Four positive impacts of yogurt on health


The health effects of yogurt were at the heart of a Global Summit organised by the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative for a Balanced Diet a month ago. The scientists gathered in San Diego shared their findings on how yogurt consumption positively influences healthy and balanced diets, weight management and the incidence of diabetes and other diseases.


The second Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yogurt was held on 30 April in San Diego, organised by the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative for a Balanced Diet (YINI) with the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF). To quote the press release, this one-day event “focused on rediscovering the history of yogurt and its importance in our daily lives as a key partner for health.” As we wrote a few weeks ago, the links between yogurt consumption and health are increasingly recognised and documented. “There is a growing body of evidence linking yogurt consumption to good health, and additional research to identify the scientific link between yogurt and potential health benefits is underway,” said Mauro Fisberg, MD, PhD, Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

This Summit was therefore, like the first one, an opportunity to share scientific progress in the field, but also for YINI to issue educational material to raise awareness among the general public. Here are the main themes to remember.

1. Regular yogurt consumption helps you achieve a healthy diet.

“Dairy is an important component of human development and it contains essential nutrients for achieving best possible bone mass during growth and also limits bone loss as we age,”

a fact sheet issued after the Summit stated. However, adolescents and young adults seem to be dropping their dairy consumption at younger and younger ages. As a result, adults throughout the world do not eat the recommended daily amounts of dairy products, which leads to an unbalanced diet and possible health risks as they age. Four out of ten Americans do not meet the calcium recommendations; around the world, 40% to 60% of women have insufficient calcium intakes; in the UK, one third of children fail to meet the guidelines for dairy consumption. This is worrying as studies show that dairy consumption from an early age is important for human development and prevents health risks. Consuming yogurt can in fact contribute to reducing the “global dairy gap,” i.e. compensate for lower intakes of dairy globally. This issue is also significant from an educational standpoint: “What you eat during your adolescence will contribute to your overall health as an adult, and it is vital that we communicate this to our youth early on,” said Frans Kok, PhD, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

2. Yogurt is a potential partner in long-term weight management.

Rising obesity rates are a major concern across the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2011. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic, and it is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Now, yogurt could play a positive role in preventing the spread of the disease. It is a known fact that yogurt consumers tend to have healthier behaviours in terms of food choices and lifestyle. They also have higher intakes of essential nutrients. A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity confirms that increasing total dairy and yogurt intake plays a beneficial role in the long-term prevention of weight gain. Another recent study, US Framingham Heart Study, which has followed a cohort of adults since 1991, found that people who ate 3 servings a week of yogurt gained 50% less weight and had a 15% lower waistline circumference than those who had no yogurt in their diet. A third study, presented by Luis Moreno, PhD (Spain) during the Summit, found that the influence of dairy foods in heart health seems to start when we’re young. Once more, the evidence cries out for better education on the importance of diet for health.

Yogurt consumption, according to a study led in the United States, is also associated with a reduced risk of incidence hypertension (each weekly serving of yogurt was associated with a 6% reduced risk) – and thus of heart diseases and strokes.

3. Yogurt contains high quality proteins that make it an excellent snack.

A new profiling system, the Digestible Amino Acid Score (DIASS), determines protein quality by the amount of digestible essential amino acids in the protein, by grams/kilogram body weight/day—and yogurt (i.e. milk proteins) is a winner at 140%, while most vegetable proteins are at less than 80%. Yogurt also contains essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, and live ferments. As a result of this nutrient profile, many dietary guidelines recommend increasing intake of fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt. More specifically, yogurt can make a healthy snack to help people consume high quality protein without the overload of calories often associated with protein consumption. It also helps to control appetite, as Angelo Tremblay, PhD, presented at the Summit, and consequently helps reduce the risk of overweight or obesity.

4. Yogurt has a positive effect on the incidence of diabetes and other diseases.

On top of being associated with controlling weight, yogurt consumption may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 347 million people around the world with diabetes and predicts that deaths from diabetes will rise by more than 50% during the next 10 years, making it the seventh leading cause of death globally by 2030. In this context, prevention plays a crucial role: essentially, maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active. And yogurt could make a valuable contribution:  in a recent study, researchers at Cambridge University monitored the health of over 4,000 people over 11 years. It revealed that those who regularly ate low-fat fermented dairy products (such as yogurt, cheese and sour cream) were 24% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t. They also found that people who ate about 4.5 standards pots of yogurt each week benefited from a 28% reduced relative risk of developing diabetes.

Yogurt consumption, according to a study led in the United States, is also associated with a reduced risk of incidence hypertension (each weekly serving of yogurt was associated with a 6% reduced risk) – and thus of heart diseases and strokes.

Research, of course, continues – supported by YINI, among others. Much remains to be discovered about the link between yogurt consumption and health. For instance, researchers are still examining exactly why yogurt may be beneficial, but the reasons could be linked to its components, such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. Research on gut microbiota is also beginning to shed light on the issue. One thing is for sure: results available now clearly indicate that much more is to come as we research the health benefits of yogurt, specifically in the area of the risks and management of diabetes.

Photo © Shutterstock / Stephen Coburn

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