Is yogurt the answer to obesity?

The Greek physician Hippocrates once said: “all disease begins in the gut.” You may have heard something similar, there’s been a lot of talk recently about how important it is to keep your gut healthy and increase good gut bacteria.

Bacteria lines your intestines and helps you to digest food. Changing the ratio of good and bad gut bacteria can actually have a big effect on your health and obesity.

Yogurt is one of the best-known foods that contains probiotics. Fermented yogurt contains Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, so it helps digestion and keeps your gut healthy. Don’t worry about remembering these long names! But make sure you remember their benefits.

Yogurt also contains protein, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. It has a much higher nutritional benefit than milk.

So how can it affect obesity?

One of the bacteria is called Firmicutes. Recent studies show that higher levels of this can actually turn on the genes that increase the risk of obesity. So when you eat yogurt, and increase the ratio of good to bad bacteria, this helps you digest food well, and most importantly increases the absorption of vitamins and minerals from your food.

So many studies have been published that show the health effects of yogurt and bacterial cultures used in its production. Other benefits of adding more yogurt to your diet include improved gastrointestinal function and bowel movements, reduced abdominal pain, and improved immune responses and mood.

And finally, 60 percent of regular yogurt eaters lose their belly fat. This is really exciting news, because abdominal fat is directly linked to high insulin and other connected health issues.

If you search for “yogurt” on the internet you will find a lot about Turkey. I grew up in Istanbul, and ate yogurt every day. My mum used to make it fresh, and we were eating and drinking it with every meal. Yes, drinking too! Our famous traditional turkish yogurt drink is called Ayran — it’s so simple and easy to make, just mix yogurt with cold water or ice, and add sea salt. Add more or less water depending on how thick you like it. I also like to add fresh mint leaves too. Ayran is a healthy alternative and refreshing, especially for kids.

The taste depends on which yogurt you use and how well you mix. This makes a huge difference.

The healthiest choice is unsweetened and plain, live-cultured yogurt. When you’re buying yogurt make sure you check the label to see which probiotics are in it. If you don’t see the National Yogurt Association’s (NYA) Live and Active Culture on the label then make sure you read the ingredient list well.

If you want to see all the benefits you must really be careful choosing which brand to buy. Read the labels, and I suggest to not buy 0 percent fat, as many of the Greek and regular ones with no fat have added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. I suggest whole milk, and as close to nature as possible. If you are sensitive to dairy then coconut yogurt is a great choice.

Remember we need to keep our inside healthy, then we’ll be healthy on the outside, too!

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Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. Your personal health, fitness and lifestyle coach. She can be contacted at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com

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