Regular readers may have noticed that I have traditionally not had too many good things to say about dairy products. I have cited milk and cheese 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 noticed, however, that when I laid bare my everyday diet in the Ask the Experts issue a few weeks ago, I confessed to eating yogurt. I've had a few emails from readers keen to know the reasoning behind my divergent opinion on dairy.

Some of my relative enthusiasm for yogurt comes from the fact that, in practice, it is generally less likely than milk and cheese to pose problems due to food intolerance. 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 sinus congestion, asthma or eczema. However, the bacteria deployed in the fermentation process that converts milk into yogurt aid and abet the digestion of milk proteins. The pre-digestion of protein by bacteria helps to explain why yogurt is less likely to trigger unwanted reactions.

Another component of dairy products that some may have trouble digesting is the sugar lactose. Lactose intolerance is relatively rare in individuals of Northern European descent, but common in those of Southern European, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and South American stock. Those with 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 making yogurt have lactose-digesting ability, and this is reflected in the fact that yogurt contains less lactose than milk. So those who struggle to digest lactose generally find they tolerate yogurt better than milk.

Also, the organisms found in 'live' and 'bio' yogurts can help alleviate gut-related issues such as constipation and diarrhoea. These beneficial bugs 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 factor in digestive conditions such as stomach and duodenal ulcers, and stomach inflammation and cancer). While I am quite a fan of yogurt, I don't care much for flavoured yogurts, which tend to contain heaps of added sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. My preference is for natural yogurt, though there's no reason why it cannot be jazzed up with fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and perhaps a spoonful of honey. Natural yogurt's digestibility and rich stash of beneficial bugs mean that it has the potential for a bellyful of benefits.

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