The benefits of yoghurt over milk

Regular readers of the column may have noticed that I have traditionally not had too many good things to say about dairy products such as milk and cheese. In particular, I have cited these foodstuffs as common causes of food intolerance – undesirable reactions to food that can be at the root of a range of health issues. Eagle-eyed individuals have noticed, however, that when I laid bare my everyday diet in the Ask the Expert issue a couple of weeks ago, I confessed to eating yoghurt. I’ve had a few emails from readers who, quite rightly, are keen to know the reasoning behind my divergent opinion on dairy.

Some of my relative enthusiasm for yoghurt comes from the fact that, in practice, this food is generally less likely than milk and cheese to pose problems due to food intolerance. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are rich in proteins that can be quite difficult to digest, and may make their way into the body in partially digested form where they may trigger a variety of health issues including sinus congestion, asthma and eczema. Because yoghurt and milk are essentially the same food, one might expect that they have a similar capacity to induce food intolerant reactions. However, studies show that the bacteria deployed in the fermentation process that converts milk into yoghurt aid and abet the digestion of milk proteins. The pre-digestion of protein by bacteria help to explain why, compared to milk and cheese, yoghurt is less likely trigger unwanted reactions.

Apart from protein, another component of dairy products that some individuals may have difficult digesting is the sugar lactose. This problem – known as lactose intolerance – is relatively rare in individuals of Northern European decent, but is very common in those of Southern European, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and South American stock. Individuals affected by lactose intolerance are prone to symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and gas after consuming milk (which is rich in lactose). However, some strains of bacteria used in the making of yoghurt have lactose-digesting ability, and this is reflected in the fact that yoghurt contains less lactose than milk. As a result, those who struggle to digest lactose generally find they tolerate yoghurt better than the liquid from which it is derived.

In addition to helping the digestibility of dairy, studies suggest that the organisms found in ‘live’ and ‘bio’ yoghurts have the potential to help alleviate gut-related issues such as constipation and diarrhoea. These beneficial bugs are also seem to help keep the gut free from unwanted organisms including those responsible for food poisoning and the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (the bug now recognised as a common underlying factor in digestive conditions such as stomach and duodenal ulcers, stomach inflammation and stomach cancer).

While I am quite a fan of yoghurt as a food, I don’t care much for flavoured yoghurts which tend to contain heaps of added sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. My preference is for natural yoghurt, though there’s no reason why this cannot be jazzed up with fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and perhaps a spoonful of honey. Natural yoghurt’s general digestibility and rich stash of beneficial bugs mean that it has the potential for a bellyful of benefits in the body.

6 Responses to The benefits of yoghurt over milk

  1. Grace Lee 24 September 2007 at 10:32 am #

    Not a comment but a question?

    Will yoghurt trigger asthma?

  2. Kalyan 1 June 2011 at 5:59 am #

    So, unlike milk, yogurt consumption has no/reduced issues of protein and lactose indigestion, no/reduced constipation, and prevents diarrhoea. Excellent!!!

  3. Akindoyin yemisi 21 August 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    This is great! But how can someone get or buy these bacteria(cultures) inorder to produce live-culture Yoghurt

  4. Terrice 21 September 2011 at 4:16 am #

    ~@Akindoyin yemisi, you can get probiotivc capsules from Holland and Barret.

  5. Judith Narvhus 18 August 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Just a few comments about tolerance of yoghurt.
    1. protein is not pre-digested by the yoghurt bacteria. Like all lactic acid bacteria they have quite weak proteolytic properties and don´t do much more than mop up the free amino acids in the milk as they grow. However, the high heat treatment of milk denatures the whey proteins, which may make them more digestible. Further the production of lactic acid by the yoghurt bacteria leads to the gelling of the proteins (making the yoghurt thick, compared to milk) and it is thought that this form may be more easily digested. As skimmed milk powder is added to yoghurt milk before fermentation, the protein amount in yoghurt is actually higher than in milk
    2. addition of skimmed milk powder also leads to an increase in lactose. When the yoghurt bacteria have stopped growing, that have only used a small proportion of the lactose present and the level is actually higher than in milk. However, yoghurt bacteria have an enzyme – lactase – which is the same enzyme that lactose-intolerant people do not have. This enzyme continues to work when yoghurt is eaten, thus lessening the ill-effects of lactose – for those who do not tolerate it.
    3. If you want to make your own yoghurt, you can buy a natural live yoghurt and add some of it to milk. Unless you add dried milk powder or evaporated milk to increase the milk solids, it will be thinner than a commercial product. Especially if you used skimmed milk. The yoghurt will be ready in a few hours if it is kept around 40 degrees Celsius

  6. BRR 10 September 2012 at 9:37 am #

    It is quite easy to make yoghurt at home: a) Heat milk on low flame in a steel utensil or sauce pan – about 1/3 gallon for example. It does not have to boil. When the thin cream layer puffs up, take it off the stove. b) Let it cool for 1 hr or so. c) Add two table spoon of plain yoghurt from any commercial can of yoghurt such as dannon or yoplait, etc. This serves as live-culture. d) Cover with lid after mixing the culture. In 4 hours, it will be ready as yoghurt. Store it in the fridge to eat later. e) To speed up the process, after mixing the culture, put the container in a conventional over and heat at low tempetatures (100 degrees) for 1 minute to warm it up, and turn oven off – leave container in oven for 4 hours to let the yoghurt form.

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