The same basic principles apply to making all types of yoghurt. The addition of specific strains of bacteria to milk followed by the an incubation period at temperatures warm enough to encourage growth and proliferation.
Yoghurt is milk transformed into a creamy, tangy and more nutritious product. At this point all yoghurt is created equal. From here, food producers have made the case to ruin a perfectly good thing with misguided additions, or reductions in an attempt to capitalise in the modern market.
Often, they remove perfectly good fats and replace them with gums, stabilizers, thickeners and gelatin in an attempt to recreate the natural creamy textures.
They can load it with sugars and/or high fructose corn syrup, assuming that the consumer can’t handle the tang of real yoghurt (we have been conditioned to prefer sweeter foods).
They turn a highly nutritious whole food with thousands of years of tradition into an edible product with little resemblance of its predecessor.
So, what to avoid?
Yoghurt with added sugar
Yes, sweet foods do taste great. But you would be surprised at how much sugar is added to manufactured yoghurt. Some varieties can have upwards of 20 grams of pure sucrose, which is far, far too much.
If you must have something sweet with your yoghurt, drizzle some raw honey on top. Another option, and probably better again is to add some fresh fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or even a banana.
Yoghurt with added thickeners and stabilizers
Innately, people love the traditional thickness of yoghurt, but they have been conditioned to be scared of the fat that creates that texture. Manufacturers often remove the fat and replace it with additives.
These additives are not necessarily dangerous to human health, but there is some supporting evidence to suggest that some of these additives may increase your risk of obesity by altering the diversity of your gut bacteria. So, why risk it when you can eat the unaltered whole food?
Some yoghurts and even kefir will have prebiotic fibres, such as pectin or inulin added. This probably is a good thing, as adding a prebiotic may actually increase the overall health effects and support the microbial population.
Most low-fat yoghurt
A high percentage of the studies that find dairy products to be beneficial to human health, it is full-fat dairy that has been used. Conversely, when a study links dairy to adverse health outcomes, low-fat diary has usually been used.
Most likely, the reasons behind why full-fat dairy is so good for us is because of what it is not. Highly processed, with added thickeners or stabilizers, industrial fibres and sugars to make up for the missing fats.
Fatty acids in their natural state are generally associated with optimal human health. Such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in pastured-raised dairy products which offers some protection against cancer and heart disease.
There are times where low-fat alternatives can be beneficial for short periods of time, such as a bodybuilder in preparation for competition, who is looking for a high-protein, low-fat food source to kickstart post-workout muscle protein synthesis without the potential fat gain.
What about the good stuff?
Classic full-fat yoghurt
This is yoghurt in its natural state. It’s creamy (when made with full-fat milk), tangy and full of healthy bacteria. It’s classic.
Also known as Greek yoghurt, strained yoghurt is just yoghurt with most of the liquid whey removed. This creates an ultra-thick, high-protein, high-fat creamy yoghurt that is great for a variety of uses, such as making Tzatziki dips, or for use in some Indian style curries. It’s also amazing with mixed berries or even some raw honey.
This is an Icelandic yoghurt/cheese hybrid that incorporates both bacterial cultures and animal rennet to produce a thick, high-protein cultured milk product.
Skyr is non-fat, which is the traditional way to make it. Skyr makers would use the leftover milk after making butter. An efficient way to maximise your resources.
Making the most of eating yoghurt:
- Try different types. Different yoghurts often contain different bacterial strain combinations. The variety of good bacteria will help improve you overall gut bacterial diversity.
- Try different species. The fermentation process reduces the allergenicity of bovine whey and casein proteins, but may not be enough if you’re really intolerant. Try goat, sheep or even a non-diary version like coconut yoghurt.
- Try smaller amounts. Start with a teaspoon at a time, building up from there. Remember, you’re adding new bacterial residents to your gut and they’ll need time to settle into their new surroundings.
- Try sourer varieties. The more sour the yoghurt is, the less lactose remains. Lactose is a common gut irritant.