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Healing Foods: Yogurt

This dairy treat offers sweet relief for a variety of health issues

“A spoonful of yogurt helps the medicine go down” doesn’t exactly have the same

ring to it that “a spoonful of sugar” does in the original song. But even Mary Poppins

would have been impressed by the sheer numbers of “good” bacteria in the stuff .

Yogurt is made by adding two bacterial cultures, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and
Streptococcus thermophilus, to pasteurized milk to turn it into a thicker, fermented

form. All yogurts contain these cultures at the start, and many are supplemented with

additional probiotics that are associated with specifi c health benefits.

But how do probiotic bacteria in yogurt promote health? According to gastroenterologist

Daniel Neumann, MD, associate professor of medicine at Eastern Virginia

Medical School in Norfolk, Va., your intestines are populated with bacteria that must

maintain a delicate balance of power to keep things functioning properly.

“If one type of bacteria flourishes, the

whole intestinal democracy falls apart,”

he says. The imbalance can occur for a

variety of reasons. One of the most

common triggers is taking a course of

antibiotic medication (to treat, say, strep

throat), which attacks the good bacteria

in your intestines along with the bad.

A daily dose of yogurt can help offset

the resulting stomach issues. “Yogurt

replenishes bacteria that can help to

restore balance in the intestinal system,”

explains Neumann, who also recommends

patients try yogurt for digestive

problems such as irritable bowel

syndrome, gas, and bloating.

Though some experts question

whether yogurt contains suffi cient live

cultures to relieve specific ailments, early

studies indicate that probiotic cultures in

yogurt are intricately intertwined with

our health, says Gary Huffnagle, PhD,

author of The Probiotics Revolution. “We’re

finding that the bacteria living in the

body provide important signals,

messages, and nutrients to the immune

system,” he adds. “For general health

and low-grade problems, I am a huge

proponent of yogurt.”

There is also a growing body of clinical evidence to support the use of yogurt

supplemented with specifi c strains of

probiotics. In a Taiwanese study

published in the American Journal of

Clinical Nutrition
in 2004, volunteers

who ate yogurt fortifi ed with L. acidophilus

and B. lactis twice daily had a reduced

risk of infection by the bacteria responsible

for most digestive ulcers.

A 2003 Finnish study, also published

in the American Journal of Clinical

Nutrition
, showed a correlation for

women who frequently consumed probiotic-fermented milk products plus fresh

berry juice and a lower recurrence of

urinary tract infections.

Take away the probiotic factor, and

yogurt still boasts impressive health

benefits. One serving is loaded with

calcium, protein, and vitamins. “Yogurt

is a great source of calcium,” says Felicia

Cosman, MD, clinical director of the

National Osteoporosis Foundation.

“The target number for calcium is

1,200 milligrams per day, and an average

8-ounce serving of yogurt provides

300 milligrams,” she adds.

While yogurt can be used in a variety

of savory dips and sauces, a little sugar

does help this medicine go down. But

avoid presweetened and flavored yogurts

that can be overly sweet and high in

calories. Instead, choose low-fat or skim

plain yogurt and add a teaspoon or two

of 100 percent fruit spread, a little maple

syrup or honey, some fresh or dried

fruit—these are all prescriptions that are

easy to swallow.

Supplement Savvy

For a concentrated dose of probiotics, supplement options are available in a

variety of forms, including liquid, capsules, and tablets.

What to look for Choose a product that contains genus, species, and

strain information and prints an expiration date for its living organisms.

How to take it Recommended dosage for probiotic supplements is 1 billion

to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per strain daily. It’s often recommended

to take probiotics 2 hours after prescribed antibiotics to reduce the

chance of the antibiotics killing the probiotic organisms.

Safety Though not tested or regulated by the FDA, probiotic supplements are

on the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” list, but avoid anything with

“bacillus” or “enterococci” on the label.

Maple-Cinnamon Frozen Yogurt