Many yogurts are made by using active cultures, or "good" bacteria. Your body needs to have a decent amount of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Probiotics, a buzzword often associated with yogurt, can be defined as "live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host." The two most common probiotics found in dairy products are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Lactobacillus acidophilus is beneficial for the treatment of constipation and diarrhea. Other gastrointestinal benefits of eating yogurt with live cultures include prevention of colon cancer and help those with inflammatory bowel disease. The benefits may be attributed to changes in the microflora of the gut, the time it takes food to go through the bowel and enhancement of the immune system.
Yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, which are used to help prevent osteoporosis. The combination of the two micronutrients has a greater benefit when the dose of vitamin D is high.
When buying yogurt it is important to read the label. Some yogurts have more sugar in them than others. The packaging will also let you know whether the yogurt contains live and active cultures. (If you're a super sleuth and want to know the specific live cultures, look at the ingredient list for L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus and bifidobacterium.)
To make yogurt even healthier than it already is, consider adding a tablespoon of flaxseed to your yogurt. This can add about 3 grams of additional fiber and 2 grams of omega-3s.
As you can see a snack-sized container of yogurt provides endless health benefits, without harming your waistline.
Lisa Westfall is a registered dietician at Dublin Methodist Hospital.