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It comes light, nonfat, organic, drinkable and with toppings. It's also a great source of protein, calcium, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12. But what makes yogurt you know, yogurt?
Based on federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, in order for a product to be called "yogurt" it must be made by combining a dairy product with a bacteria, usually Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) has made its own rules for yogurt. In order for a special "Live & Active Culture" seal to appear on a container of yogurt, the product must contain at least 100 million bacteria per gram of yogurt at the time it is made.
You may be thinking to yourself, "bacteria in my food, yuck!" Believe it or not, the live and active bacteria are actually what changes milk into yogurt by fermenting it. In addition, some companies may use additional bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium to make their yogurts.
Probiotics are able to survive the harsh environment of the stomach and make their way to the intestinal tract where they serve as friendly bacteria to help keep a balance between the other kinds of bacteria that live there. Even more amazing, this friendly bacteria helps the body break down foods, synthesize vitamins and process hormones such as estrogen. They may even help in the treatment of ulcers, colon cancer and vaginal yeast infections.
Studies have shown that this alliance actually does help with digestion and decreased infections. For people with lactose intolerance, yogurt produces lactase to help break down the sugars found in dairy products. These folks find that they usually can digest yogurt without the discomforts of gas and bloating that they might experience with other dairy products. This is good news, especially since yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium and B vitamins!
Yogurt has also been shown to help children and adults with diarrhea. Other research is in the works as to whether this food can also help boost immunity, prevent cancer and osteoporosis.
The Yale-New Haven Nutrition Advisor is created by registered dietitians and dietetic interns who staff the Nutrition Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital. For information, contact the Nutrition InfoLine at (203) 688-2422.
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Last revised: March 10, 2005 (jj)