Ingredient of the Week: Yogurt
Yogurt, especially natural or Greek, is one of my favourite foods to eat. Fortunately it is also highly nutritious. In its natural form it is simply fermented milk and has been a staple ingredient of the human diet for many hundreds of years, originating from the Middle-East and Western Asia. It is formed when milk sugar or lactose, interacts with bacteria or yogurt cultures, forming lactic acid. This results in the proteins found in milk to curdle, giving yogurt its slightly sour and creamy texture. It can be made from any form of milk, most common being cow’s. If it is made from skimmed milk, then it will be fat free and if it is made from whole milk, then it will be full fat. Natural yogurt is white in colour, has a thick liquid texture and a slightly sour, tangy taste. Greek yogurt is just natural yogurt that has been strained and so has a higher protein content, as it is more concentrated. Often brands also add flavours and sugar to it to make it sweeter, which unfortunately makes it far less healthy, so it is important to check the ingredients before buying, to check what you are getting. My favourite brands are Arla, Liberte and Total.
Why is it good for me?
Yogurt contains a multitude of nutrients. Two of which, calcium and phosphorous, are both required in good amounts, to help build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps with effective muscle and nerve function, while phospherous is vital for the metabolism of oxygen, to form energy needed by muscles to contract. Yogurt is also a good source of vitamin B2, riboflavin, which helps to convert carbohydrate and fat in to energy, while also helping to build healthy skin. Vitamin B12 or folate is also present, this is needed for the formation of red blood cells, thus helping to transport oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, producing energy for them to work. All of these are vital for athletes to perform at their physical best.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein. The exact amount varies depending on brand and type, but what protein there is is easily digested, making it readily available to the body to help to build and repair muscles. The majority of the protein found in yogurt is casein, which has been found to help increase absorption of calcium and phosphorous, further benefitting the body.
The live bacteria found in some forms of yogurt help to improve digestion and keep your gut environment healthy. You can read more about this in my post about looking after your gut, but essentially these bacteria are good bacteria and are called probiotics. They live inside our guts and feed off the food we eat. They keep the digestive system running smoothly, preventing any blockages and keeping you regular, while also preventing irritation, infection or stomach cramps. They can speed up metabolism, help synthesise many B vitamins and vitamin K, which are needed by the body to keep it healthy and help to lower blood colesterol. Yogurt is truly a health benefitting food.
How do I prepare it?
Natural yogurt can be eaten straight from the pot and I regularly do this. It can also be spooned over many things, including muesli, granola, fruit or even things like pancakes, to form a tasty and filling snack. It can be flavoured with honey, syrup, or even peanut butter or jam if you like. Its very versatile as well as being nutritious.
How do I cook it?
Adding natural yogurt in to savoury meals gives a creaminess to the dish. It is a great substitute for cream if you are trying to make a recipe more healthy. Try it in this creamy cabbage and prawn one pan or this smoked salmon pasta primavera. It also helps to cool spicy food if the chilli rating is too high for your liking. For this reason it is brilliant in a curry, like this chicken, lentil and mango one or this curried paneer and tenderstem one.
Another great use for natural yogurt is to form the base for a healthy salad dressing, like in this mixed bean salad or this beef, beetroot and radish one. However, possibly my favourite recipe I have at the moment, that includes yogurt, is this smoked mackerel, beetroot and broccoli salad.
I recently discovered another really good use for yogurt and that is to use it to make flat bread. I learnt this when I went on a bread making course and all you simply do is combine flour and yogurt together with some seasoning in a bowl to form a smooth dough, divide it up, roll it out thin and fry it on either side for a couple of minutes in a hot dry frying pan. It makes a delicious guilt-free accompaniment to a salad or torn up and dipped in to hummus.
If you are trying to make a favourite fatty or rich, creamy recipe more healthy, then try replacing it with yogurt instead. It can successfully be used instead of cream, sour cream, creme fraiche, mayonnaise or even buttermilk, in many recipes, so try experimenting with it. Just be careful to always use the natural or Greek versions. Avoid the flavoured or low fat varieties, as for one thing, these contain a lot of hidden added sugar, which is not good for you, while also possibly giving a very interesting twist on that pasta primavera. I’m not sure strawberry flavour would work with that combination of ingredients. Let me know of any of your favourite healthy recipes that include yogurt and please feel free to try my recipes and give me your feedback.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.