Yogurt, even though it’s been around for a long time, used to be considered a fad food in this country. But, happily, it has now assumed its rightful place in our diets and on our refrigerator shelves.
Yogurt has been around so long, in fact, that mention of it is found in early Arabic writings on medicine. It’s widely known and eaten in many areas of the world and has been consumed for centuries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. The peoples of the Balkans and the Near East who eat yogurt several times a day, either plain or in cooking, claim that their consumption of yogurt is responsible for their hardiness and longevity. When we take a look at the health benefits yogurt provides, it’s easy to see why they make this claim.
Nutritionally, yogurt is a good source of calcium and complete protein and it’s low in calories. It’s also easy to digest. Because yogurt is largely digested during its culturing process, it’s much easier to digest than plain milk. And it’s often tolerated by people who cannot tolerate milk. But its chief nutritional benefit may well be its effect on our intestinal bacteria.
To maintain good health, the bacteria, or flora, in the intestinal tract must be kept in proper balance. Yogurt helps keep it in proper balance.
Part of the reason that the bacterial balance in the intestine is vitally important to health is this: the typical American diet, with its heavy emphasis on refined foods and its lack of whole grains, is often lacking in the essential B vitamins. With certain bacteria present in the intestine, bacteria which yogurt provides, apparently all the B vitamins and vitamin K as well, can be synthesized in the intestine. An encouraging note is that a study done some years ago by Dr. H. Seneca of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University showed that when yogurt is eaten over a long period of time, no bacteria other than those found in yogurt are present in the stools.
Some of the nutrients necessary to maintain health are needed more by some parts of the body than others. This does not appear to be the case with the B vitamins. The B vitamins appear to be evenly distributed and needed throughout the body.
Maintaining the proper bacteria in the intestine is important anytime, but it becomes even more of a concern when we take antibiotics. Oral antibiotics destroy the friendly intestinal bacteria. As a result, the production of the B vitamins and vitamin K are inhibited. Also the fungus monilia albicans may develop. This fungus can cause ulcers in the colon, severe itching around the anus and yeast infections in the vagina. However, these problems appear to be prevented if we consume generous amounts of yogurt.
There are other ways besides keeping intestinal bacteria properly balanced that yogurt benefits the digestive system. One of the problems it helps get rid of is indigestion. One New Mexico physician remarked that when a patient comes to him complaining of indigestion, he tells the patient to eat a cup of yogurt a day and then come back in a week if they still have the problem. The yogurt works so well on indigestion that many of the patients do not have to come back.
Constipation and diarrhea both often respond well to yogurt. Some people who have “tried everything” to get rid of constipation have finally succeeded in getting rid of it when they started eating yogurt.
As for diarrhea, yogurt has been used as a treatment for this complaint for years and years. Molly Niv, M.D., Walter Levy, M.D. and Nathan M. Greenstein, M.D. reported in Clinical Pediatrics on an experiment they conducted with children who had been hospitalized with severe diarrhea. They divided the children into two groups. To one group they fed yogurt, a little less than half a cup, three times a day. To the other group, they gave an antidiarrheal drug. Within three days, more of the children in the yogurt group than in the drug group had recovered from their diarrhea. Some parents found that only one day on the yogurt is required to eliminate the problem.
Another benefit of yogurt to the digestive system and one that some people may not think of in connection with it, is pleasant breath. Yogurt helps destroy putrefactive bacteria in the intestine and, in the process, helps sweeten the breath.
The digestive system is not all that responds favorably to yogurt, though. It’s helpful, too, with cholesterol, yeast infections, gout, allergies, anemia and skin problems.
Yogurt helps reduce the cholesterol level in the blood, even when the yogurt is made from whole milk. George V. Mann, M.D., Ph.D., from the department of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine observed this effect in a study of the diet of Masai, a primitive tribe in Africa.
The cholesterol level of the Masai tribesmen is low to start with. But when they ate large quantities of yogurt, and even though some of them gained weight, their cholesterol levels went down. This is remarkable not only because of the effect the yogurt seemed to have on the cholesterol levels, but also because a gain in weight generally means a raising, not a lowering, of the cholesterol level…
Yogurt helps with gout, too. Under normal conditions, much of the uric acid produced by the body passes into the intestine. It is utilized there by the bacteria present. But how much wic acid the intestines can handle depends on the bacteria there. If the proper bacteria are not present, or if they are not present in sufficient quantity, then the uric acid cannot be handled as it should be, and the level of it in the blood increases immediately. Yogurt helps prevent this problem by maintaining the necessary balance of bacteria in the intestine.
As far as allergies are concerned, yogurt can sometimes help with some of those, too. For instance, some adults who are allergic to milk and other dairy products find they can still tolerate yogurt without a problem which means they still have a good dietary source of calcium.
Some types of anemia can be aided by yogurt, too. For example, patients who have diverticulosis sometimes develop anemia. The intestines of these patients can form loops which stimulate diverticula. The bacteria that grow in these loops appear to grab the folic acid from food. For this type of anemia to be corrected, the putrefactive bacteria in these loops have to be killed. Yogurt in generous amounts will destroy this bacteria and, if there is plenty of folic acid in the diet, this form of anemia should be corrected.
Iron deficiency anemia can also be helped by yogurt. When we eat iron rich foods, we must have hydrochloric acid in the stomach for the iron in our food to pass through the intestinal wall. It appears that many patients with this type of anemia don’t have enough hydrochloric acid present in the stomach. Therefore, foods which contain acid and yogurt is an excellent one can provide the acid needed for iron absorption.
Yogurt is used as an ointment, too. When applied directly to the wounded area, it can help relieve minor burns. The yogurt may need to be applied several times a day because the heat in the burn may dry it out. But the relief can be almost immediate.
Oral antibiotics sometimes cause a dry, scaly, itching eczema when they destroy intestinal bacteria and the body is deprived of the B vitamin biotin. Again, because yogurt brings intestinal bacteria back to normal, it helps with this type of rash.
Yogurt is an old remedy for cold sores, too. Morton Malkin, D.D.S. an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Brooklyn, New York, prescribes yogurt for all his patients who have them. The way yogurt works is that the friendly bacteria in the yogurt crowd out the herpes bacteria in cold sores when the yogurt is applied to them and the sores disappear. Just as for treating yeast infections, though, the yogurt you use must contain the acidophilus bacteria.
Canker sores are helped by yogurt, also. For instance, when the sores are brought on by allergies to certain foods, these foods can in some patients still be eaten without the sores developing if yogurt is eaten, too. As you might expect by now, it is again the acidophilus bacteria that is most useful. Sometimes the relief this type of yogurt can bring is almost immediate. In some patients the canker sores disappear in a matter of only a few days.
One patient who had given up eating tomatoes because he broke out in canker sores from them every time, found that he could eat tomatoes again if he ate yogurt, too. But if he ate tomatoes and skipped the yogurt, he developed the canker sores again.
What exactly is yogurt now that we have seen some of the health benefits it can provide? It is a semisolid milk product which is made by adding certain bacterial cultures to the milk. It has the consistency of custard. When a yogurt culture is added to warm milk and the milk is kept warm and undisturbed for a period of five hours or more, we have yogurt.
Yogurt is available commercially, and it is easy to make at home. Many yogurt connoisseurs prefer making their own. Homemade yogurt is less tart than the commercial kinds. The longer yogurt is kept warm, the more tart it will be. If you stop the culturing process at the end of five hours when the mixture has reached a custardlike consistency, and immediately put it in the refrigerator, it will keep its milky flavor. Another plus for homemade yogurt is that as well as being flavorful and easy, it also costs less than the commercial variety.
To make homemade yogurt you need whole milk… plus yogurt culture. The culture can be either plain commercial yogurt or from yogurt starter which you can purchase at a health food store. The creamiest yogurt is made from whole milk.
To make one quart of yogurt, scald one quart of milk. Remove from heat and allow to cool to 110°F. If the milk is 125°F. or higher, the yogurt culture will be killed. If the temperature is 90°F. or lower, the culture will become dormant.
Stir the yogurt starter or two to three tablespoons of the plain yogurt into two or three tablespoons of the warm milk in a small bowl or cup until blended. Stir in a little more milk until blended. Then stir in the rest of the one quart of milk. Pour the mixture into a yogurt maker or clean glass bowl and keep at a temperature between 105°F and 120°F, undisturbed, for at least five hours. At the end of the incubation time, refrigerate.
A yogurt maker may be easier for some to use, but before you invest in one, you may want to try making yogurt in your oven first.
Yogurt can be used in many kinds of dishes. It’s extremely versatile in cooking and can be used in just about every category of food imaginable. It’s excellent in dips, spreads, sauces, salad dressings, cold soups, cold drinks, casseroles, breads and other baked goods, beverages, shakes, vegetable dishes and also in desserts, especially frozen ones. It’s also good mixed with flavorings such as honey, fruit juice and fresh fruits and enhanced, if you like, by extracts such as vanilla, orange, lemon or almond. Coconut and other nuts also make flavorful additions to yogurt.
In cooking, yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in almost any recipe, and it should be handled the same way as sour cream because it separates if it’s allowed to boil. Boiling won’t affect the flavor, but it does affect the appearance. A plus to using yogurt in place of sour cream is that yogurt has far fewer calories and better nutritional value.
Yogurt is not only good for us, providing a great many health benefits, but it’s easy to fit into the diet, too. And considering all that good it can do us, it’s well worth the little bit of effort required.