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Yogurt for a Healthy Gut

Nurture your gut and keep your microbiome healthy

By Rosie Wolf Williams

We've been told that yogurt suits us at any age and can be incredibly healthy for older adults. Why? Because it helps maintain the balance of the microbiome in the gut thanks to, among others, a small but mighty group of yeasts and live bacteria known as probiotics.

Keep reading to learn more about how these microorganisms may help boost your digestive system overall.

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and granola. Next Avenue, benefits, probiotics, prebiotics
Yogurt contains probiotics, live microorganisms that could help you digest food, promote healthy cells and support your body's immune system  |  Credit: Getty

What is Yogurt?

Yogurt is traditionally a dairy product made by introducing a culture, or a blend of bacteria that feeds on lactose, to fermenting milk. The bacteria turn lactose into lactic acid, lowering milk's pH and changing its protein structure.

One eight-ounce serving of yogurt is an excellent source of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B5.

Each yogurt culture is different, depending on the blend of bacteria, and the resulting yogurt may have a different flavor or consistency than yogurts made with other cultures.

But the term yogurt is not exclusive to having a cow's milk base. Yogurt can also be made from other milk-producing animals such as sheep or goats and plant-based products such as coconut, hemp, soy, or rice.

"One eight-ounce serving of yogurt is an excellent source of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B5," says California-based Beth Hawkes, neurologist and owner of Nurse Code. "This superfood also includes B12, which helps maintain healthy red blood cells and neurological system function."

Why is Yogurt Good for Us?

Yogurt contains probiotics, live microorganisms that could help you digest food, promote healthy cells and support your body's immune system, to name a few. 

The most common bacteria in cultured yogurts include the Lactobacillus and Streptococcus, with some varieties supporting bacteria that already live in your gut. 

Yogurts with active cultures have bacteria that will join the bacteria that already live inside you, improving your digestion, reducing gastrointestinal problems, and playing a role in keeping you wholesome.

For example, one study published in BMC Microbiology found that participants who ate yogurt increased beneficial bacteria in the gut and also had less visceral fat and lower insulin levels. 

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Perhaps There are Prebiotics

Some yogurts also have prebiotics or particular plant fibers that sustain healthy bacterial growth in your digestive system. Both probiotics and prebiotics are considered psychobiotic, linked to better sleep, mental health and reduced stress levels.

Good bacteria in yogurt can help manage harmful bacteria and assist with bowel function and proper food fermentation in the intestine.

"Eating yogurt may help protect your brain from damage caused by free radicals, destructive molecules that can damage cells in your body. Foods rich in antioxidants, like yogurt, may help protect your brain from damage," says Susan Blake, a medical doctor at Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) in Hawaii. 

Research shows that eating yogurt regularly may improve memory and concentration in healthy individuals and those with mild impairment or illness that affects cognition and thinking abilities (dementia). In addition, eating more protein-rich foods like yogurt may lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can affect mood and health.

Good bacteria in yogurt can help manage harmful bacteria such as Klebsiella, associated with Crohn's Disease, and assist with bowel function and proper food fermentation in the intestine.

Pay Attention to Labels

Some yogurt makers add not-so-healthy ingredients to their products to entice consumers. For instance, flavored yogurts often contain sugar or other sweeteners that might not benefit a healthy diet. 

Fat-free options may also include extra sweeteners to add flavor, and low-fat yogurt may contain cornstarch or other thickeners to make it creamy and taste like a dessert.

According to the USDA, one cup of yogurt equals one cup of dairy out of three recommended cups of dairy per day for a woman consuming 1600 calories per day. Yet, The USDA does not measure the sugar content of a particular yogurt when making its recommendation, so be sure to read the labels. 

In short, make sure to find a plain, healthful yogurt free of added ingredients for the best results and a happier belly.

Rosie Wolf Williams
Rosie Wolf Williams is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in USA Weekend, Woman's Day, AARP the Magazine and elsewhere. Read More
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