This week I have been taking a closer look at yoghurt. If like many people you enjoy yoghurt as part of a healthy breakfast or snack, you may be interested to learn that unless you choose the natural ones they may not be as healthy as you think.
Yoghurt is made by adding live bacterial cultures to milk, and the fermentation process gives yoghurt its distinctive tart and sour flavour as well as its pudding like consistency. The health benefits associated with the bacteria in yoghurt include supporting the immune function; helping maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract (less constipation, stomach acidity and diarrhoea); protecting against food poisoning bugs and yoghurt consumption is also associated with aiding bone health.
Natural yoghurt really is a healthy food; made from milk it provides appetite-satisfying protein as well as being a good source of B vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Full fat varieties provide health boosting fatty acids, or good fats, such as conjugated linoleic acid. Choose organic yoghurt and you can rest safe in the knowledge that it comes from the milk of cows that have not been treated with antibiotics or fed hormones.
Looking at the ingredients on a natural yoghurt is fairly straightforward. Most natural yoghurts are made of milk and nothing else, and the label usually lists more detailed information about the live bacterial cultures they contain. Seeing the word ‘live’ on the packaging is important as it indicates that the yoghurt has the potential health benefits mentioned earlier. A glance at the nutrition data will reveal in more detail the nutritional value of each brand – the fat content varies with the type of milk used but this is usually clear from the title Natural Yoghurt, Low Fat Natural Yoghurt etc.
If you are choosing a fruit yoghurt there is more to think about. Fruit yoghurts are surprisingly high in sugar. There is increasing evidence associating excess sugar consumption with chronic health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organisation have this month issued new guidelines suggesting we should eat no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, and that we should target no more than 6. The Food Standards Agency recommends that we eat less sugar and classifies food with more than 15g of sugar as high in sugar. Cast your eyes down the list of yoghurts at the bottom of this article – over half of the fruit yoghurts contain more than 15g of sugar – that’s almost four teaspoons! As a point of reference, it is eye opening that a Cadburys finger of fudge contains 16.3g sugar per portion and a Capri Sun drink pouch around 18g.
You may also want to consider the other ingredients included. It’s not unusual to find the ingredients list full of colours, preservatives, flavourings and processing aids that provide no nutritional benefits for the customer. What is more, these ingredients need to be detoxified and eliminated from our bodies once we have eaten them, and these processes require a lot of nutrients so these ingredients actually deplete our nutrient status.
So what would I recommend? In all honesty it makes nutritional sense to ditch the commercially produced fruit yoghurts and instead go with organic, live, full fat, natural yoghurt and add a healthy portion of whole fruit to sweeten it. Of course, adding the fruit is going to increase the sugar value itself, but you get the added benefit of other nutrients such as vitamin C. Include a generous handful of seeds, (such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame), a spoonful of oats and a spoonful of ground flaxseeds. These extras will add crunch to your yoghurt, bump up your fibre intake and give you a good helping of essential fats too…..And if you need to sweeten it further choose a small amount of a natural sweetener such as Stevia.