Yogurt has gained attention for keeping the digestive system running smoothly, but recent research suggests the active cultures (or probiotics) found in yogurt may increase overall immunity and help ward off pesky colds and the flu. Scientists theorize that eating probiotic-containing yogurt daily helps increase the number of friendly bacteria in the GI tract. Probiotics can help with immunity by increasing the number of disease-fighting cells in the body; the good bacteria may also actually destroy body-invading pathogens. Since we like the food first approach (instead of supplements), it’s good to know that the fermented milk in yogurt is the perfect vehicle to help probiotics survive the journey through the acidic environment of the stomach.
When it comes to the live cultures in food, more is usually better, so look for the “Live & Active Cultures” label on packages of yogurt and Greek yogurt. Be sure to keep yogurt cold because live cultures can die at temperatures above 41F (the safe refrigerator temperature). Pick yogurt up last at the supermarket and put it in the refrigerator as soon as you can.
During chilly weather, yogurt makes a delicious topping for steamy pancakes or pasta; swirl it into any bowl of soup; or use it to cool your tongue when eating a sinus-cleansing, spicy Indian curry or Mexican stew.
—By Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and food writer in Chicago.