I’m a big fan of yogurt and I frequently recommend it to both the big and little kids in my practice. I also eat it daily, enjoying it as part of breakfast, snacks, dips, dressings and even dessert. So I was pleased to discover more about the science that supports the role of yogurt in the health of kids. At the recent International Conference on Nutrition & Growth 2017, the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative sponsored a symposium on how yogurt could improve the health in children.
Below are some key take-away points from the symposium that will inspire you to add more yogurt to your family’s weekly diet.
Yogurt Eaters Have Better Diets
Studies show that kids who eat yogurt on a regular basis also have better overall diets. In other words, eating yogurt is a marker for improved diet quality. Children who eat yogurt at least once a week also eat more fruit and whole grains compared to kids who eat yogurt just 1-6 times per year. Frequent yogurt intake is also associated with fewer calories coming from saturated fats and added sugars.
In another study, it was no surprise that kids who eat yogurt take in more key nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.
Improved Heart Health
Reducing the risk of heart disease begins in childhood and studies from both the U.S. and Europe show reduced diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors in kids and teens who include yogurt in their diet.
- Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that children ages 8 to 18 who ate yogurt were slimmer, had a lower BMI and less body fat than those who did not include yogurt in their diet.
- Similarly, the HELENA* study of European adolescents found an inverse association between consumption of yogurt and some cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially total and abdominal excess body fat.
*Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence
- The NHANES study also found that eating yogurt more than once a week is also associated with an improved insulin profile in children and teenagers. Yogurt eaters have a lower fasting insulin level, lower insulin resistance, and higher insulin sensitivity.
Surprising Findings for Sugar Contribution
While yogurt has been criticized for contributing added sugars to the diet, the overall contribution of sugar from yogurt is less than 8% among children. Current U.S. food labels make it difficult to decipher how much of the sugar is inherent in the yogurt and how much is added. Even plain, unsweetened yogurt contains natural lactose so not all of the sugar on the Nutrition Facts label is from added sources. Fortunately, the 2018 Nutrition Facts label will separate naturally occurring from added sugars.
When counseling kids and teens, I often encourage them to use their added sugar allowance on nutrient-dense foods such as yogurt instead of empty calorie, high sugar foods and beverages. For instance, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, desserts and pastries all contribute calories and sugar but few other nutrients. Flavored yogurt is an example of a nutrient-dense food that also contains added sugar and thus represents a better use of the “added sugar budget,” which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines as 10% of total calories.
Of course, there are many yogurt options on the market, including many with no or minimal added sugars. I always encourage parents to offer plain yogurt to children and also use it as a base for savory dips and dressings. Greek yogurt is generally higher in protein and lower in added sugars.
The best news is that yogurt is a versatile and delicious favorite of kids and teens. From snacks to smoothies, breakfast to sports recovery, yogurt in its many forms is always a great nutrient-dense and health promoting option.
Disclosure: I was compensated for this blog by the Yogurt in Nutrition Initiative. All views are my own.