Yogurt’s takeover of the modern dairy aisle may be a recent phenomenon, but its history as a dietary staple extends back thousands of years to when Middle Eastern herdsmen stored milk in animal stomachs. Natural enzymes would curdle it, creating what we now call yogurt: a fermented milk product made from live cultures. And knowing what we now know about fermented foods, it’s no surprise that yogurt has long been touted as a health food.

Modern Yogurt

Today, yogurt—as defined by the FDA—must be fermented from at least two specific acid-producing bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. In processing, however, many of the bacteria can be removed, so some brands add these and other cultures to the end product. If you value yogurt for its beneficial bacteria, look for labels that say: Contains live and active cultures.

Even beyond good bacteria, yogurt contains a wealth of nutrients. A 6-ounce serving delivers roughly a quarter of your daily protein needs, plus a strong dose of energy-promoting B vitamins. It’s stocked with minerals, most notably phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium and calcium; for the best calcium absorption, look for yogurt with vitamin D added.

Types to Try

Varieties of yogurt available on store shelves have proliferated in recent years, with trends emerging rapidly. Here are a few to watch:

Greek yogurt has soared in popularity, capturing more than 50 percent of the total U.S. yogurt sales in 2015 versus 4 percent in 2008. It’s made by straining out the liquid whey, leaving a thick and tangy yogurt with a higher protein concentration.

Drinkable yogurt, widespread in Asia, is poised to take off in America as well, with pundits predicting a 45 percent growth in sales by 2020.

Packages with separate mix-in ingredients allow for a greater variety of blends than the traditional fruit purees. Popular options include nuts, graham crackers, fruits, pie crust, chocolate and more.

Did You Know?

Many people who are lactose intolerant can digest yogurt without any digestive complaints, because the fermenting process removes much of the milk’s lactose.

lifewayWhat About Kefir?

Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk product that is friendly to lactose-intolerant people. Its taste is best described as a cross between buttermilk and yogurt. Most often available in a liquid form, it typically contains much higher amounts of probiotic cultures for gut health than yogurt. One of our favorites: Lifeway Organic Kefir.

Smart Yogurt Swaps

  1. Substitute plain Greek yogurt for mayonnaise in chicken or tuna salad, or for sour cream in dips or any recipe.
  2. In baking, replace half of the butter with half as much yogurt. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup butter, use ½ cup butter and ¼ cup yogurt. If it calls for oil or shortening, swap out half of the oil with ¾ of the amount of yogurt.
  3. For creamier smoothies, try yogurt instead of milk.