By Megan Ramaika, MA, RD, LDN
You’ve likely heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While it’s true that having a meal first thing in the morning helps to rev up your metabolism and gets your body moving, it’s not just about eating any old thing if you want to stay healthy. Instead of pouring yourself a bowl of sugary cereal or grabbing a bagel, donut or a pre-packaged breakfast bar – have a serving of yogurt instead.
If you haven’t glanced at the yogurt section in your dairy aisle recently, you may be surprised at the huge variety lining the shelves. From Greek to Icelandic and low-fat to fruit-flavored, there’s a selection to suit just about everyone’s tastes. So grab a cup and throw it into your work bag before leaving the house for a nutrient-packed, protein-rich breakfast or anytime snack.
What’s So Great About Yogurt?
Yogurt is packed with many of the nutrients you need in your daily diet, including calcium, protein, B vitamins, and the minerals potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.
The proteins in yogurt consist of two main types: casein and whey. Casein is known to help with the absorption of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Whey is high in what are called branched-chain amino acids, which are essential building blocks of cells and muscle tissue. Both types of protein have been shown to lower blood pressure, so you may be helping your heart health by including yogurt as a daily dietary staple.
The other beneficial aspect of yogurt is related to how it’s made. Yogurt is milk fermented by the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. That’s right, each spoonful of yogurt you put in your mouth is teeming with bacteria. While this can sound a little off-putting, keep in mind that some bacteria are harmful and some are helpful. The type of bacteria found in yogurt – known as “probiotics” – are actually good for you and help with a range of bodily functions.
Probiotics are linked to a variety of health benefits, especially for your digestive and immune systems. These helpful bacteria can improve digestive function and problems related to irritable bowel syndrome and food-borne illnesses. They may also help to strengthen the immune system, making it easier for you to fight diseases and infections. There is also evidence that probiotics are beneficial to other parts of the body, helping with eczema, vaginal health and urinary tract infections. They may even prevent some allergies.
All Yogurt is Not Created Equal
Since there are so many varieties of yogurts available now, it’s important to read nutrition labels since some yogurts are “healthier” than others. What makes a yogurt unhealthy?
In short: sugar. Many of the fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts are really just glorified dairy desserts since that “fruit” is sweetened with a lot of sugar – sometimes as much as two to three times more than plain varieties. An easy way to judge is to compare a container of plain yogurt to a flavored variety. Plain yogurt will usually have about 12 grams of sugar, while a flavored yogurt may have as many as 35 grams of sugar.
If you’re looking for a boost of flavor, buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit or honey for a touch of healthy sweetness.
About the Author
Megan Ramaika, MA, RD, LDN
Meg is passionate about the relationship between achieving optimal health with proper nutrition. She became a Registered Dietitian in 2014 and has experience with inpatient nutrition support alongside foodservice operations, and now finding her passion is counseling local community members on the impact of Medical Nutrition Therapy.
To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.