No one knows for sure when yogurt first appeared on the culinary scene, but most agree it was discovered by accident. The first record of possible health benefits from yogurt was in the 1500s. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sent his doctor with a satchel of yogurt to Francois I, the King of France, to cure his intestinal disorder. It worked and yogurt's reputation as a health food was born. Soon after, people began praising the health benefits of yogurt by claiming it cured many different illnesses.
The Culturing of Yogurt
Yogurt is made from milk—whole, low-fat, or fat-free milk can be used. Live bacteria, also known as cultures, are added to the milk. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the 2 cultures required for a product to meet the legal definition of yogurt. Some manufacturers add other bacteria as well. The mixture is then incubated—time and temperature will determine the flavor, consistency, and acidity.
The bacteria in yogurt are commonly known as probiotics or friendly bacteria. Studies suggest that these probiotics can provide a variety of benefits, including preventing traveler's diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and other forms of digestive infection, and possibly strengthening the immune system against respiratory infections.
Yogurt Packs a Nutritional Punch
Yogurt is high in calcium—a mineral essential for strong bones. For adults, the recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000-1,200 mg (milligrams), depending on your age, sex, and pregnancy status. The recommendations vary by age for children, starting at 200 mg for newborns up to 1,300 mg for teens. An 8-ounce cup of yogurt can supply almost 42% of your daily need.
Yogurt is a great way to get protein. Protein is made up of amino acids—9 of which are essential. Essential means that your body cannot synthesize the amino acid; therefore, it must be in the food you eat. The protein in yogurt is complete—meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
It is also an excellent source of riboflavin, potassium, and vitamin B12. Depending on the type of yogurt you choose, you can reap the nutritional benefits without a lot of fat, calories, and cholesterol.
The nutritional value of yogurt is not absolute. It falls in a range based on its ingredients. For example, a single serving may have fruit, granola, or different levels of dairy fat. Containers of yogurt are generally 5.3 ounces (150 grams).
Full-fat vanilla yogurt may contain 140 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 12 grams of sugar. If you choose a nonfat variety, those levels drop to 80 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 6 grams of sugar. If you are a low-fat yogurt lover, the values fall somewhere in the middle. In addition, the nutrients mentioned above will also vary with your choice. Take some time to read the nutrition labels to make sure you are getting the most out of your yogurt.
The Versatility of Yogurt
Yogurt is a great snack—delicious by itself or with a little fresh fruit or granola added. Yogurt can be used a number of different ways in the kitchen. You can bake or cook with yogurt or use it to create tasty spreads and sauces. Best of all, yogurt can add flavor and nutritional value without adding a ton of fat and calories.
Here are some yogurt substitutions that can help make your recipes healthier:
- Replace the sour cream in many cakes with plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt.
- Use nonfat plain yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and salad dressings.
- Substitute nonfat plain yogurt for sour cream on a baked potato or in stroganoffs or stews.
- Try nonfat plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise in tuna, chicken, or potato salads or in coleslaw.
Date and Oatmeal Yogurt Muffins
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pitted dried dates
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped fine
1/2 cup nonfat or low fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, beaten lightly
In a bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, dates, and walnuts. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, butter, and egg. Stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture and stir the batter until it is just combined. Divide the batter among 6 paper-lined ½-cup muffin tins and bake the muffins in the middle of a preheated 400°F (204ºC) oven for 30 minutes.
Makes six muffins
Hummus With Yogurt and Lemon
Yogurt is used to replace some of the high-fat tahini (sesame seed paste). Serve with fresh vegetables or toasted pita bread wedges.
2 large garlic cloves
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Mince garlic in processor. Add remaining ingredients; blend until coarse puree forms, occasionally scraping down sides of work bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to small bowl. This can be prepared three days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 1 ½ cups
This marinade tenderizes and flavors chicken, lamb, and fish. One cup of marinade will cover one pound of meat.
¾cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
In medium-sized bowl, combine yogurt, cilantro, juice, oil, mustard, and garlic. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to one day.
Makes 1 cup.
Source: Weight Watchers
Zesty Fettuccine Alfredo
12 ounces uncooked fettuccine noodles
1/3 cup butter
2 cups nonfat, low fat, or whole fat plain yogurt
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Cook fettuccine according to package directions. Remove from heat and drain well. Return to cooking pot. Add butter, tossing until melted. Add yogurt, cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss well. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Source: Dannon Yogurt website
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Acidophilus and other probiotics. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2017.
All products. Stonyfield Organic website. Available at: http://www.stonyfield.com/products. Accessed October 25, 2017.
Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional. Updated November 17, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2017.
Probiotics. DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T252030/Probiotics. Updated April 28, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017.
The history of yogurt. Dairy Goodness website. Available at: https://www.dairygoodness.ca/yogurt/the-history-of-yogurt. Accessed October 25, 2017.
Yogurt production. Milk facts website. Available at: http://www.milkfacts.info/Milk%20Processing/Yogurt%20Production.htm. Accessed October 25, 2017.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 1/22/2014