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Yogurt may be one of the first foods you think of when you think “diet.” It contains lots of nutrients, helps improve gut flora and more. Just like any food, though, eating low-quality yogurt can actually be unhealthy. From Greek and probiotic to frozen and high sugar, yogurt is available in forms both good for you and not so much.

What is yogurt exactly?

Basically, yogurt is the result of adding harmless bacteria to milk and letting it sit for a while. The bacteria begin to process various parts of the milk, changing the texture and taste.

Differences in yogurt types start right at the beginning, as some yogurts use whole milk, some low-fat milk, and the types of bacteria added can vary. You can even boil off some of the water in the milk first, then strain it, like Greek yogurt.

The many means of preparation can result in differences in the content of yogurt as well. Greek yogurt is generally higher in protein and fat while lower in sugar, making it possibly the healthiest yogurt and the best type of yogurt to use as an appetite suppressant.

It’s important to stay aware of the gradient of healthy to not-healthy yogurts out there. Flavored yogurts and cheaper varieties often have a lot of added sugar. This is sometimes the case with low-fat yogurts too. If you’re eating yogurt with a lot of sugar (or piling on unhealthy toppings), you can hurt your Insulin Efficiency the same way that you would eating candy.

Some yogurts may be sugar free, meaning the sugar is replaced with artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, fake sugar has its own set of problems.

The best thing to do is simply read the Nutrition Facts on the back of yogurt before buying.

The benefits of yogurt

Many studies have been done on the health benefits of yogurt. One, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that yogurt improved gastrointestinal function in subjects, meaning it could help prevent many digestive problems, such as “lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrheal diseases, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease” and more. People with a high intake of yogurt are also less likely to develop diabetes.

Yogurt, like most dairy products, is a good source of calcium, which helps build stronger bones and prevent osteoporosis. Yogurt also contains:

  • Vitamin A: Important for your eyes
  • Vitamin E: Improves immune system and a natural antioxidant
  • Bacteria: Improve health of gut flora
  • Linoleic acid: Boosts immune system and acts as an anticarcinogen
  • Protein: A wide range of benefits, including weight loss and muscle health.
  • Iodine: Helps improve your metabolic rate, i.e., you use energy more quickly and efficiently.
  • And more!

Again, it’s important to know what variety of yogurt you’re getting. Greek has the most protein, while yogurt from whole milk will have more vitamin A and E. Also, you can often find dairy products fortified with vitamin D, an important vitamin to make sure you get enough of.

Live and active cultures

The bacteria added to milk to form yogurt are perhaps the most important ingredient and play a major role in the benefits of yogurt to your digestive system. It’s also where the terms prebiotic and probiotic come into play. Some foods, like apples, can be prebiotic, meaning they contain nutrients beneficial to the gut bacteria living naturally in our digestive tract.

Others are probiotic, meaning the living bacteria is actually in the food, thereby increasing the good bacteria, or gut flora, in our bodies.

Not all yogurts are probiotic. If you are interested in probiotic benefits, be sure to always look for “live and active cultures” on the label before buying.

So, is yogurt good for you? Yes, with some minor caveats: avoid added sugars and be careful what toppings you put on top. Berries are an easy and healthy addition to yogurt, as are whole grains, flaxseed and many others.

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