What You Need to Know About Yogurt
Yogurt is often touted as a gut-healthy food—it’s loaded with probiotics, calcium and protein, which have been correlated with better gastrointestinal health and improved bone density. Yet research and health experts have discussed how dairy might be rather inflammatory, contributing to acne, digestive issues, and an increase in cholesterol.
So how should we really navigate the yogurt aisle? Should we stick to eating plant-based options, or simply enjoy it if we aren’t experiencing any intolerance symptoms? Here, the pros and cons of this type of dairy.
The reputed pros.
It's loaded with probiotics.
Yogurt contains probiotics, which are essentially for a healthy gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is an important system that affects so many other processes in our bodies (not just our digestion, but our mood and immune systems, too), so it’s imperative that we keep it in tip-top shape.
Kefir is especially gut-healthy, as it has a higher protein and probiotic content than regular yogurt. While not technically considered a yogurt (it has a thinner consistency and is best consumed as a drink), the two are similarly fermented and have that creamy, tart taste. "Kefir has a larger variety of beneficial probiotics compared to yogurt, so this will help promote healthy digestion and microbiome health," William Cole, D.C., IFMCP, functional nutrition expert, has previously told mbg.
It’s important to note that yogurt’s probiotic content can become a little fishy if you’re not mindful of your sources—if the yogurt is homogenized, 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
Yogurt has calcium.
Yogurt also contains calcium, but keep in mind that 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 Willett, 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 fractures1 in women who consumed one to three servings of dairy daily.
If you're looking to optimize your bone health, try eating a kale salad with almonds; it contains the ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium for optimal bone density.
It's packed with protein.
A four-ounce serving of Greek yogurt contains 12 grams of protein. This is equivalent to two eggs and roughly half a four-ounce serving of fish. In this case, yogurt trumps on the protein front. Greek and Icelandic yogurt are particularly protein-packed, and they’re strained in a way that yields a naturally thick and rich texture (perfect to add in baking recipes as a substitute for cream or buttermilk).
However, if you can’t tolerate dairy or are following a vegan lifestyle, there are plenty of plant-based protein sources for you to incorporate into your diet as well.
The reputed cons.
Yogurt can be mucus-forming.
Yogurt (and dairy, for that matter) 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.
When I took them off yogurt and milk, their chronic sinusitis and congestion (i.e. mucus) went away (as did their IBS, headaches, and bloating).
It can contain harmful hormones.
Dairy contains a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), and high levels of IGF-1 have been linked to cancer cell proliferation2. A small amount of dairy does not show a cancer correlation, according to T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D, in his book The China Study, so don’t be afraid to dip your turmeric cauliflower in a yogurt sauce if you get the chance. As always, a healthy lifestyle is all about balance.
The bottom line about yogurt.
The truth is, eating organic yogurt once per week won't induce adverse health reactions, unless you have a dairy sensitivity or are lactose intolerant. However, if you do suffer from symptoms of intolerance, it might be worth it to skip the daily consumption altogether. While yogurt is a convenient snack, there are plenty of other plant-based options that provide a similar nutritional punch.
On the other hand, if you can tolerate yogurt, you might want to stick with a plain version—often those flavored products can be packed with sugar, making it not so healthy of a choice in the end! To satisfy your sweet tooth, you can add fresh, organic berries for a naturally sweetened parfait.
Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC. She holds her master's in clinical nutrition and is trained in nutrition biochemistry, functional medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy. She believes that food should be viewed as nourishing, joyful, and fundamental to self-care. Her goal is to help women break their antagonist (and often obsessive) relationship with food and their bodies. She believes that true beauty stems from grace, dignity, and embracing our idiosyncrasies that make us unique and imperfect.
James created the "How to Ditch Sugar" video series for mindbodygreen. Check out the program here: How to Ditch Sugar.
James coaches one on one, runs workshops in NYC and LA, and holds tele-seminars on various topics that help women lead a more beautiful and balanced life. To connect more with James, check out her Instagram account and sign up for her biweekly Sunday-evening emails.