Tag Archives: Vitamin D

Nutrition Fact: Eating Yogurt is Good for your Health

With so many brands and types of yogurt out in the market, it’s hard to know what yogurt to choose for optimal nutrition.  Some are super healthy breakfast or snack foods to consume, while others are high in sugar and artificial sweeteners and actually not very healthy at all. With all the confusion out there, I thought I’d share some tips on what makes a yogurt healthy and how to choose the right one.

Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt? 

yogurt

Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com/Joe Biafore

Yogurt is basically a form of curdled milk. Regular yogurt is made by fermenting milk with live bacteria and can be made with differing fat levels.  Greek yogurt takes an additional step of straining the yogurt so that the liquid whey is removed resulting in a yogurt that is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt.  “Greek-style” yogurt is regular yogurt that has been made by adding thickening agents to achieve a thicker and creamier texture but is not strained like traditional Greek Yogurt.  Because Greek and regular yogurt are prepared differently, the nutrition content also varies.  Check out the nutrition content for a 6 oz. serving for various types of yogurt.

Plain Non-Fat Greek Yogurt 2% Plain Greek Yogurt Plain Non-Fat Regular Yogurt Plain 2% Regular Yogurt Non-fat Plain “Greek-Style” yogurt”
Calories 100 130 90 108 60
Total Fat (g) 0 3.5 0 3 0
Carbohydrates (g) 7 7 14 12 10
Protein (g) 18 17 8.3 7 6
Calcium (mg) 200 200 350 300

250

 

Health Benefits of Yogurt:

  1. Good for your digestion. Most yogurts contain “good” bacteria known as probiotics which are live cultures that live in the intestine and actually help drive out “bad” bacteria and aid with digestion.
  2. High in Vitamins and nutrients.  Yogurt is a great source of calcium and also Vitamin D.  In addition, just one serving is high in potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, iodine, zinc, and vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid) and B12.
  3. May help prevent high blood pressure. Because yogurt is high in potassium, it helps flush out some of the sodium which may help lower blood pressure according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 
  4. Can be an excellent source of protein. Greek yogurt if processed properly is high in protein which will help with satiety and curbing hunger throughout the day.  Be sure to read the label and choose one that contains at least 12g of protein if you’re looking to increase protein intake and maintain or build lean body muscle.

How to Choose the Right Kind?

The most important part about choosing the right yogurt is reading the labels and knowing what to look for.  Here’s some tips for what to look for to help you make the best choice.

low-fat-yogurt

Photo Credit: The Stroke Survivors blog

  1. Sugar Content. Today many flavored yogurts are full of added sugars and other additives.  Some contain as much as 28g of sugar in one 6 oz. serving!  That’s roughly as much sugar as there is in a 8 oz. cola. Sugar causes a spike in our blood sugar levels and any excess sugar gets converted and stored as fat so you definitely want to minimize the amount of sugar in the yogurt you choose.  I would choose something between 7-15g of sugar so plain yogurt or honey flavored are the ways to go to minimize the sugar content.  Often times the fruit flavored yogurts don’t use real fruit and just add to the sugar content with little to no added nutrition.
  2. Calories and Fat. Choose non-fat or low-fat yogurts to maximize nutrition content without the added calories and fat. Choosing the lower fat version will save you between 30-50 calories per serving and about 3-7 g of fat.
  3. Vitamin D.  Many of us consume yogurt as one of our 3 recommended servings of dairy.  However, not all yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important because it helps aid in calcium absorption as well as a number of other health benefits I wrote about earlier here. When choosing regular yogurts, look for ones that are fortified with Vitamin D.  Unfortunately, very few Greek yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D today so if you go with Greek yogurt it will be harder to find one with Vitamin D so make sure you’re getting Vitamin D from other sources. 
  4. Probiotics.  While all yogurts contain some bacteria through the fermentation process, today several types contain live cultures called probiotics that help aid digestion by adding to the healthy bacteria in your stomach.  When possible, it might be helpful to choose yogurts that contain probiotics to aid with digestion.
  5. Protein Content.  The reason Greek yogurt is so healthy is because of the high protein content.  Generally traditional Greek yogurt contains at least double or up to triple the protein content.  Having a higher protein content helps with satiety and prevents overeating so could help with weight loss.

My Recommendations 

If you choose the right yogurt, it can be an extremely healthy part of your diet– providing a rich source of calcium, a lean protein, and nutrients and vitamins that support good health.  However, with so many brands and types to choose from, the most important things to remember are:

  • Don’t forget to read the nutrition labels and follow the guidelines for sugar content and protein content in particular.  Some yogurts contain as much sugar as a can of coke or soda so be sure to check that when choosing your yogurt.  
  • If you’re looking for “greek” yogurt for its higher protein content, make sure to actually look at the label and read the amount of protein.  Often times the front of the label or the yogurt may be called “greek-style” yogurt which just means it’s thicker and creamier by the use of thickening agents but it actually doesn’t have any additional protein.  Look for 12g or more per serving for a true “greek” yogurt.
  • Choose plain or honey flavored yogurt over fruit flavored yogurt to lower sugar content.  Try adding fresh or frozen fruit or honey instead to make it a bit sweeter!
  • While yogurt tastes great plain or with fruits and granola, you can also use non-fat yogurt or greek yogurt as a substitutes for cream in many dishes as a healthy alternative.  I’ve used it to make healthy creamy pastas, in smoothies, as a replacement for mayo, to make ranch dip, and more!

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Nutrition Fact: More than 25% of Americans are Vitamin D Insufficient

Are YOU Getting Enough Vitamin D?

It seems like Vitamin D has been the “fashionable” vitamin over the past few years mainly because there has been a trend in research suggesting vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency may play a role in various diseases other than just bone health.  Additionally, while the the Institute of Medicine (IOM) increased their recommendations and upper limits for vitamin D for optimum bone health in 2010,  other experts don’t agree with those recommendations and more and more research is showing increased intake may protect against several chronic diseases.  So, with all the controversy and inconclusive evidence out there how do you tease out what you really need to know about Vitamin D?  Let’s start by understanding what vitamin D is and where you get it from.     

What is Vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is a family of fat-soluble vitamins which functions to regulate calcium and phosphorus homeostasis.  Additional functions include:

  1.  Helps maintain bone health
  2. Aids in cell differentiation of hemotapoietic and epithelial cells
  3. Enhances immunity
  4. Helps reduce inflammation
  5. Aids in regulation of blood pressure and insulin

Aside from these known functions Vitamin D plays, new research suggests that vitamin D status may also be linked to chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, depression, diabetes, pregnancy complications, and some autoimmune diseases.  Although the link between Vitamin D and these chronic diseases is still inconclusive, it’s not surprising that there has been a dramatic increase in sales in Vitamin D supplements and manufactures of the vitamin dues to evidence of protection against certain chronic diseases.

Where do I get Vitamin D from? 

Vitamin D is mostly obtained through skin exposure to UV B light where it is converted to the active form for Vitamin D (D3) in our skin.   Some Vitamin D is also obtained from the diet in fortified foods such as milk, cereals, and juices as well as some natural foods such as some fish (i.e. salmon and sardines) and liver.  But more recently many have been receiving vitamin D from supplements which either come in the form of D2 or D3.

Because most of our Vitamin D supply comes from sunlight, there are certain populations that are at risk of deficiency because they convert less sunlight to Vitamin D from their skin.  This includes:

  • Those with darker skin tones.  The increased melanin reduces conversion of sunlight to Vitamin D.
  • Those that don’t expose skin in the sunlight or wear high levels of sunblock all the time.  Clothing and sunblock inhibit the conversion of Vitamin D from sunlight.
  • Those that live in geographies that have less sun exposure.
What are the recommendations for Vitamin D intake?  

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) who puts out the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for nutrients makes the following recommendations for Vitamin D:

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D
Set by the Institute of Medicine
Life Stage  Age  Males
mcg/day (IU/day)
Females
mcg/day (IU/day)
Infants 0-6 months 400 IU (AI) 400 IU (AI)
Infants 6-12 months 400 IU (AI) 400 IU (AI)
Children 1-3 years 600 IU 600 IU
Children 4-8 years 600 IU 600 IU
Children 9-13 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adolescents 14-18 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 19-50 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 51-70 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU 800 IU
Pregnancy all ages 600 IU
Breast-feeding all ages 600 IU

Credit: Linus Pauling Institute on Micronutrients 

The IOM also set the tolerable Upper Limits for Children 9 years and older at 4,000 IU/ day to prevent any toxicity from over consumption of Vitamin D.  It’s important to keep in mind that these are conservative recommendations based only on the IOM’s review of the research related to optimum bone health.  Many other experts are now recommending increased intake of vitamin D in light of new research linking increased Vitamin D status to lower risk of certain chronic diseases and based on data from a NHANES study showing that about 30% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient or at risk of being deficient according to IOM serum Vitamin D levels for optimum bone health.  I personally was tested two years ago and was severely deficient as well.  In order also project against some chronic diseases, some experts such as the Vitamin D Council are now recommending as much as 5,000 IU/day for adults.

SO WHAT DO I RECOMMEND?

I think it’s still too early to be recommending everyone to start taking high dose Vitamin D supplements to protect against various chronic diseases, however, there is promising research for additional benefits with increased Vitamin D coupled with the fact that many Americans are in fact not getting enough Vitamin D from sunlight or the diet so I would recommend the following to increase your intake of Vitamin D:

  1. Get tested.  Testing your Vitamin D level is a simple blood test and especially if your insurance covers it, I would recommend it.  That will give you a basis on how much Vitamin D supplements, if any you really need.  There are also tests you can do at home with a simple blood pinch that are fairly inexpensive with decent accuracy to give you some idea of your Vitamin D levels.
  2. Try consuming more Vitamin D rich foods from your diet.  Natural is ALWAYS better so make sure you’re including enough milk, salmon, and other fortified foods in your diet to help increase your Vitamin D intake.
  3. Try to expose enough skin (arms and/or legs) to at least 5-15 minutes of sunlight twice a day.  That amount of time without sunblock should provide you with more than enough Vitamin D while still minimizing risk to harmful side effects of sun exposure.  Additional plus is that you can’t get Vitamin D toxicity from Vitamin D synthesized from sunlight, only from too much supplement or intake from the diet.
  4. If you do wish to take supplements, or if your doctor recommends it, make sure you take Vitamin  D3 over D2 which research indicates may be up to three times more potent.

After I finished my prescription dose of Vitamin D to get me back to a healthy blood level,  my doctor recommends to get between 1,000- 2,000 IU/ day so I eat fortified foods and take a 1,000 IU supplement daily.  That recommendation is based on the fact that I don’t get much sun exposure living in Seattle, have darker skin, and that my levels were low.  So before you start popping 1,000 IU or 2,000 IU Vitamin D supplements per day, I would recommend you get your levels tested and try moderate sun exposure and diet before you choose supplements.  That will prevent any potential toxicity from too much Vitamin D intake and will save you money…and who doesn’t need to save money right?

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