A new study suggests, it could lower the risk of stroke, Victoria Lambert looks at the benefits of this superfood
- Published 1.08.18
Could a pot of full-fat yogurt for breakfast be an alternative to a daily aspirin to prevent strokes? New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a fatty acid found in dairy could lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease — and strokes in particular.
Moreover, the University of Texas scientists, who analysed nearly 3,000 adults aged over 65 for 22 years, reported that they had found no significant link between dairy fats and heart disease and stroke, two of the biggest killers associated with a diet high in saturated fat.
The report follows another US study which found that men and women who already have high blood pressure are at lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease if they eat more than two servings of yogurt a week. Scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts, looked at two large cohorts (55,898 females from the Nurses’ Health Study, and 18,232 males from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study) and found that eating yogurt as part of a healthy diet reduced the risk by 17 per cent in women and 21 per cent in men.
But is yogurt, with its balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat that’s rich in calcium and Vitamin D, really such a “superfood”? Or is it time to rethink everything we thought we knew about its health benefits?
Dieter’s best friend
Time was when dieters were advised to reach for a yogurt to take the edge off their appetite. Not any more.
“Not if you are opting for a low-fat yogurt which is high in sugar,” says Kim Pearson, a nutritionist based in London. “Some well-known brands contain 20g (five teaspoons) of sugar per serving.”
The NHS recommends that all adults limit sugar consumption to 30g a day. In the new study, the low-fat yogurts contained 17g of sugar and researchers noted that those “seeking to increase yogurt intake should be advised to maintain a healthful eating pattern”.
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published in the Journal of Nutrition last month found that eating 8oz (226gm) of yogurt before a meal improved metabolism and dampened down inflammation, which is associated with chronic conditions like asthma, arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
The scientists behind the study, supported by the American National Dairy Council, claim the key is yogurt’s ability to calm chronic inflammation by improving levels of healthy bacteria in the gut.
The news will be of interest to anyone with an allergy-related condition, such as asthma, who may have eschewed dairy thinking it could trigger an attack.
“Calcium-rich dairy products are essential for healthy bones, especially for children and adolescents. And people with asthma can be at higher risk of bone disease osteoporosis because of the use of steroid medication. So, only avoid dairy products if necessary, ensuring you replace them with other sources of calcium.”
“Yogurts contain probiotics which can improve a range of gut conditions,” says Dr Foster. “But the dose in the brands you find in supermarkets is so low, it is of negligible benefit. The probiotics get broken down by stomach acid long before they get a chance to be useful.”
An independent Canadian study published in Nutrients in 2017 agrees. Scientists from the University of Toronto looked at 31 studies which found probiotics were associated with “decreased diarrhoea and constipation, improved digestive symptoms, glycaemic control, antioxidant status, blood lipids, oral health and infant breastfeeding outcomes, as well as enhanced immunity and support for Helicobacter pylori [which causes ulcers] eradication.”
But they warned that many of the studies had been funded by the food industry and tested dosages that were up to 25 times the dosage found in most food products. “Many dosages are too low to provide the benefits demonstrated in clinical trials,” warned Dr Mary Scourboutakos, the lead researcher. “Further research is needed to enable more effective use of these functional foods.”
Pearson says: “Consuming probiotics in food is great as everyday maintenance but if it was for a specific purpose — such as after taking a course of antibiotics — I would recommend a high-strength supplement instead.”
Non-dairy yogurts — those made with soya beans or coconut milk — can be among the most highly processed varieties, and are often laden with sugar; Alpro’s Go On Strawberry, for instance, contains two teaspoons per 100g.
However, Pearson singles out one dairy-free variety for praise. “This yogurt contains just four ingredients: coconut milk, vanilla bean paste, tapioca starch and live cultures. (The plain version contains just three — no vanilla). It’s relatively high in fat, but they are healthy fats, so that’s no bad thing as long as it’s in moderation.”