Health Benefits of Yogurt: Nutrition, Protein, and Probiotics

Humans have consumed yogurt for hundreds of years.

It’s very nutritious, and eating it regularly may boost several aspects of your health. For example, yogurt has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as aid in weight management.

Yogurt is a popular dairy product made by the bacterial fermentation of milk.

The bacteria used to make yogurt are called “yogurt cultures,” which ferment lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. This process produces lactic acid, a substance that causes milk proteins to curdle, giving yogurt its unique flavor and texture.

Yogurt can be made from all types of milk. Varieties made from skim milk are considered fat-free, whereas whole milk options are considered full fat.

Plain yogurt without added colorants is a white, thick liquid with a tangy flavor. However, most commercial brands contain added ingredients, such as sugar and artificial flavors.

Here are six science-based health benefits of natural yogurt.

Yogurt contains some of nearly every nutrient that your body needs.

It’s known for containing a lot of calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy teeth and bones. Just one cup provides 49% of your daily calcium needs (1, 2).

It’s also high in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and riboflavin, both of which may protect against heart disease and certain neural tube birth defects (2, 3, 4).

One cup also provides 28% of your daily phosphorus, 10% for magnesium, and 12% for potassium. These minerals are essential for several biological processes, such as regulating blood pressure, metabolism, and bone health (2, 5, 6, 7).

One nutrient that yogurt does not naturally contain is vitamin D, but it’s commonly fortified with it. Vitamin D promotes bone and immune system health and may reduce the risk of some diseases, including heart disease and depression (89, 10).

Summary

Yogurt provides almost every nutrient that your body needs. It’s especially high in calcium, B vitamins, and trace minerals.

Yogurt provides an impressive amount of protein, with about 12 grams per 8 ounces (227 grams) (2).

Protein is shown to support metabolism by increasing your energy expenditure, or the number of calories that you burn throughout the day (11).

Getting enough protein is also important for appetite regulation, as it increases the production of hormones that signal fullness. It may help reduce the number of calories you consume overall, which is beneficial for weight management (11, 12, 13).

In one 2014 study, participants who snacked on yogurt were less hungry and consumed 100 fewer calories at dinner than those who ate lower-protein snacks with the same calories (14).

Yogurt’s fullness-promoting effects are even more prominent if you eat Greek yogurt, a very thick variety that has been strained. It’s higher in protein than regular yogurt, providing 20 grams per 7 ounces (200 grams) (15).

Greek yogurt can potentially influence appetite management and delay feelings of hunger more than other dairy products such as whole or skim milk (16).

Summary

Yogurt, especially the Greek variety, is very high in protein. Protein is helpful for appetite and weight management.

Some types of yogurt contain live bacteria, or probiotics, that were either a part of the starter culture or added after pasteurization. These may benefit digestive health when consumed (17).

Many yogurts have been pasteurized, which is a heat treatment that kills the beneficial bacteria they contain. Even some yogurt varieties that are labeled as containing “live, active cultures” often have some probiotic loss due to varying storage temperatures and other factors. Despite this, your best bet for the most effective probiotics is still to check the label and look for one that contains live, active cultures.

Some types of probiotics found in yogurts, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillushave been shown to lessen the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder that affects the colon (18, 19, 20, 21).

One systematic review looked into multiple studies where people with IBS regularly consumed fermented milk or yogurt that contained Bifidobacteria. After 2 to 8 weeks, they found that 50% of the studies on the subject showed a significant improvement in symptomatic abdominal pain associated with IBS (21).

Another study found that yogurt with Bifidobacteria improved digestive symptoms and health-related quality of life among women who experienced minor digestive symptoms. (22).

Furthermore, several studies have found that probiotics may protect against antibiotic-associated diarrhea and constipation (23, 24, 25, 26, 27).

Summary

Some types of yogurt contain probiotics, which may boost digestive health by reducing the symptoms of common gastrointestinal disorders, such as bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

Consuming yogurt — especially if it contains probiotics — regularly may strengthen your immune system and reduce your likelihood of contracting disease-causing agents.

Probiotics are known to potentially reduce inflammation, which is linked to several health conditions ranging from viral infections to gut disorders (28, 29).

Research shows that in some instances, probiotics may also help reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of the common cold (3031).

Moreover, the immune-enhancing properties of yogurt are partly due to its magnesium, selenium, and zinc, which are trace minerals known for the role they play in immune system health (32, 33, 34).

Vitamin D–fortified yogurts may boost immune health even further. Vitamin D has been studied for its potential to prevent illnesses such as the common cold and flu (3536, 37, 38).

Summary

Yogurt provides probiotics, vitamins, and minerals, all of which may boost immune health and prevent certain illnesses

Yogurt’s fat content is one of the reasons why its healthiness is often controversial. It contains mostly saturated fat, with a small amount of monounsaturated fatty acids.

Previously, saturated fat was believed to cause heart disease, but current research shows that it’s more complicated. Nevertheless, fat-free and low fat varieties of yogurt are still popular in the United States (39, 40, 41).

When discussing the healthiness of saturated fat, it’s important to keep in mind where it’s coming from or what types of fats are replacing it.

A diet containing saturated fats from full fat dairy products, such as yogurt, will not yield the same results as saturated fats from processed fast food. There is a lack of clear evidence that the fat in yogurt is harmful to your health. In fact, it may benefit heart health in some ways, though more research is needed (4243).

Some research shows that the intake of saturated fat from whole milk products increases HDL (good) cholesterol, which may protect heart health. Other studies have found yogurt intake to reduce the overall incidence of heart disease (44, 45, 46).

Furthermore, dairy products like yogurt can help reduce high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. The effects seem to be most prominent in those already diagnosed with high blood pressure (47, 48, 49).

Summary

Regardless of its fat content, yogurt appears to benefit heart health by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.

Greek yogurt in particular has several properties that may help with weight management.

For starters, it’s high in protein, which works along with calcium to increase levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY and GLP-1 (50).

Furthermore, several studies have found that yogurt consumption is associated with lower body weight, body fat percentage, and waist circumference (51).

One review found that the intake of full fat dairy products, including yogurt, may reduce the incidence of obesity. This is contrary to what was previously believed about the connection between full fat dairy products and weight gain (52)

Other studies have found that those who eat yogurt tend to eat better overall than those who do not. This is partly due to its higher nutrient content compared to its reasonably low calorie content (53).

Summary

Yogurt is high in protein, which is very filling, and may improve your diet overall. Both of these aspects help with weight management.

Some people need to be cautious with their yogurt intake, as it may cause adverse effects, especially in those with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.

lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body lacks lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk. After consuming milk products, it leads to various digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Therefore, those with lactose intolerance may need to avoid yogurt.

However, some people who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate it. Some of the lactose breaks down during production, and probiotics may assist with its digestion (54).

If you are lactose intolerant, it may be a matter of trial and error to determine if eating yogurt works for you.

milk allergy

Milk products contain casein and whey, which are proteins that some people are allergic to. In these cases, milk triggers a reaction ranging from hives and swelling to life threatening anaphylaxis.

For this reason, it’s best to avoid yogurt if you have a milk allergy.

Added sugar

Many types of yogurt contain high amounts of added sugar, especially those labeled as low fat. Excess sugar intake is associated with several health problems, including diabetes and obesity (55, 56, 57).

Therefore, it’s important to read food labels and note when added sugar is listed in the ingredients.

Summary

Yogurt may have adverse effects for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. Many types also contain high amounts of added sugar, which may contribute to certain health conditions.

  • Plain, unsweetened varieties are a good choice since they contain minimal ingredients without any added sugar. They can be mixed with other nutrient-dense add-ins like nuts, seeds, and fruit.
  • Whether you choose low or full fat yogurt is a personal choice. Full-fat varieties may contain more calories, but they are rich in nutrients and can be more satisfying both for taste and hunger.
  • Also, look for yogurts that contain live and active cultures to ensure you get your fix of health-promoting probiotics.

Summary

The best yogurts for your health contain fewer added ingredients and no added sugar. Aim for a brand that contains live and active cultures.

Yogurt is rich in nutrients and may boost your health when consumed regularly. It also may help reduce the risk of some diseases while also benefiting digestive health and weight management.

However, make sure to choose your yogurt wisely. For maximum health benefits, choose plain, unsweetened varieties that contain probiotics.

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