There is no question that yogurt is one of the most commonly enjoyed fermented foods in our diet. In addition to being delicious, there are many other reasons to make yogurt (non-dairy versions included) a staple in your diet. Adapted from my book, The Probiotic Promise: Simple Steps to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out, here are 9 ways that yogurt gives your health a serious boost:
Metabolic Syndrome: Yogurt that contains live cultures of the probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum has been shown to balance blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels and homocysteine levels in women, all of which are factors for a condition known as metabolic syndrome. In addition to these three markers, metabolic syndrome is also characterized by abdominal fat, and is often a precursor of other health conditions. Homocysteine is a marker of inflammation and can increase the risk of over fifty diseases, including heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, depression, and arthritis. Note: not all yogurt contains L. plantarum. Check package labels to see if the yogurt contains live strains of L. plantarum.
Respiratory Infections: The probiotic strain L. casei found in most yogurt with live culture has been shown to decrease the duration of respiratory infections and severity of nasal congestion linked to infections among the elderly. It likely has the same effect on younger yogurt-eaters as well but this particular test result only examined the effects on seniors.
Gastrointestinal Health: A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition assessed the effects of yogurt consumption of a product containing live L. casei cultures on common gastrointestinal infections in shift workers. The researchers found that the yogurt consumption could reduce the risk of GI infections.
Nutrient Absorption: Consuming yogurt increases the quantity of nutrients absorbed from other foods eaten at the same meal. A study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that yogurt consumption increased the absorbability of the phytonutrients called isoflavones found in in soy milk when the two foods were eaten at the same morning meal. Of course, fermented soy yogurt likely has the same effect.
Cancer: Eating yogurt that contains L. casei has been found to have anti-cancer effects in animal studies, according to a study published in the medical journal Immunobiology. The research showed that the probiotic strain blocked tumor development or delayed its growth while improving immune response so that the body’s own immune system could attack the tumor. Additionally, it reduced the number of blood vessels that feed the tumor.
H. Pylori Infections: While I’ve mentioned the GI benefits of yogurt consumption, its specific actions against the nasty H. pylori bacteria bears further discussion. H. pylori has been linked to ulcers, gastritis and cancer of the glandular and lymphatic tissues in the body. According to research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, research shows that yogurt consumption helps to fight H. pylori infections.
Food Poisoning and Colitis: Some strains of beneficial bacteria used during the fermentation process may actually help prevent spoilage and reduce the likelihood of experiencing food poisoning. Yogurt fermented with the probiotic strain L. paracasei protected against Salmonella infections and may even protect against the formation of colitis. Check the label on the yogurt you purchased to determine whether it contains this beneficial probiotic strain, since not all yogurt does.
Brain Health: The last thing you probably think of when eating yogurt is how it may be helping your brain. But according to an animal study presented in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, consuming whey, which is the clearish liquid byproduct of yogurt production, can actually improve learning and memory. Most yogurt, especially thinner varieties, tend to contain some residual whey. This is especially true of yogurt made at home.
While most of the research has been done using fermented cow’s milk yogurt, since it seems to be the specific probiotic cultures that are responsible for the benefits, the same health benefits are likely from non-dairy fermented yogurt, such as coconut, soy (choose organic only since soy is a heavily genetically-modified crop), almond, and cashew.