Choosing A Healthy Yogurt

yogurt pic

Although yogurt is generally thought of as a healthy food, store-bought options are often packed with chemicals, potentially genetically modified ingredients, artificial flavorings, artificial colors, and added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Choosing healthy yogurt isn’t always easy. Low fat options are often packed with negative ingredients while fruit yogurts not only contain the natural sugars of the fruits, but may have added sweeteners as well and artificial colors.  Reading the label is critical to ensure a healthy choice.

Plain yogurt is the best option as it will have the fewest negative ingredients.  Fresh fruit or jam can be added for sweetness without the chemicals or other adulterants.  (Of course this does require checking the label on the jam as well if it is not homemade).  Additionally it is important to choose yogurt which does not contain rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) a hormone which has been linked to increased rates of diabetes and other health issues.  Look for the label to state that the milk was from cows not treated with rBGH or choose organic.  Also important is the purchase of full-fat yogurt; this provides the fat needed for the body to properly process vitamin D (a fat-soluble vitamin).

If you plan to buy yogurt, instead of making it from scratch, make sure the yogurt you are buying is really healthier for you. Greek yogurt can tend to be a healthy choice among yogurts and is very popular these last few years. Greek yogurt usually has twice the amount of protein and less sodium than regular yogurt.  If desired it can be made at home for less than the cost of store-bought.

When straining yogurt to make the tangy, thick Greek style yogurt, the whey is separated out. This liquid can be used to soak beans and help reduce the phytic acids. It can also be used as part of the liquid in baking to help boost nutrition, or added to soups and smoothies.

1 32-ounce container organic whole milk yogurt

Line a colander with cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter. Place colander over a large bowl. Add yogurt. Loosely drape a kitchen towel over the top of the colander. Place colander and bowl in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning the colander will contain the thickened yogurt, while the bowl contains whey. Place each item into a separate container and store in the refrigerator. Refrigerated, the whey will last for up to six months.

If you want to be sure you know what is in your yogurt, make it yourself. Making your own yogurt at home couldn’t be simpler. While you can buy fancy yogurt-makers, this equipment isn’t necessary. All you need is a non-reactive container, such as ceramic cookware, a thermometer, and a draft-free place for the yogurt to set.

To make yogurt you’ll need a starter.  While it is possible to use store-bought active culture yogurt as your starter in order to ensure a good balance of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria it is often helpful to purchase a yogurt starter culture. Simply follow the instructions in the packet to make your initial batch of starter.

Once you have yogurt that you can use, either the starter or a store-bought active culture yogurt, you will be ready to create subsequent batches of yogurt.  You will need about half a cup of yogurt for every half a gallon of milk that you use. Heat your milk on the stovetop in your Dutch oven or a non-reactive saucepan. Stir gently as it heats. When it reaches 200F, or just below the temperature when it would boil, let it cool to 115F.

Take a half a cup of the warm milk and whisk it together with your yogurt in a separate container. Then add this mixture back into the rest of the milk and whisk it together. You want to keep your mixture at 115F for about 4 hours. You can simply heat your oven to 115F, then turn it off. Place a lid on your saucepan or Dutch oven, wrap it in a few layers of towels and place it back in a draft free space such as your oven or a microwave oven overnight or until it has set and looks like yogurt.

And that’s all it takes to enjoy natural yogurt made at home. Just mix with fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey, or some granola for a delicious and tasty snack!

Alicia Lawrence contributed to this article.  She is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and when not at work she enjoys cooking with her ceramic cookware, shopping at farmers markets or blogging about travel, nutrition, and  public relations.

photo: citymama

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