mine.
The National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, pegs a cup of yogurt (250 mg) at 370 mg of calcium (compare that with 300 mg in a cup of milk - 250 ml). This is 30 to 40 per cent of most adults' daily needs. Besides, at eight grams of protein per cup, yogurt meets 20 to 25 per cent of the average daily needs of an adult. It is also a good source of the B vitamins - (including folacin) phosphorus and potassium. And, a cup of yogurt contains 250 mg of potassium - almost as much as a banana does.
"If you want to have your own stockpile of B vitamins without having to buy them, eat yogurt. By a strange chemistry, it sets up an efficient little factory in the intestinal tract and manufactures B vitamins for you," says Pratima Kaushik, chief dietician at the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi. Besides, yogurt also provides lactic acid, which aids protein, calcium and iron assimilation.
For those on a low calorie diet, yogurt is a boon in any case. "This convenient food, easily available anywhere, is a snack that tastes great at any time of the day; it is low in calories and can be sufficiently filling when eaten combined with a high-fiber vegetable or fruit," says Dr Shikha Sharma of Clinic de Rejuvenation, Delhi.
The benefits of yogurt go beyond its nutritional value and low cal appeal. According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000), yogurt helps make the immune system more resilient - "Increased yogurt consumption, may enhance the immune response, which would, in turn, increase resistance to immune-related diseases."
In addition, yogurt plays an important role in restoring the digestive tract to its normal condition after a course of antibiotics. "The drugs often wipe out every bacterium in their path, good and bad, altering the natural balance of the digestive tract. When harmful bacteria dominate the intestine, essential nutrients are not produced and the levels of damaging substances like carcinogens and toxins rise. By killing the harmful 'bugs', yogurt helps maintain a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria," says Dr Mridula Chichra, a gynecologist at the Jeevan Nursing Home in Delhi.
In the Indian context particularly, doctors and practitioners of alternative medicine often recommend yogurt to patients recovering from diarrhea, and to help ease other ailments of the intestinal tract.
Women stand to benefit immensely from yogurt. For instance, women are often prone to candidosis - a yeast infection in the vagina, which produces itching and possibly a thick white discharge. There are certain times when women are more prone to this infection - during pregnancy, while women are on birth control pills, if they are diabetic, or after a course of antibiotics. "Eating yogurt that contains natural bacteria and yeasts helps re-establish the equilibrium," says Kaushik.
A study conducted by E. Hilton et al (Annals of Internal Medicine) as far back as 1992, found that yogurt consumption decreased vaginal infections three-fold. "A particular feature of vaginal infection is the reduction or absence of lactobacilli in the vaginal flora. Yogurt is full of lactobacilli, hence the logic in its use," explains Chichra. According to Chichra, yogurt can be used internally and externally, and it is a prime 'good yeast' agent to replace for our vaginal and intestinal flora.
Then of course, there is osteoporosis, a serious health problem, especially for women. Studies have shown that most people consume far less calcium than the recommended daily levels. This, later in life, makes them prone to the crippling and painful effects of osteoporosis. While there are many calcium supplements that are not readily or effectively absorbed, yogurt provides an excellent source of easily absorbed calcium.
Waking up to the goodness of yogurt yields many other day-to-day benefits to women. Daily consumption of this food helps to improve the complexion, making it clearer and more radiant.
A word of caution, though - the fruited varieties of yogurt can be quite high in calories, even while maintaining a low-fat profile. "The jams and fruit concoctions added for flavor can dump in as much as seven teaspoons of sugar per cup and more than double the calories. So go easy on these, particularly if calories are a concern," says Sharma. If you want fruit flavor but are not willing to sacrifice the calcium or add the calories, mix your own chopped fruit into a container of yogurt. You'll get all the calcium plus any extra vitamins and fiber the fruit supplies.
Also, to be effective, yogurt must contain sufficient numbers of 'live' lactic cultures, which means it must be 'fresh'. Make it at home, is Sharma's advice. Or, when buying it, look for packing as close to the date of manufacture as possible to get maximum beneficial bacteria. And, she says, "Always keep it cold, as the helpful bacteria in yogurt cannot withstand high temperatures."