ogurt is primarily valued as a source of probiotic bacteria that are known to work wonders for your health. Though, we usually associate bacteria with diseases, but not all bacteria are pathogens that are harmful for your body. The human body carries a huge load of bacteria, some of which are harmful, whereas others are keeping these bad bacteria in check and are helping the body in various ways. These helpful or good bacteria, known as probiotics, thrive in your digestive system. Eating probiotic-rich yogurt helps in maintaining the balance of good and bad bacteria, enabling your body to function properly. 
Fermentation of milk produces the probiotic rich yogurt. It is believed that the process of milk fermentation originated in the Middle East in the pre-Phoenician era. However, according to another account, yogurt was first produced by the peasants of Thrace from sheep’s milk and from here the Tartar, Hun and Mongol invaders introduced it to Russia and Europe. The ease of preserving milk by fermenting is believed to increase the popularity of yogurt and other fermented milk products. The word ‘yogurt’ is derived from ‘Jugurt’ the Turkish name for yogurt, although in the eighth century, it was referred as ‘yoghurut’ by the Turks.
In the Persian tradition, yogurt is recognized for its role in increasing longevity. It is claimed that by consuming yogurt the French Emperor Francis I recovered from a debilitating ailment.  Though yogurt featured in the traditional diet of the Middle East for thousands of years, its popularity as a health food escalated since the mid-twentieth century. In the United States, the taste, health benefits and convenience of consuming yogurt made it a prominent grocery item since the 1950s. 
The first step in yogurt production is pasteurization of milk. Milk is boiled to ensure that all microorganisms that may be present in it are destroyed. If the milk is not heated properly, the microorganisms that remain in it will compete with the bacteria that you add for fermentation, and will help in turning the milk into yogurt. To the heated milk, the yogurt culture is added and the milk is left aside for 6 to 8 hours at a temperature around 110-degree to enable growth of the helpful bacteria. The starter culture that encourages fermentation of milk comprises of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Some yogurts tend to contain any two of these bacterial strains, whereas all the three bacteria are found in a few starter cultures. These bacteria breakdown lactose, a type of sugar present in milk, into lactic acid. 
Consuming the probiotic-rich yogurt is known to provide a number of health benefits, most of which are due to the nutrients present in it. As yogurt is produced from milk, it provides all the important nutrients that you get by consuming milk such as protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins B2 and B12. 
The protein content of yogurt is not substantially different from that of milk, though owing to addition of nonfat dry milk to some of the commercial yogurts, their protein level tends to be higher.  Greek yogurt is especially rich in protein. You can expect to get 15 grams of protein from 6-ounce of Greek yogurt, whereas the same amount of traditional yogurt provides 6 grams of protein. 
Yogurt protein are recognized for their high biological quality. Milk protein digestion and dispensation of its amino acids have a major role in the growth and development of the body. Yogurt protein provides all the nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce. Its amino acid profile is superior to that of most plant proteins. Yogurt proteins are known for their physiological properties including their role as precursors for bioactive peptides, ion carriers, growth factors, antioxidants, antiviral and anti-carcinogen and immunoregulation. 
Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium. Commercial yogurts are known to contain more calcium than natural yogurt as additional milk protein added during yogurt production elevates the calcium level. Per serving of commercial yogurt provides around 400 mg of calcium. 
Most of the major vitamins are found in yogurt. It contains the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and the water soluble vitamins including vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, folate and biotin.  Yogurt is especially considered a moderate source of a number of B vitamins. A cup of yogurt is known to provide 38% of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B12, 27% of vitamin B2, 6% of vitamin B6 and 4% folate. It contains a small amount of Vitamin C, equivalent to 3% of the recommended dietary allowance.  When yogurt is made from whole milk fortified with vitamin D, it provides significant amount of vitamin D in addition to the B vitamins and vitamin A. 
Apart from being an excellent source of calcium, whole-milk plain yogurt contains a number of macroelements such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium and trace minerals such as copper, zinc, iron and selenium. The calcium and phosphorus ratio in yogurt is ideal for maintaining the structural integrity of the bones. The reduction in the natural pH of milk during fermentation is known to increase the solubility and absorption of calcium and phosphorus. 
Health Benefits Of Yogurt
The following are the amazing health benefits of yogurt:
- Health Benefits Of Yogurt
1. Supports Healthy Digestive System
A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of the lactic acid producing bacteria present in yogurt on the gastrointestinal health. Yogurt is especially considered beneficial for diarrheal diseases, constipation, lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, allergic reactions in the gastrointestinal tract and colon cancer.
Yogurt seems to help by maintaining the gut microflora, promoting the innate and adaptive gastrointestinal immune responses and improving bowel movement. The lactic acid bacteria compete with the pathogenic bacteria for adhesion to the intestinal wall. Studies suggest that the membrane fluidity of the lactic acid bacteria is a possible cause of their effectiveness in adhering to the intestinal wall that inhibits the pathogens from invading the gastrointestinal tract. 
2. Strengthens Immune System
About 80% of the antibody-producing cells of your body are located in the intestinal tract. Hence, the gastrointestinal tract is the body’s largest immune system. The gastrointestinal system of your body therefore plays a vital role in fighting bacterial and viral infections, allergies and cancers. The lactic acid producing bacteria introduced in the intestine by feeding yogurt is known to stimulate and modulate the immune system. They work by activating the macrophages and the natural killer cells and stimulating certain cytokines including IL-6 and IL-10.
The immunomodulatory effect of the probiotic strains can help in managing the symptoms of allergies. According to a study, regular intake of probiotic for eight weeks during the pollen season causes significant reduction in the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and hay fever. Allergic responses to food can be reduced with the help of probiotics. Consuming yogurt with probiotic helps in lowering the risk of catching flu and common cold. Moreover, it helps in reducing the duration of common cold and infections of the upper respiratory tract. 
3. Helps Burn Fat And Aids Weight Loss
Adding yogurt to your diet can stimulate fat loss. In a study researchers found that incorporating three servings of fat free yogurt to a reduced-calorie diet helped obese subjects burn 61% more fat and lose 22% more weight than obese individuals who only reduced their calorie consumption without increasing calcium intake. Furthermore, people who ate yogurts lost 81% more belly fat. The average weight loss of the participants in the study who ate yogurt was 14 pounds.
Unlike most weight loss diets, adding yogurt to the diet didn’t reduce the lean muscle mass in addition to fats. Calcium and protein in low fat yogurt are believed to be responsible for the beneficial effect of yogurt on the body weight.  Apart from helping in weight loss, a study suggests that consuming at least three servings of yogurt per week helped in lower annual weight gain. 
4. Helps Reduce Diabetes Risk
To decrease your risk of developing diabetes, add yogurt to your daily diet. In a study conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health it was found the regular consumption of yogurt helped in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes by 18%. It is believed that the beneficial effect of the probiotic in yogurt on the intestinal environment helps in reducing inflammation and promotes synthesis of hormones that controls appetite. These favorable changes seem to help in reducing the risk of developing diabetes. 
5. Helps Lower Cholesterol
Yogurt is also believed to help in lowering the cholesterol level. In one study, researchers found that including three cups of pasteurized and unpasteurized yogurt in the daily diet helped in lowering the cholesterol level by 5 to 10% in one week. Experimental studies had shown that yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus caused significant reduction in the LDL cholesterol level and total blood, but did not affect the blood HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 
The cholesterol-lowering effect of yogurt is primarily attributed to the lactic acid producing bacteria. They are known to play an important role in removal and assimilation of cholesterol that diminish the availability of cholesterol that can be absorbed from the intestine. It is also believed that lactic acid bacteria suppress re-absorption of bile acids that seems to help in decreasing the serum cholesterol level. Reduction in cholesterol level helps in lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. 
6. Helps Decrease High Blood Pressure
According to a study, yogurt, when consumed daily in addition to a healthy diet, helps in reducing the risk of high blood pressure during middle-age nurses.  Regular low-fat yogurt consumption was especially effective in lowering the diastolic blood pressure along with enhanced blood pressure control in older adults suffering from hypertension.  Furthermore, regular consuming of yogurt per week, in addition to a healthy diet, helped in reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals.
Elevated blood pressure level is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  The antihypertensive effect of yogurt is believed to be due to peptides introduced in yogurt by the lactic acid bacteria during fermentation that inhibit the angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE, peptidyl peptide hydrolase), which regulates the peripheral blood pressure level.  Yogurt is a good source of potassium. An 8-ounce serving of plain, low-fat or nonfat yogurt is known to provide 531 to 579 mg of potassium. Potassium plays a vital role in blood pressure management. 
7. Helps Fight Osteoporosis
Risk of osteoporosis is higher in people who do not consume enough calcium-rich food. In children, calcium deficiency, apart from disrupting the normal growth process that inhibits them from reaching their potential adult height, makes them susceptible to low bone density or osteopenia and osteoporosis in the future. Loss of bone density or osteoporosis weakens the bones and increases risk of fractures.
The high concentration of calcium in yogurt helps in keeping the bones strong.  Studies have revealed than increased yogurt consumption improved the bone mineral density at all regions in older adults. In women, each unit increase in yogurt consumption reduced the risk of osteoporosis by 39% and osteopenia by 31% and in males the risk of osteoporosis declined by 52%. 
8. Helps Lower Risk Of Cancer
Research suggests that yogurt can help in lowering the risk of certain cancers. A study in Italy has shown that increased yogurt consumption tends to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.  According to experimental studies, by regulating immune response and inducing cellular apoptosis, yogurt helps in inhibiting progression of tumors.  In women, consumption of yogurt was found to be effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer. 
9. Helps Fight Depression
Yogurt is beneficial for people who are depressed. According to a study, increased consumption of whole-fat yogurt help in lowering the risk of depression in women.  A recent study reported in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, claims that combining yogurt consumption with exercises was more effective in elevating the serotonin level and reducing depression.  Laboratory studies have shown that depletion of the Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut is associated with onset of depression symptoms. These beneficial bacteria affect the level of a metabolite called kynurenine in the blood. Elevated kynurenine level triggers the depression symptoms. 
10. Great For Skin Care
Yogurt is also good for topical use. Its deep hydrating effect is good for the health of the skin. Yogurt with live cultures is a natural antibacterial agent. It is also a natural source of alpha hydroxy acid that helps in dissolving the dead skin cells, thereby leaving the skin radiant. Furthermore, yogurt helps in combating signs of skin aging as well. Spread a layer of yogurt on your face and neck using your fingertips. Let it sit on your skin for 15 minutes and then rinse with warm water. 
How To Choose The Right Yogurt
You will come across a variety of yogurts in the grocery stores. However, not all yogurts are created alike, and therefore they are not equally good for your health. A low-fat yogurt that provides no more than 4 grams of fats per serving is usually considered a good choice. The fat content of yogurt is determined by the type of milk used. Yogurt having whole milk contains more than 4 grams of fats per serving. The calorie content of yogurt too depends on the kind of milk used. In addition, sweetening and flavoring ingredients enhance the total calorie content of the yogurt.
Plain yogurts do not contain natural or artificial sweetening ingredients. Other than plain yogurts, all the other type of yogurts contain some kind of a sweetener such as sugar or fructose corn sweetener that add to the calorie content of yogurt or an artificial sweetener. The natural tart taste and creamy texture of yogurt is due to the live active cultures that are known for their health benefits. Avoid consuming yogurts that are heated after fermentation because the heat destroys the beneficial bacteria.  The plain unsweetened yogurt is always considered the best choice. While a low-fat yogurt is preferred to regular yogurt owing to its 20% higher protein and 30% lesser calorie content, you may not get any additional benefit by consuming fat-free yogurt.