Yogurt: Good for children, active lifestyles, athletes and healthy aging
Dr. Brendan Egan, discusses yogurts nutrient-rich profile and it's benefits across the life course from children to athletes to elderly.
A simple food more than the sum of it parts
While it is not possible to know whether it is the protein, fat, probiotic, vitamin, or mineral profile that explain the effect, it is clear that eating yogurt daily is associated with more healthful eating patterns and a host of benefits across the life course. Importantly, these benefits are distinct from other dairy foods, so it is likely that it is the synergy of the mix of nutrients that makes the difference. Whatever the explanation, something about the nutrition profile of yogurt is unique and suggests that it is a food that should be included as part of calorie-appropriate, healthy eating habits from children to athletes to elderly.
Benefits across the life course
Studies that have shown health benefits of yogurt typically report benefits of eating one to three portions per day. Eating yogurt in it’s plain, natural form, or exploring in recipes or with other ingredients such as berries, nuts and seeds means there are many ways to add variety in order to enjoy and reap the benefits of yogurt.
The reported benefits are plentiful. For example, in children aged 8 to 18 years, higher yogurt intake is associated with more healthful eating patterns, lower percentage body fat, and better indicators of metabolic health. The same pattern is seen in adults too, with higher yogurt intake associated with better diet quality and reduced body weight . This suggests a beneficial effect of having yogurt in the diet for prevention of weight gain and management of obesity. Interestingly, higher intake of yogurt is also associated with reduced likelihood for type 2 diabetes. For example, a daily serving of yogurt, but not other forms of dairy, is associated with a 28% reduction in diabetes risk.
Part of this might be explained by the fact that yogurt keeps people fuller for longer (the so-called satiety effect compared to dairy drinks or fruit juices, which makes it an excellent snack option, especially if on-the-go or short on time. Because an unhealthy gut bacteria profile can be associated with metabolic health issues, another explanation may be that the healthy and beneficial bacteria known as probiotics that are present in fermented foods like yogurt can improve digestive health, and may also assist immune function.
A valuable source of protein for athletes and elderly
The importance of optimal protein intake for health and performance continues to be revealed especially in athletes and elderly, two populations for whom the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 50 to 100% higher than the rest of the population. Because of the high protein content in certain varieties of yogurt, adding yogurt to the diet is a simple way for older adults to add more protein to their diet, a nutrient that is typically consumed in low amounts by these people. This low daily protein intake is a risk factor for loss of muscle size and independence with aging. The guideline of 50% more protein than the RDA would usually mean an extra 25 to 40 grams of protein per day. Similarly, athletes are advised to eat 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and snack throughout the day, but especially so in the recovery window after exercise.
Put in context, a medium-sized pot of plain yogurt (125 grams) or high protein yogurt (150 grams) provides ~7 and 15 grams of protein respectively. These small but meaningful contributions can assist athletes and elderly to meet their protein intake targets, while also providing that range of other beneficial nutrients.