By Cari Nierenberg
People who like yogurt may be enjoying more than its taste and texture. They also may be enjoying a better-balanced diet and getting more key nutrients than people who never eat the cultured dairy product, new research shows.
As a group, people who said they ate yogurt also reported consuming higher amounts of other good-for-you foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and whole grains, than did people who didn't eat yogurt. And their diets obtained fewer calories from processed meats, refined grains and beer than did the diets of non-yogurt eaters, according to the study, which received some funding from a yogurt manufacturer.
The peer-reviewed findings are available online in the journal Nutrition Research.
"Yogurt is a very good source of many shortfall nutrients – calcium, potassium, and magnesium – that Americans don't currently consume enough of," said study author Paul Jacques of Tufts University. "Yogurt is a good way to meet your dietary requirements for nutrients that you may not be currently eating."
Jacques is director of the nutrition epidemiology laboratory at the university's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
For this observational study, researchers analyzed data collected from slightly more than 6,500 adults, ages 19 to 89, all of them either the children or grandchildren of the original participants in the Framingham Heart Study. That Massachusetts-based study, which began in 1948 and followed its subjects for nearly 50 years, attempted to identify common causes of heart attack and stroke in a large group of people who had not yet developed these problems.
All the men and women in the yogurt study filled out a 126-item questionnaire, indicating how frequently they had eaten certain foods during the previous year.
Boosting shortfall nutrients
People participating in the study were asked to recall how often they ate a one-cup serving of yogurt. Their response was based on a 9-point scale, which ranged from a low of "never or less than one serving a month" to a high of "more than six servings a day."
Researchers found that 53.8 percent of the participants ate yogurt. (Among the women, 64 percent were yogurt-eaters; among the men, 41 percent were.) The average amount of yogurt eaten was two and one-quarter cups a week. Yogurt accounted for between 1 percent and 6 percent of daily calories depending upon how much people ate.
In addition to having a better-quality diet, the men and women who regularly spooned in some yogurt had higher potassium intakes. They also were 48 percent less likely to have inadequate levels of calcium; 38 percent less likely to be deficient in magnesium; and 55 percent less apt to have shortfalls of vitamin B12, a nutrient lacking in some older people's diets.
"We found that yogurt consumers had higher intakes of just about every nutrient we measured," Jacques said. "If people substitute yogurt for less healthy foods in the diet, it may help eliminate the inadequate intake of shortfall nutrients."
A milk alternative
The data were collected between 1998 and 2005, before the Greek yogurt boom hit the U.S. Even now, however, levels of yogurt consumption in the U.S. lag behind those seen in some European countries and parts of the Middle East.
In fact, very few American adults meet the overall dietary guideline for dairy products, which calls for three servings a day of milk and other low-fat dairy products. One serving is considered one cup of cow's milk, soy milk or yogurt; one and a half ounces of a hard cheese like Swiss or cheddar; or two cups of cottage cheese, for example.
A one-cup serving of low-fat yogurt has a similar nutrition profile to that of a cup of low-fat milk but with roughly 50 percent more potassium, calcium, and magnesium, the researchers pointed out.