What You Need to Know About Yogurt

Board Certified Functional Nutritionist By Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN
Board Certified Functional Nutritionist
Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC.

Flip through health magazines and many wellness blogs and you'll be advised to eat yogurt. It's often touted as one of the top food for women.

Yogurt contains probiotics, calcium and protein, which have been correlated with better gastrointestinal health, improved bone density and even weight loss.

Yet read vegan blogs, including the magnetic KrisCarr.com, and dairy is the devil, contributing to mucus, bone loss and potentially cancer.

So what's the truth? Should we be eating yogurt or sending it to Dante's eighth circle of hell?

The Reputed Pros

It's loaded with probiotics. 

Yogurt does contain probiotics, but if the yogurt is homogenized (almost all dairy in the US is), most of the beneficial bacteria are killed off by the heat treatment. Those that survive need to make it past the stomach acid to take up residence in the large intestine. (Even Mr. Jason Bourne is unlikely to survive heat and acid!)

If your primary reason for eating yogurt is for its probiotic content, take a good quality five-strain probiotic instead. Select one that has been encapsulated to resist stomach acid.

Yogurt has calcium. 

Yogurt does contain calcium, but calcium alone will not improve bone density. Vitamin D and magnesium are both essential for the utilization of calcium by the bone matrix. Yogurt contains scant amounts of both.

In fact, when Walter Willet, M.D., Ph.D, from Harvard’s School of Public Health, gathered data from nearly 80,000 women, he found no evidence of reduced risk of hip fractures in women who consumed one to three servings of dairy daily.

If you're worried about bone health, eat a kale salad with almonds; it contains the ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium for optimal bone density.

It's packed with protein. 

A 4-ounce serving of Greek yogurt contains 12 grams of protein. This is equivalent to two eggs and roughly half a 4-ounce serving of fish. Yogurt trumps on the protein front, but it's a bit of a taker; it gives nothing more.

Two eggs provide the same protein content, but also choline for enhanced brain function and conjugated linoleic acid for abdominal fat burning. I prefer the flat abs and smarter brain option.

The Reputed Cons

Yogurt is mucus-forming. 

Yogurt (and dairy) can be mucus-forming, particularly in individuals who have a sensitivity to dairy or are lactose intolerant. Approximately 60% of the people on whom I run food sensitivity tests have a dairy sensitivity, which means they are reacting to a protein molecule in milk.

Take them off yogurt and milk and their chronic sinusitis and congestion (i.e. mucus) goes away (as does their IBS, headaches and bloating).

It causes bone loss. 

Dairy produces an acidic residue in the body when digested. If the acidity is not buffered with magnesium, calcium, potassium and other bicarbonates, it can strip these nutrients from the bone so that the blood pH remains consistent.

One container of yogurt on a daily basis is unlikely to cause bone loss. However, combine the yogurt with granola, cereal, or jam and you'll magnify its acidic effect. (Sugar and grains are very acid-forming.)

Forgo your greens and you'll exponentially increase the risk of bone catabolism as your green vegetables supply the buffering nutrient, magnesium.

If you must have yogurt (i.e. you're at the airport and nothing else is available), avoid the parfait with granola and make sure your next meal contains green vegetables.

It's cancer forming. 

Dairy contains a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I). High levels of IGF-1 have been linked to cancer cell proliferation. Dr. Colin Campbell, Ph.D, in his book The China Study eloquently demonstrates this connection. However, he also says that a small amount of dairy does not show a cancer correlation.

So fear not, dipping your turmeric cauliflower in a yogurt sauce is unlikely to result in cancer promotion.

The Bottom Line about Yogurt 

Eating organic yogurt once per week won't induce adverse health reactions, unless you have a dairy sensitivity or are lactose intolerant. Skip the daily consumption or better still, skip it altogether. There are far superior food choices that provide more nutritional punch. While yogurt is a convenient snack, so too is an apple, and where there's a yogurt for sale, there's an apple.

Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN
Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN
Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC....
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