Yogurt is a milk product produced by the
bacterial fermentation of two bacteria.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, for a refrigerated product to be
considered yogurt, it must be produced by
culturing permitted dairy ingredients with a
bacterial culture which contains Lactobacillus
bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.
Yogurt may contain other types of live cultures
as well, such as Lactobacillus casei,
Lactobacillus GG, and Bifidobacteria.
Yogurt is made when these bacteria convert the
sugar in milk (lactose) into lactic acid. This
gives yogurt its unique texture and tangy
flavor. Because of the action of the bacteria,
yogurt is almost a “pre-digested” food. Within
an hour of eating yogurt, 90 percent of it is
digested, compared to about 30 percent of a
glass of milk in that same time frame.
Besides being easily digestible, yogurt offers
many other health benefits. The live bacteria in
yogurt help maintain the balance of the
digestive system. This includes preventing and
controlling diarrhea and regulating bowel
activity. These good bacteria use up space and
nutrients, leaving little room for harmful
bacteria to flourish. With no food and no place
to attach themselves, they pass through the
digestive system and out of the body before they
can cause a problem. These good bacteria also
produce lactic acid, and many disease-causing
bacteria cannot survive these acidity levels.
These beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, have
also been shown to aid the body in many other
ways. They stimulate the immune system, helping
to prevent a variety of illnesses. Several
studies have shown evidence of yogurt’s positive
effect on the immune system. The bacteria reduce
the amount of carcinogenic compounds in the
intestines by ridding the body of harmful
bacteria which transform nitrates into
cancer-causing nitrites, and they also inhibit
the formation tumors.
In fact, a recent study by the Karolinska
Institute in Sweden has shown that eating just
two servings of yogurt a day may decrease the
risk of bladder cancer—by almost half in some
people. This huge study followed 82,000 men and
women over the course of nine years. Those who
ate two yogurt servings a day saw a decrease in
bladder cancer at a rate of 45 percent in women
and 36 percent in men. At a time when the
occurrence of bladder cancer is on the rise,
this is particularly good news.
As with most things related to probiotics, any
negative side effects of eating yogurt are
extremely minimal. Those with badly damaged
gastrointestinal tracts should avoid yogurt.
There has also been some evidence that those
with compromised immune systems, such as people
with HIV/AIDS, should not eat large amounts of
yogurt without checking with their doctor. For
the vast majority of the population, however,
any yogurt that has been prepared and stored
properly is quite safe.
Though yogurt is at the forefront of today’s
healthy food products, it has been around to
witness many of the great events in history.
Fermented and cultured milk products like yogurt
were likely being consumed before recorded
history, since humans have been drinking milk
since that time. The first cultured milk product
probably occurred naturally. Because of its good
taste, humans figured out how to save a starter
culture from a batch of yogurt to help ferment
another batch. The first recorded use of yogurt
occurred with Genghis Khan and the Mongols. The
Mongols spread the consumption of yogurt to
Turkey and other parts of the Middle East.
The National Yogurt Association is a national
non-profit trade organization which represents
manufacturers and marketers of live and active
culture yogurt makers. The organization
developed the “Live & Active Cultures” seal to
help consumers identify those brands that
contain live and active cultures, usually of
streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus
bulgaricus. This voluntary seal is available to
refrigerated yogurt with at least 100 million
cultures per gram at the time of manufacture and
to frozen yogurt with at least 10 million
cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.
It should be noted that while this seal is a
very beneficial tool for consumers, it only
guarantees the amount of live cultures at the
time of manufacture. After shipping and storage,
the amount could be significantly less or even
non-existent. In addition, yogurt that is
labeled as “heat-treated” has been heated after
culturing, killing any live and active cultures.
While heat-treating will likely prolong
shelf-life, it will rid the yogurt of the
benefits of the healthy bacteria. The standard
shelf life for non-heat-treated yogurt is 42 to
Yogurt can also be made at home, with or without
a yogurt maker, using a simple recipe of whole
or 2 percent milk and a starter culture of
bacteria. These starter cultures are available
at most health food stores. As an alternative to
this starter culture, regular, store-bought
yogurt with live bacteria can be used as a
starter. Two tablespoons of this yogurt or
yogurt from a previous batch are all that needs
to be added per each quart of milk. Seeing the
fermentation process in action is an added bonus
to eating the tasty yogurt. After a few hours,
the bacteria will have multiplied exponentially,
creating a thick, tangy treat.
Incidentally, anyone reading very extensively
about yogurt will find an array of different
spellings out there. The word “yogurt”
originated from the Turkish word which is
spelled the same except using a g-breve in place
of the English g. In the Turkish pronunciation,
this sound is a guttural elongation of the vowel
sounds, not a g sound at all. When the word was
initially translated, it was spelled with a gh.
“Yoghurt” is still used in England, Australia,
and New Zealand, though the American spelling of
yogurt is becoming the spelling of choice in
England, also, as more and more manufacturers
switch to that spelling. Another variation on
the spelling is “yoghourt,” though that is less
AboutYogurt.Com: The Official Website of the
National Yogurt Association. (2009).
Fankhauser, Ph.D., David B. (2008). Yogurt
Making Illustrated. .
Gauffin Cano, Paula et al. (2002). Cambridge
University Press. Immunological Effects of
Yogurt Addition to a Re-nutrition Diet in a
Malnutrition Experimental Model.
Larsson, Susanna et al. (2008). The American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cultured
Milk, Yogurt, and Dairy Intake in Relation to
Bladder Cancer Risk in a
Prospective Study of Swedish Men and Women.
McGee, Harold. (2009). The New York Times. They
Do the Work, You Reap the Yogurt.
Taylor, John R. and Mitchell, Deborah. The
Wonder of Probiotics. New York, NY: St. Martin’s
Trenev, Natasha. Probiotics: Nature’s Internal
Healers. Garden City Park, New York: Avery
Publishing Group, 1998.
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