Today's column brings a question from a reader. She wondered what the difference was between regular yogurt and the popular new Greek yogurt that you find in the grocery store now. With June being Dairy Month, it's a great time to remember the important nutrients that we get from dairy products, of which yogurt is one of them.
Greek yogurt is a product that has been strained in a cloth, muslin or paper bag or filter. This process removes the whey, giving the product a consistency between that of cheese and yogurt, while preserving the distinctive sour taste of yogurt. Greek yogurt is also made from milk which has been enriched by boiling off some of the water content or by adding extra butterfat and powdered milk.
Because it has a higher fat content, it is often used in cooking in the Middle East and South Asia because it does not readily curdle. It is also traditionally made from ewe's milk, but more recently cow's milk is often used, especially when it is made commercially. Low fat versions of strained yogurts are now also available and these products are helping to increase the popularity of this type of yogurt.
Yogurt, whether it is Greek or other more widely-recognized brands in this country, has seen an increase in popularity in recent years. TV and magazine ads promote yogurt as being a good source of many nutrients, as well as being "good" for one's intestinal health.
Our digestive tract contains hundreds of bacteria and most of them benefit health. Our digestive tract also contains some not so good types of bacteria. In addition to the different types of bacteria that our bodies may contain, the balance of the good to bad bacteria is also important. Research is being conducted and there are varying results, but it does appear that there is some benefit to our digestive tract in certain instances to consume these "good" bacteria.
Prebiotics and Probiotics are the names of the two things related to this digestive process that are being studied. Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts have been shown in some studies to provide a health benefit. Two common types of probiotics are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Yogurt made with active cultures contains these two types of probiotics.
Prebiotics are selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes in the gastrointestinal flora that can provide this health benefit too. Two types of prebiotics, inulin and oligofructose, can be manufactured, but prebiotics can be found in numerous plant foods, too. Some food sources include: whole grains, soy and other legumes, flaxseed, artichokes, and may fruits, such as bananas, blackberries and strawberries.
Yogurt provides many of the other major nutrients that dairy products provide as well. It's a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Yogurt comes in convenient single serving packaging or it can be whipped up into smoothies or into dips. It goes great with the fresh seasonal fruits of the summer. If you haven't already, now is a great time to add this food item into your diet. Enjoy!
(Cheryl Rude is a Registered Dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.)