Yogurt is an ancient food with a storied past. It is said that Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, fed his army yogurt because he believed it made his warriors brave.
In the 20th century, researchers discovered that the bacteria, L. bulgaricus, in yogurt was associated with better health and longevity.
Today, yogurt contains the same bacteria that was lauded for its health benefits thousands of years ago. An excellent source of calcium, protein and probiotics, regular consumption of yogurt is also associated with better immune system function, weight management and reduced inflammation.
Health Advantages of Eating Yogurt
1. Yogurt is a good source of calcium.
The National Institutes of Health recommends men between the ages of 51 -71 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and women 1,200 milligrams a day.
A 3/4 cup (6 fl oz) of plain low-fat yogurt provides over 300 milligrams of calcium, more than a quarter of the recommended daily intake. Eating yogurt every day is a quick and easy way to meet the requirements.
2. Yogurt can help with appetite control.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition studied the beneficial effect of yogurt on body weight. Researchers found that yogurt "may play a role in reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes partly via the replacement of less healthy foods in the diet, its food matrix, [and] the effect of specific nutrients such as calcium and protein on appetite control."
3. Yogurt has anti-inflammatory effects.
There's evidence to suggest that probiotic yogurt can have significant anti-inflammatory effects in diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
4. Yogurt is a source of quality protein.
It's recommended that people over 65 take in as much as 50-75 grams of protein every day (or the equivalent of 1.0-1.5g protein/kg body weight/day).
A 3/4 cup (6 fl oz) of plain low-fat yogurt provides over 10 grams of protein, making it a healthy option for breakfast. Distributing your protein intake throughout the day and across several meals is also be beneficial to your health.
5. Yogurt can help fight infection.
Probiotic yogurt contains "good" bacteria that's linked with boosting immunity. Monica Reinagel, certified nutritionist and frequent contributor to Lifetime Daily writes that "some studies have suggested that regular consumption of probiotic foods may reduce the risk of infection in older adults and improve the response to flu vaccination."
Not all yogurts contain probiotics, so make sure to find yogurt that is labeled with "live active cultures" to take advantage of the health benefits.
The Goods on Greek Yogurt
If you like the creamy texture of Greek yogurt, be sure you read Nutrition Facts table on the container. Traditionally, Greek yogurt is strained with much of the carbohydrates drained off, leaving a higher protein offering, one with almost double that of regular yogurt.
Some Greek yogurts are only lightly strained or not strained at all, so watch out for thickening agents like corn starch in the ingredients list. The result is a product with much less protein than you might expect.
How to Make a Healthy Yogurt Parfait
Not all yogurt is created equal. Sugar-laden fruit yogurts supply more sugar and less protein per serving. If you crave something sweet, try dressing up plain yogurt with a handful of healthy toppings, such as pomegranate seeds, blueberries and raspberries or grated almonds. Or spice up your yogurt parfait with a pinch of cinnamon, grated nutmeg, cloves, or vanilla extract. Ground flax seed, rolled oats and hemp seeds are also healthy options.
Reinagel also wrote recently about power-packed yogurt toppings and suggested a simple but overlooked option: toasted wheat germ. Wheat germ, she says, "is a particularly good source of vitamin E, a nutrient that nine out of 10 adults fail to get enough of. It's also rich in selenium and zinc, two minerals that support healthy immune function."
If you like pairing your yogurt with granola, choose a granola with fewer calories or use it sparingly. Alternatively, you can make your own granola at home. A quick Google search for "granola recipes" will turn up a hundred or more of healthy options, most of which can be prepared ahead of time.
Rosie Schwartz is a consulting dietitian and nutrition writer and is author of The Enlightened Eater's Whole Foods Guide.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
Follow Lifetime Daily on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lifetimedaily