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French Women's Diet Secret: Yogurt

Easy, portable, and tasty, yogurt may also aid in weight loss

More Health Benefits

Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, protein and B vitamins, but its health benefits go beyond that, experts say.

"It is a wonderful food that helps the immune system and overall health," says Tufts University researcher Miriam Nelson, PhD.

Eating yogurt with live cultures adds "good" bacteria to your intestinal tract, and promotes a healthy environment to help fight off "bad" bacteria. People taking antibiotics can benefit from eating fermented foods like yogurt, which helps replace the friendly bacteria that get wiped out by the drugs, Nelson says.

"I would recommend organic yogurts, such as Stonyfield Farm and Brown Cow," Nelson says, "because while some products indicate live cultures, there may be only a few, whereas the organic variety tends to have the highest percentage of good bacteria."

Also available are specially formulated "cultured dairy supplement drinks," like Dannon's Actimel -- concentrated, drinkable yogurts designed to help restore healthy bacteria.

Acidophilus milk, kefir, miso, tamari, are other examples of "probiotic" or fermented foods that help add healthy bacteria. To get their benefits, you need to consume a steady diet of these foods.

Yogurt has another benefit. The live cultures that are used to make yogurt are helpful in breaking down lactose (milk sugar) and make it easier to digest -- even for people who are lactose-sensitive. And those looking to get more soy products into their diets can find an easy solution with soy yogurt. It has virtually no fat and plenty of soy protein, which research has shown may help lower cholesterol levels. However, soy yogurt contains less calcium, protein, and B vitamins than yogurt made with milk.

Ways to Add More Yogurt to Your Diet

One of the easiest and healthiest ways to enjoy yogurt, as a nourishing snack or mini-meal, is to toss chopped fresh fruit into plain yogurt or add a little honey and wheat germ.

You can eat yogurt for breakfast, straight out of the carton, topped with fruit and/or cereal, or as a topping for pancakes or waffles. Blended with fresh fruit and ice, it becomes a smoothie -- a quick and portable breakfast or snack.

Or, satisfy your sweet tooth with frozen yogurt (or a frozen container of regular yogurt). You'll get half the calories of premium ice cream and none of the fat.

Yogurt is also a versatile ingredient for recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts. When recipes call for cream, sour cream, or mayonnaise, low-fat plain yogurt can easily stand in for part or all of the higher-fat ingredients.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, advises using yogurt in cool dishes such as cold soups, salad dressings and dips, or as a creamy dessert topping.

Since yogurt separates when heated, it's a little trickier using it in hot dishes. But it can be done: Try mixing a little cornstarch into the yogurt, then stirring into your hot dish at the end of the cooking period.

Magee often uses yogurt to lower the fat content of her baked goods. "Yogurt is a great substitute for oil or butter in cakes and muffins because it adds moisture, volume and flavor without added fat or calories," she says.

Yogurt's acid content means it also works well in a marinade, to help tenderize meats.

Yogurt is perishable, so be sure to check the date on the container. An unopened container should keep about 10 days past the marked freshness date.

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