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Published September 28, 2012, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Yogurt provides you with good bacteria

I recall the first time we brought yogurt home from the grocery store. I was in grade school, and I used my “pester power” to encourage my mother to buy some. I expected it to taste like creamy, sweet pudding, but it didn’t. It had separated into two layers, with the liquid whey on top of “curds.” It was very tart.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

I recall the first time we brought yogurt home from the grocery store. I was in grade school, and I used my “pester power” to encourage my mother to buy some. I expected it to taste like creamy, sweet pudding, but it didn’t. It had separated into two layers, with the liquid whey on top of “curds.” It was very tart.

I think my family members wrinkled their noses and called it curdled milk. I pretended to eat it and poured most of it down the drain when no one was looking.

I don’t think I had yogurt again until it appeared regularly on the college cafeteria line. They served a creamier, fruit-flavored version of yogurt and I began to like it. While I was in graduate school, my international friends introduced me to various recipes from around the world that included yogurt.

My Turkish friends introduced me to Ayran, a yogurt-type beverage made by diluting plain yogurt with water and a little salt. I decided that was an acquired taste. I tried tzatziki, a yogurt-based cucumber and garlic dip common in Greek cuisine, served with lamb and pita bread. I liked this dip immediately.

Today I have yogurt almost every day with my lunch. We keep it on hand for quick calcium- and protein-rich snacks in our fridge. My kids enjoy the freezable tubes of yogurt for snacks, and occasionally we have drinkable yogurt mixed with fruit juice.

The latest yogurt product to appear in the marketplace is Greek yogurt. It usually is a thicker, dense product that commonly is higher in protein because it has been strained to remove some of the liquid. Although it is higher in protein, Greek yogurt usually is lower in calcium than traditional products and often is more expensive.

The other day, I tried key lime-flavored Greek yogurt. I thought I was having a slice of pie instead of a calcium-rich lunch item. Because it was made with nonfat milk, it only had about 140 calories, so it wasn’t a diet-busting dessert.

Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The bacteria break down the milk sugar and lactose to lactic acid, and the fermentation process leads to the unique texture of yogurt. Some yogurt is heated after the fermentation process, which kills the good bacteria.

Yogurt brands with a label that says “live and active cultures” may have benefits, including boosting the immune system function and promoting a healthy digestive system.

Along with calcium, yogurt is an excellent source of potassium, which plays a role in controlling blood pressure. Some yogurt also is fortified with vitamin D, which helps build bones and may help protect us from a range of chronic diseases.

The amount of calories and fat in the yogurt depends on the type of milk (whole, reduced-fat or fat-free) and added flavorings used to produce the yogurt. Read and compare the Nutrition Facts labels to get the most nutrition for your money.

Yogurt can be used in a variety of ways. You can substitute plain, nonfat yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise in dip recipes to reduce fat and calories and add calcium and potassium. Because of its acidity, yogurt can be used as a marinade to tenderize and flavor meat. Make nutritious, refreshing beverages by blending frozen fruit, yogurt and milk or juice in a blender.

You can make your own Greek yogurt at home. Simply put a coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl, add plain yogurt and fold the filter over the top. Allow the yogurt to drain in the refrigerator for a few hours, and use in dips and other recipes.

Be sure to keep yogurt refrigerated. Yogurt carries a “sell-by” date, which tells the grocery store how long to keep it on the shelf. However, you can continue to use the yogurt a week or two beyond the sell-by date.

This recipe is similar to what you might taste in a Greek restaurant.


Greek-style Tzatziki Dip

8 ounces Greek yogurt

2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled and chopped (reserve peel and chop separately)

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic (to taste)

½ cup fresh mint, chopped

½ cup fresh dill, chopped

¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

Rinse and chop all ingredients as directed. Place yogurt and chopped cucumbers in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add garlic, mint and dill and mix. Finely chop the cucumber peeling and add to mixture. Finally, stir in salt, pepper and olive oil. Serve with lamb kabobs, pita bread and various vegetables.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 8 g of fat, 2 g of protein, 3 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 55 mg of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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