Do you remember the Dannon yogurt commercials from the 1970s that highlighted people who ate yogurt and lived long, healthy lives?
My favorite was the one with the 89-year-old man who liked Dannon so much, he ate two.
The best line: “This pleased his mother very much.”
Why might they have suggested that yogurt has anything to do with longevity?
It’s the culture, of course. The culture in the yogurt. Yogurt is one of our key probiotic foods. Probiotic means “for life,” and in this case, we’re talking about the life of the good bacteria that help us to not just survive, but to thrive.
Our ancestors most likely ate probiotic foods on a regular, if not daily, basis—a habit we have mostly abandoned. This included foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and, yes, yogurt!
Their consistent consumption of these cultured foods helped to maintain the balance between the bad bacteria to which they were naturally exposed and the good bacteria that they were born with and needed to keep in ample proliferation for health. While science has provided us with more ways to combat the bad bacteria we’re exposed to, it’s more important now than it ever has been before that we continue to build our army of good guys.
In the end (pun intended), you want to make sure the good bacteria rule.
One way to do this is by eating yogurt, which is cultured or fermented by the process of adding beneficial bacterial cultures to milk. This transforms lactose, or milk sugar, into lactic acid.
That chemical conversion is what makes yogurt tart and thick, as well as more nutritious than the milk from which it came. This bacterial modification of lactose is also what makes yogurt tolerable even to those that are lactose-intolerant.
But that’s not the case for those of us who have a milk allergy or sensitivity to one of the proteins in dairy—casein or whey—as opposed to lacking the enzyme to work with the milk sugar (lactose).
If you’re susceptible to the proteins in milk (think seasonal allergies, asthma, constipation, IBS, or … you know full-well what you may be suffering from), then the yogurt, no matter how wholesome, gets ditched right along with the milkshake.
Thankfully, there are now yogurts available to suit just about everyone.
Read on to learn what to look for in a yogurt and my go-to recipe for making it at home (a favorite among many clients who had to bid adieu to dairy but still desired their daily yogurt).
And if you’re perhaps in need of some focused gut loving, colon cleansing, and an increase in “culture,” you’re just in time.
What to Look For
What should you look for in your yogurt? The answer: Not much.
I like to remind people to read the label. We’re not looking at the nutritional facts, which can be deceiving, but instead at the actual ingredients. You want to see the milk source and the bacteria. That’s about it!
While you may have access to different brands of yogurt than I do, these same three principles are true for all.
Go for organic. Don’t forget, what those cows are fed goes right into their milk—and then your body.
Choose full-fat. I’m a firm believer that most foods labeled “low-fat” are processed foods. Think about it. Those foods had to be chemically altered and are no longer a whole food. Ultimately that means they’re more difficult for your body to break down. Really, don’t be scared of good fats.
Make it plain, Jane! You can always sweeten your plain yogurt at home with blended fruit, fruit-sweetened jam, raw honey, or a sweetener of your choice. Commercially added fruit comes along with a host of chemicals and additives to keep what’s natural from molding or rotting.
Make Your Own Coconut Yogurt
Many of my clients are familiar with my Cheater Coconut Yogurt Recipe.
It’s a kitchen countertop experiment and you have to be ready for what may result. Its success depends on your probiotics, your environment, and your patience. Those who love it do so with gusto.
Cheater Coconut Yogurt
Remember that yogurt is made by adding bacterial cultures to milk. The cultures are what create the tart flavor and thick, pudding-like consistency. Foods with live cultures have been proven to boost the immune system and aid in longevity. Here are instructions for creating your easy-to-culture yogurt from coconut milk, right on your counter-top!
- 1 can of full-fat, organic coconut milk
- 5 to 6 probiotic capsules
Notes on Ingredients: My favorite coconut milk brand is Native Forest as they don’t use BPA in their can lining and the consistency is great for the yogurt. For the probiotics, I’ve successfully used GutPro. If using the GutPro powder, use 1 pinch or 1 dash. If using another brand of probiotics, you’ll need to test it and experiment with the amount. Some probiotics don’t culture (which likely isn’t a good sign for the viability of that probiotic).
Pour the coconut milk into a mason jar. If the cream has separated from the water, stir or blend together.
Add probiotic capsules into the mason jar.
Put the lid on and give it a good shake to combine.
Leave in a cool, dark place on your countertop for three to four days, shaking the jar about two times per day.
On the final day, the mixture should feel thick when you shake it. At that point, stick the jar in the fridge and chill until yogurt has thickened.
Note: There may be a sulfur smell when you open your jar. Don’t be scared. It may have to do with the strains in your probiotics. Taste. It may not taste as it smells.
Sweeten with fruit or raw honey, if sweetness is needed. I like to eat mine plain or with a spoonful of carob, maca, and a few drops of stevia. Divine!
Brand Options to Consider
Remember, this list is not exhaustive, as you may have access to products I do not. Look around your local area and you’re likely to find some gems. My favorite to date was a locally made coconut yogurt in Maui. Yum!
- Redwood Hill Farm (note that they do add a bit of tapioca)
- Amande (read the ingredients and make sure all works for you; contains some thickening agents)
- Coconut Grove (read the ingredients and make sure all works for you; contains some thickening agents and coconut sugar)
Note: I did not include some other almond and coconut yogurt brands you might be familiar with because of their inclusion of sugar, even in the unflavored varieties.
With a career born of a personal family health crisis, award-winning functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama takes the idea of food as personalized medicine beyond a clinical practice. Her online programs at ReplenishPDX.com and HolisticNutritionLab.com guide her clients in taking ownership over their health. [email protected]