Yogurt: 4 Things to Love (and 5 Things to Hate)

What's your problem, Crabby? Everyone Loves Yogurt!
[Photo: rikhei]

Sure, I know yogurt is good for you, and you can get it in convenient little single-serving containers, and the taste is not unpleasant, but is anyone else starting to find yogurt just a little bit... annoying?

Okay, maybe it's just me. I do eat yogurt, even if it sometimes pisses me off. So I'll make sure to say some good things about it before I put on my crankypants and go all whiny and negative.

Four Reasons To Love Yogurt!

1. If you can do dairy, it's really healthy

If you can tolerate milk products, it's hard not to notice that plain lowfat or nonfat yogurt is absurdly good for you. And many people who are otherwise lactose intolerant seem to handle fermented dairy, like yogurt and kefir, better than they can tolerate regular milk.

So what's so impressive about the health benefits of yogurt?

Yogurt has lots of calcium and protein, and a bunch of other helpful nutrients like potassium and B vitamins. (Greek yogurt has a LOT of protein; but regular yogurt is better on calcium). And yogurt has something called lactoferrin, which is supposed to make it even better than regular milk at helping you build strong bones.

At the "World's Healthiest Foods" they've compiled a bunch of the studies showing yogurt's potential health benefits. And while the jury may still be out on some of these benefits (not enough studies yet), there are still enough encouraging reports so that you can feel pretty darn smug about eating it. Medical issues yogurt might be helpful for include the usual digestive stuff, but also arthritis, ulcers, cholesterol levels, colon cancer, and weight loss, as well as just generally boosting the immune system and increasing longevity.

One of coolest health aspects about yogurt? If you buy a good brand with lots of active cultures, then you get the magical benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria, but they're the "good" kind of bacteria. They won't go around giving you plague or eating up your flesh or otherwise behaving rudely like bad bacteria do.

Some of the health benefits of probiotics, even according to the fairly conservative Mayo Clinic folks are: treating diarrhea, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome; as well as reducing bladder cancer recurrence, preventing eczema and boosting the immune system.

(And Melting Mama notes that for folks who've had gastric bypass surgery, research indicates probiotics can help with quicker weight loss, as well as with avoiding Vitamin B deficiencies).

But all strains of probiotics are not created equal. If you want to know a lot more about probiotics, check out Probiotics--Love That Bug, where you can get the details about which strains are best for your particular health concern, whether it's irritable bowel or hay fever or ulcers or whatever.

2. It Tastes Good

We tend to think of yogurt as a sweet fruity treat, and it does make a nutritious substitute for more decadent indulgences like pudding or ice cream. But yogurt can also shine as part of a creamy condiment (like Kayln's "World's Best Tzatziki Sauce,") or as a main dish ingredient, like in Simply Recipe's Spicy Turkey Soup With Yogurt, Chickpeas and Mint or in The Perfect Pantry's Chicken Tikka Recipe.

3. It's Convenient

Well, it's not convenient if you want to get all fancy like the folks at Chocolate and Zucchini and you decide to make gourmet Frozen Sheep's Milk Yogurt. But yogurt is not exactly hard to find, and it comes in all sizes of containers, and you can get any flavor you can imagine. It's a quick way to get a snack with both carbs and protein, and it requires no preparation other than rounding up some sort of spoon. And even the spoon is optional if you're really hungry.

4. It's Relatively Cheap

Of course you can spend a fortune for some brands, particularly if you like to patronize trendy frozen yogurt emporiums in upscale neighborhoods. But your basic grocery store brand is usually pretty cheap. (My personal favorite brand, Fage, is on the pricey end, especially if I'm nowhere near a Trader Joe's, but I'm awfully fond of it).

However, the cool thing about yogurt is that you can also make your own, and people swear it's not even hard. There's A Year of Slow Cooking's crockpot yogurt recipe, and Charlotte at the The Great Fitness Experiment makes her own with no special equipment at all.

So, with all these wonderful virtues, what is it about yogurt that gets me cranky? Well, enough weird things that I had to resort to making up my own words.

Five Irritating Things About Yogurt

1. Dessertification

Have you perused the yogurt section at the grocery store aisle lately? You can barely find any plain yogurt because there are 7,000 "flavors" of yogurt, all passing themselves off gourmet desserts. Even regular fruit flavors aren't "desserty" enough for most buyers; who wants lemon or lime yogurt when you could be eating "Lemon Cheesecake" or "Key Lime Pie?"

And it's not just the absurd proliferation of exotic flavors, it's that most of the stuff tastes unnecessarily oversweetened. Why do they need to add SO MUCH sugar and/or artificial sweeteners? It seems impractical to use up so much of your daily allotment on one little serving of dairy product, when you might as well be eating a big fat slice of chocolate cake. In my mind, yogurt ceases to be a health food when it's got more sugar than an ice cream sundae or is pumped up with enough aspartame to kill several large lab rats.

I've learned to just buy plain yogurt and flavor it myself.

2. Pharmification

While live active cultures are a good thing, the relentless health promotion around yogurt as "medicine" is getting irritating. Especially when big corporate yogurts start throwing in "healthy" additives, like extra vitamins and fiber, that don't occur in there naturally.

3. Feminization

My all-time favorite Sarah Haskins video explores this weird phenomenon: what's with the single-sex marketing of yogurt?

Are guys simply not allowed to eat yogurt? Are women required to eat yogurt? Have you ever seen a bunch of men in a commercial talking about yogurt?

Hmm... Maybe it's some sort of a conspiracy. Because doesn't it seem suspicious that it's nearly the same thing with Yoga? It's also marketed as "healthy" and targeted strongly at women. Yoga and Yogurt: For Women Only! Oh wait, but Yogi Bear was a boy, and not known for healthy habits, so I'm not sure the conspiracy is very well organized yet.

4. Packagification

Long ago, back in the olden days, you used to have a couple of sizes of yogurt. There was the Big-Ass economy sized yogurt, if you were willing to eat a lot of the same flavor, or a smaller size if you wanted variety. But I swear the small size was more like 10 or 12 ounces. Then that went down to 8, then many yogurts shrunk even further to 6, and now you see these itty bitty containers that have maybe two tablespoons of yogurt in them, they come welded to other itty bitty micro-yogurt containers. So you still have to spend a bunch of money, but instead of getting a whole massive amount of yogurt you get a little bit of yogurt and a whole heck of a lot of packaging.

Progress... ain't it great?

5. Proliferation

Yogurt is immensely popular, and so the major brands are taking more and more space in the coveted refrigerator section of your grocery store. And because it's so important to stock all those pre-sweetened yogurt varieties the public demands, your average chain spares little room for other healthy products that could be sitting there. The more natural yogurts made by the little guys? The non-dairy options? You often have to go to a health food or other specialty store to find them.

My own personal grudge: I like kefir. It's another cultured dairy product that tastes a lot like liquid yogurt, and has even more probiotic strains in it. From what I can tell, it might be even more awesome for you than yogurt is, but it's not as popular so there are even fewer studies on it. I love to add it to smoothies. Yet the chain grocery store nearest me doesn't stock kefir because they apparently need room for each and every one of those 7,000 yogurt flavors. (I'm thinking of trying to round up some kefir grains and start making my own. It's supposed to be fairly easy. However, the problem is the hippie-era distribution system, which seems to rely on knowing someone who knows someone who has extra. But enough about my Kefir Madness.)

So do you eat yogurt? Do you love everything about it or do you have any gripes?

Note: this post also appears at Blogher's 10X Club, where you can find terrifying daily health challenges that leave you spent and weeping, but grateful. Well, not really, most of them are pretty reasonable, but join us there anyway!

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