Everyone snacks. Whenever we feel stressed, bored, or overwhelmed with work, we turn to snacks - cookies, chips, chocolate... Most of them are not great for us, but if you make yogurt your snack of choice, your body will thank you. What's more, you can easily make it at home!
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A probiotic tale
People have been making dairy products for millennia: from Mongolian kumys to Icelandic skyr, fermented dairy is a traditional source of protein. Many kinds of bacteria can be used, but the method is the same: bacteria feed on lactose and produce lactic acid, which curdles milk proteins. Taste will vary depending on the bacteria; those used in yogurt are usually Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
Numerous studies show that introduction of yogurt bacteria – probiotics – into the diet has a positive effect on digestion (more info here) and helps relieve IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). After all, our intestine is populated by almost 200 grams of “good” bacteria. Probiotics can even help treat diarrhea!
Unfortunately, a lot of the yogurt sold in supermarkets has been pasteurized, killing the bacteria. Always check that the label says “Active live cultures”.
Yogurt for weight loss
100 grams of normal yogurt contain 6 grams of protein, and double that in Greek yogurt. Interestingly, research proves that protein intake increases the feeling of fullness, making us eat less. A recent study has shown that women who snack on yogurt have a much lower risk of gaining weight than those who do not eat it (read the report here).
By the way, there is no real need to buy zero-fat or low-fat yogurt. Even though yogurt mostly contains saturated fats, a recent large study suggests that full-fat dairy does not increase the risk of heart disease.
Even more benefits
Apart from probiotics and protein, yogurt contains large amounts of calcium and phosphorus (necessary for building strong bones), vitamin B12 (essential for nerve cells and DNA synthesis), and magnesium (vital for metabolism).
To fully enjoy these benefits, make sure to buy natural unsweetened yogurt. One serving of sweet yogurt can contain up to 15g of sugar! If you do not like the taste of plain yogurt, add some honey or jam.
Homemade is best
Nothing beats fresh homemade yogurt! Methods vary from incubation in the oven to using a thermos, but the easiest and best is to buy an automatic yogurt maker for 10-20 dollars. You will need milk (full-fat works best) and a starter – it may be some yogurt or powdered culture from a health store (more on these cultures here).
Heat the milk to 35-38 C (115F) and test it with your finger: it should be very warm but not hot. Mix a bit of milk with your starter, then add the rest. Pour the mixture into canning jars and place them in a warm stove with the lightbulb on, or on a heating pad (or pour it into the yogurt maker) and let it incubate for at least 5 hours or overnight. You will obtain drinking yogurt: the longer you leave it, the more tart it becomes.
To make Greek yogurt, simply line a colander or strainer with a piece of cloth, put it on top of a large pot, and pour the yogurt into the colander. Leave it to strain in the fridge for the night. The longer you strain, the creamier it becomes. You can add fruit, nuts, honey, or even make frozen yogurt. The remaining serum can be used for baking or as a great base for facial and hair masks. With your own yogurt, possibilities are endless!