Fact. If you eat yoghurt you’ll live longer

In the 1900s scientists discovered more people in Bulgaria lived to the age of 100 than any other country. The reason? They made and ate a ‘weird white food’…

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Yoghurt (and we’re not referring to the sugared and flavoured type), has long been held in high regard by nutritionists and occupied a reputation for being somewhat of a ‘life-lengthening’ dairy superstar.

Its credibility can be traced to the very early 1900s in Bulgaria, when Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner Ilya Mechnikov discovered more people in this Balkan country lived to the age of 100 than any of the other 36 he studied. The reason? They consumed a homemade, weird white food that was evidently found to be what we call yoghurt.

The link between yoghurt and longevity continued to strengthen when other studies found the good bacteria produced via fermentation, including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, created a healthy environment in the gut – which is reputed to be where all health starts. These good bacteria –  or probiotics, would fight the bad ones, promote digestion, and strengthen the immune system, thereby assisting to protect the body from infections, toxins and some forms of cancer. All good stuff.

But as good and beneficial as real yoghurt can be, today it’s turned into something akin to a junk food – owing to the addition of sugars and the odd novelty and texture boosting ingredient. They’re included to distinguish the offering from others on the supermarket shelf to the consumer, as well as mask the tart and tangy taste, to which some are adverse.

And so as yoghurt eaters, and enthusiasts of life inducing nutrition, we’ve created a checklist to keep in mind when next purchasing your yoghurt. Intended to help you consume something akin to what those long living Bulgarian’s did, and reap the benefits.

Cut back on ingredients
At its base yoghurt only requires milk and live cultures. Ergo, when looking at the label, best keep it pared back and simple, for the less listed, the closer you are to the real thing.

Live and Active Cultures
Not all yoghurts on the market are created equal. In America, the National Yoghurt Association developed the Live and Active Cultures (LAC) seal to ensure consumers knew which still contained high levels of these beneficial cultures and bacteria after processing.

Look on the label for  ‘active yoghurt cultures’, ‘living yoghurt cultures’ or ‘contains active cultures’. Avoid ‘made with active cultures’; it indicates the good and beneficial things didn’t survive production.

Scan for sugar
When looking at the sugar content on the label it pays to remember this – yoghurt has naturally occurring sugar – it’s called lactose and occupies the first 4 to 9 grams of sugar found within. Anything higher has most likely been added via sweeteners.

Fear the ‘fruit’
Fresh fruit and good yoghurt is great, but beware the fruit flavoured offerings – we’re looking at you ‘fruits of the forest’… Check the ingredients. For if it’s pure fruit that’s been added – wonderful, otherwise chances are it’s a flavoured syrup or something that began as fruit, but via the addition of sugars and food colouring, transformed into something else.

Love that fat
Fat is flavour. And when you’re eating naturally occurring and unsweetened yoghurt it’s a beautiful thing to embrace. It’s what helps give desired creaminess and thick texture, so if you can afford to include a little more fat in your diet, do it.

Try Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt
In Thracian, the language of ancient Bulgaria, ‘yog’ meant thick, and ‘urt’ meant milk. The Thracians were good sheep breeders, giving way to the thought that the revered yoghurt they consumed was based on sheep’s milk. Sheep Milk Yoghurt is available in most supermarkets, and many speciality European wholesalers will sell well-priced tubs. Note, sheep’s milk has been found tolerable to those normally adverse to dairy, as the lactose is lower.

Calcium Check
Yoghurt can be a great source of calcium, and is essential for bone health. A small tub or ¾ of a cup, should contain around 15% of your daily recommended intake.

We want to know which yoghurts you love and why? Where do you get them? Specialty stores or supermarkets?

Image credits: yoghurt serving (NPR), dairy farmers (Boston), supermarket, sheep’s milk yoghurt and figs (Pepper Passport).

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