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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


The Rise and Rise of Yogurt: Using an Ancient Food to Meet Nutrient Needs

By Julia Bird

Yogurt is a food known from ancient times. Around 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote “the barbarous nations…understand how to thicken milk and form therefrom an acrid kind of liquid with a pleasant flavor” in his famous encyclopedia of the ancient world. This is our first description of yogurt consumption, although it was likely to have developed at least 7000 years prior to its description by the Roman naturalist. Over the past millennia, societies that have bred animals for their milk have learned the art of fermentation with lactic acid bacteria to form delicious and nutritious yogurt. Even today, the last few decades have seen a steady increase in global yogurt consumption, according to a consumer survey from DSM that focuses on how and why people in emerging and established markets in the USA, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, France and China eat yogurt. What is driving this trend, and what does this mean for nutrition?

Various types of yogurt are consumed around the world. It is used as an appetizer, soup, side dish, sauce, salad, added to meals, and as a dessert or snack. Yogurt can be strained to make it thicker and more concentrated (often called Greek style yogurt), and can also be made into a drink. Milk from animals such as cows, sheep, goats, camels, yaks and water buffalo is generally used to make yogurt. Variations such as low fat, flavored, probiotic and decadent full fat cater to different tastes and lifestyles. Many countries have their own traditional yogurt products, and this is probably why the largest increases in yogurt consumption have been in countries where yogurt is not traditionally consumed such as China and Brazil. The increasing middle class in other countries with a long history of yogurt consumption such as Turkey is also contributing to greater global yogurt sales. Currently, the value of the global yogurt market is €62 billion, and is predicted to grow 20% over the next five years, with most of the growth coming from Brazil and China.

Why do people eat yogurt? A key reason in all countries surveyed is that yogurt is seen as healthy, particularly with older consumers. Specifically, people cite gastrointestinal and bone health benefits. There are some national differences: bone health is seen as very important in Turkey and France, while people in China are interested in a healthy digestive tract. Americans are less swayed by yoghurt’s healthfulness and are interested in its “great taste”. People living particularly in Turkey, the USA and Brazil find that yogurt is satiating and helps them to feel fuller for longer.

Nutrition science can back up yogurt’s healthy image. Yogurt is a nutritious food and is rich in a number of important nutrients. The USDA Food Composition Database shows that a 200 gram serving (around one cup) of full fat, low fat, flavored or Greek-style yoghurt all provide over 25% of daily protein requirements and at least 20% of daily calcium requirements. Greek yogurt in particular is very high in protein. Other notable nutrients found in yogurt include zinc (>15% of EAR), phosphorus (>33% of EAR), riboflavin (>32% of EAR) and vitamin B12 (>49% of EAR). In addition, some countries add vitamins A and D to yogurt to help people meet requirements for these particular nutrients (all requirements based on US Estimated Average Requirements for adult women).

The probiotic bacteria in yogurt also support digestive health. Yogurt contains large numbers of live bacteria that are able to colonize the human digestive tract and change its microbial milieu. Critical reviews such as one from Pham, Lemberg and Day have found that the bacteria in probiotic yogurt can be helpful to prevent episodes of diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea and recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. Some people who are lactose intolerant are able to tolerate yogurt: not only is the lactose concentration of yogurt a little lower than in milk, enzymes from the microbes in yogurt also appear to be effective in breaking down lactose within the small intestine (de Vrese et al.).

Apart from being delicious and versatile, yogurt can help people meet their nutritional needs. Particularly the calcium and protein that it naturally contains support bone health, and it can be used to increase numbers of gut-friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. It is no surprise that it has been a favorite food for many thousands of years and is so popular today.

Main reference:

DSM. Yogurt: The good-for-you food that’s fast becoming a healthy staple. July 2014.

Supporting references:

Goldin B, Gorbach S. Probiotics for humans. Edition ed. Probiotics: Springer Netherlands, 1992:355-76.

Pham M, Lemberg DA and Day AS. Probiotics: sorting the evidence from the myths. Med J Aust 2008; 188 (5): 304-308.

Roffet-Salque M. Was Milk Processed in theseCeramic Pots? Organic residue analyses of European prehistoric cooking vessels in "May contain traces of milk - Investigating the role of dairy farming and milk coonsumption in the European Neolithic", 127-141, LeCHE, ed., The University of York, York (2012).

Secundus GP. The Natural History of Pliny. Chapter 96 (41). The Milk: The Biestings. Cheese; Of What Milk Cheese Cannot Be Made. Rennet; The Various Kinds of Aliment in Milk. Volume 3, book XI.

de Vrese M, Stegelmann A, Richter B, Fenselau S, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotics--compensation for lactase insufficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2 Suppl):421S-429S.