Viewed as the world’s first health food, people have been eating (and making) yoghurt for over 5000 years. Yoghurt is a dairy food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk and boasts unique health benefits, including being rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.

Photolibrarygirlwithyoghurt_Body_image.jpg
Photolibrary

Viewed as the world’s first health food, people have been eating (and making) yoghurt for over 5000 years. Yoghurt is a dairy food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk and boasts unique health benefits, including being rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.


The bacteria in yoghurt are also considered health promoting. Known as probiotic or ‘friendly’ bacteria, they encourage intestinal health by restoring harmony between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut.


In Australia, yoghurt is commonly consumed as a snack as it can be eaten straight from the tub. In some cultures it is an integral ingredient in traditional recipes such as Middle Eastern dips, Indian dairy drinks like lassies, and Swiss Bircher muesli.

How is yoghurt made?

According to Dairy Australia, there are five commercial steps in modern yoghurt production:
1.    Skim milk powder is added to pasteurised milk to increase the protein content and help produce the smooth texture and characteristic viscosity of yoghurt.
2.    The milk is then homogenised (a treatment that prevents the cream layer from separating out) and pasteurised (where the milk is heated then cooled to kill harmful microorganisms).
3.    Bacterial starter cultures are added to convert lactose to lactic acid, which helps to set the yoghurt.
4.    The yoghurt is stored and incubated in controlled temperatures (42˚C–43˚C) for four to six hours.
5.    Sometimes fruit or flavours are added to enhance the taste and offer a wider variety of products.
In addition to bacterial starter cultures, probiotics (live bacteria) may be added to yoghurt for health benefits. The most commonly used strains of probiotics are from the lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species.


Fruit yoghurts are usually made by adding fruit pieces or pulp at the production stage. Other flavoured yoghurts may contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners to enhance the flavour. There are also different fat levels available, from full cream to reduced fat, low fat and no fat. Soft serve or frozen yoghurt is created when a blend of sugars, stabilisers, emulsifiers and flavours are added to the natural yoghurt.

What are the health benefits of yoghurt?

Yoghurt is considered to be highly nutritious as it is easily digested, low in fat and a rich source of more than 10 nutrients. Naturally high in calcium, it is recommended in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating as a food that boosts bone health in the fight against osteoporosis. Yoghurt may be suitable for those who are lactose intolerant as the lactose is pre-digested by the bacteria in yoghurt and converted to lactic acid. Yoghurts containing probiotic cultures have a number of other potential health benefits.

According to Dairy Australia, research has suggested probiotics may have a role in enhancing immunity, managing or treating irritable bowel syndrome, protecting against and treating antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, and protecting against urinary tract infections.

Probiotics versus prebiotics

Probiotics are live, ‘friendly’ bacteria thought to be healthy for our gut because they reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the intestines. Probiotics are also thought to be important for a healthy immune system, optimum absorption of nutrients and the production of vitamin K.


The most common probiotics, from the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species, are available in capsules, powders, fermented milks and yoghurt. The problem is that a lot of them die before they reach the part of the intestine where they’re needed. We need 100 million to 1000 million live probiotic bacteria per day. Under the Australian Food Standards Code, probiotic drinks and yoghurts must contain at least one million live bacteria per gram, and companies claiming their products contain biologically active ingredients must state the amount in the nutrition information panel.


Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that stimulate the growth or activity of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. In other words, probiotics feed on prebiotics. It is thought this may improve gastrointestinal health and immune function.


Typically, prebiotics are carbohydrates. They pass through the body undigested until they reach the colon or large intestine. In the colon they are fermented, which leads to the formation of short-chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are used by intestinal cells as nourishment before being absorbed into the body.
The most commonly known prebiotics are inulin and oligofructose or fructooligosaccharide (FOS). Inulin is naturally found in garlic, onions, asparagus, leaks and artichokes, while FOS is also found in these foods as well as bananas, wheat, barley and tomatoes. Prebiotics are also added to many foods including breakfast cereals, bread, table spreads, drinks and yoghurt.