No one knows for sure when yogurt first appeared on the culinary scene, but estimations date it's arrival back to the beginning of agriculture, many centuries ago. The first record of possible health benefits from yogurt was in the 1500s. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sent his doctor with a satchel of yogurt to Francois I, the King of France, to cure his intestinal disorder. It worked and yogurt's reputation as a health food was born.

The Culturing of Yogurt

Yogurt is made from milk and whole, low-fat, or skim milk can be used. Live bacteria (also known as cultures) are added to the milk. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the two cultures required for a product to meet the legal definition of yogurt. Some manufacturers add other bacteria as well. The mixture is then incubated—time and temperature will determine the flavor, consistency, and acidity.

The bacteria in yogurt are commonly known as probiotics or "friendly bacteria." Studies suggest that these probiotics can provide a variety of benefits, including preventing ]]>traveler's diarrhea]]>, ]]>antibiotic-associated diarrhea]]>, and other forms of digestive infection, and possibly strengthening the immune system against respiratory infections.

Yogurt Packs a Nutritional Punch

Yogurt is high in ]]>calcium]]>—a mineral essential for strong bones. For adults, the recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000-1,200 mg (miligrams), depending on your age, sex, and pregnancy status. The recommendations vary by age for children, starting at 210 mg for newborns up to 1,300 mg for teens. An eight-ounce cup of yogurt can supply anywhere from 30%-50% of your daily need.

Yogurt is a great way to get protein. Protein is made up of amino acids—nine of which are essential. Essential means that your body cannot synthesize the amino acid, therefore it must be in the food you eat. The protein in yogurt is complete—meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.

Additionally, yogurt is an excellent source of riboflavin, potassium, and vitamin B12. Depending on the type of yogurt you choose (nonfat or low-fat, especially), you can reap the nutritional benefits without a lot of fat, calories, and cholesterol.

Yogurt (8 ounces) Plain,
Total fat (g)028
Saturated fat (g)01.55
Cholesterol (mg)<51030
Sodium (mg)150135130
Potassium (mg)520460440
Carbohydrates (g)152730
Protein (g)998
Calcium (mg)450400400

g=grams; mg=miligrams

Source: Stonyfield Farm website

The Versatility of Yogurt

Yogurt is a great snack—delicious by itself or with a little fresh fruit or granola added. But yogurt can be used a number of different ways in the kitchen. You can bake or cook with yogurt or yogurt can be used to create tasty spreads and sauces. Best of all, yogurt can add flavor and nutritional value without adding a ton of fat and calories.

Here are some yogurt substitutions that can help make your recipes healthier:

  • Replace the sour cream in many cakes with plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt.
  • Use nonfat plain yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise in dips and salad dressings.
  • Substitute nonfat plain yogurt for sour cream on a baked potato or in stroganoffs or stews.
  • Try nonfat plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise in tuna, chicken, or potato salads or in coleslaw.

Date and Oatmeal Yogurt Muffins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pitted dried dates
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped fine
1/2 cup nonfat or low fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, beaten lightly

In a bowl stir together the flour, the oats, the brown sugar, the baking powder, the salt, the cinnamon, the dates, and the walnuts and in another bowl whisk together the yogurt, the milk, the butter, and the egg. Stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture and stir the batter until it is just combined. Divide the batter among 6 paper-lined ½-cup muffin tins and bake the muffins in the middle of a preheated 400°F (204ºC) oven for 30 minutes.

Makes six muffins

Source: Gourmet,

Hummus With Yogurt and Lemon

Yogurt is used to replace some of the high fat tahini (sesame seed paste). Serve with fresh vegetables or toasted pita bread wedges.

2 large garlic cloves
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Mince garlic in processor. Add remaining ingredients; blend until coarse puree forms, occasionally scraping down sides of work bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to small bowl. Can be prepared three days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 1 ½ cups

Source: Bon Appétit,

Yogurt-Cilantro Marinade

This marinade tenderizes and flavors chicken, lamb, and fish. One cup of marinade will cover one pound of meat.

¾cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced

In medium-sized bowl, combine yogurt, cilantro, juice, oil, mustard, and garlic. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to one day.

Makes one cup

Source: Weight Watchers Slim Ways Grilling

Zesty Fettuccine Alfredo

12 ounces uncooked fettuccine noodles
1/3 cup butter
2 cups nonfat, low fat, or whole fat plain yogurt
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons sipped fresh Italian parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Cook fettuccine according to package directions. Remove from heat and drain well. Return to cooking pot. Add butter, tossing until melted. Add yogurt, cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Toss well. Sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings

Source: Dannon Yogurt's website