The Scoop on Yogurt: Good Bacteria in Food

23 January 2012

Companies that sell yogurt often advertise its health benefits. It's sometimes even called a "superfood". What makes yogurt so good for you? It's high in calcium and other nutrients, but that's not the only benefit of adding yogurt to your breakfast menu.

Did You Know?
Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth.

Most yogurt contains live bacteria, and believe it or not, that's what makes it so healthy for you! But how can eating bacteria be healthy? Once in a while there's a story in the news about people getting sick from bacteria in food: E. coli in beef, Salmonella on vegetables, Listeria in lunchmeat... so what makes yogurt different? To answer this question, we need to know something about what goes into yogurt.

Yogurt is made by adding certain types of bacteria including Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus to milk, then allowing it to ferment. This means that the bacteria consume sugars from the milk, and produce lactic acid, making the milk curdle and giving plain yogurt its characteristic sour taste (before we add sugar or fruit flavours to it). Lactic acid also prevents harmful bacteria from growing in the yogurt.

Did You Know?
In different parts of the world, yogurt is made from sheep, goat, water buffalo, or even camel's milk.

The key to yogurt's beneficial effects lies in the types of bacteria it contains. Your intestines are naturally full of billions and billions of bacteria, which help to digest nutrients and produce vitamins, while keeping harmful bacteria away. The bacteria found in yogurt add to the "good" population in your intestines, keeping the balance of healthy bacteria. Some evidence also suggests that yogurt also helps keep other areas of your body free from "bad" bacteria, for example stopping plaque bacteria from growing in your mouth.

Did You Know?
Some people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt. Lactose intolerant people have trouble digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk. But when yogurt is made, bacteria do the work of digesting lactose for you.

An alternative to yogurt is soy yogurt, which is made from soymilk and can be eaten by vegans. Soy yogurt is sold in many grocery and health food stores, and has similar health benefits to regular yogurt, so there's no excuse not to add a little yogurt to your diet. Besides, it's a delicious way to improve your health!

Learn More!

WiseGEEK — How is yogurt made?

Health and Age — Yogurt's effect on intestinal conditions

Make your own yogurt!

Kim Paulson works in a laboratory where she studies heart disease. She keeps her own heart healthy by jogging. She also loves climbing things, exploring new places, and reading a good book.


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