Yogurt has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years.
It's very nutritious, and eating it regularly may boost several aspects of your health.
For example, yogurt has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as aid in weight management.
This article explores 7 science-supported health benefits of yogurt.
What Is Yogurt and How Is It Made?
Yogurt is a popular dairy product that's made by the bacterial fermentation of milk.
The bacteria used to make yogurt are called "yogurt cultures," which ferment lactose, the natural sugar found in milk.
This process produces lactic acid, a substance that causes milk proteins to curdle, giving yogurt its unique flavor and texture.
Yogurt can be made from all types of milk. Varieties made from skim milk are considered fat-free, whereas those made from whole milk are considered full-fat.
Plain yogurt without added colorants is a white, thick liquid with a tangy flavor.
Unfortunately, most commercial brands contain added ingredients, such as sugar and artificial flavors. These yogurts are not good for your health.
On the other hand, plain, unsweetened yogurt offers many health benefits.
So without further ado, here are 7 science-based health benefits of natural yogurt.
1. It's Rich in Important Nutrients
Yogurt contains some of nearly every nutrient that your body needs.
It's known for containing a lot of calcium, a mineral necessary for healthy teeth and bones. Just one cup provides 49% of your daily calcium needs (, ).
It is also high in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and riboflavin, both of which may protect against heart disease and certain neural tube birth defects (, , ).
One cup also provides 38% of your daily need for phosphorus, 12% for magnesium and 18% for potassium. These minerals are essential for several biological processes, such as regulating blood pressure, metabolism and bone health (, , , ).
One nutrient that yogurt does not contain naturally is vitamin D, but it is commonly fortified with it. Vitamin D promotes bone and immune system health and may reduce the risk of some diseases, including heart disease and depression (, , ).
Summary: Yogurt provides almost every nutrient that your body needs. It is especially high in calcium, B vitamins and trace minerals.
2. It's High in Protein
Yogurt provides an impressive amount of protein, with about 12 grams per 7 ounces (200 grams) ().
Protein has been shown to support metabolism by increasing your energy expenditure, or the number of calories that you burn throughout the day ().
Getting enough protein is also important for appetite regulation, as it increases the production of hormones that signal fullness. It may automatically reduce the number of calories you consume overall, which is beneficial for weight control (, , ).
In one study, subjects who snacked on yogurt were less hungry and consumed 100 fewer calories at dinner, compared to those who ate lower-protein snacks with the same amount of calories ().
Yogurt's fullness-promoting effects are even more prominent if you eat Greek yogurt, which is a very thick variety that has been strained. It is higher in protein than regular yogurt, providing 22 grams per 7 ounces (200 grams) ().
Greek yogurt has been shown to influence appetite control and delay feelings of hunger more than regular yogurt with less protein ().
Summary: Yogurt, especially the Greek variety, is very high in protein. Protein is helpful for appetite and weight control.
3. Some Varieties May Benefit Digestive Health
Some types of yogurt contain live bacteria, or probiotics, that were either a part of the starter culture or added after pasteurization.
These may benefit digestive health when consumed ().
Unfortunately, many yogurts have been pasteurized, which is a heat treatment that kills the beneficial bacteria they contain.
To ensure your yogurt contains effective probiotics, look for one that contains live, active cultures, which should be listed on the label.
Some types of probiotics found in yogurt, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, have been shown to lessen the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a common disorder that affects the colon (, , , ).
One study had IBS patients regularly consume fermented milk or yogurt that contained Bifidobacteria. After only three weeks, they reported improvements in bloating and stool frequency — effects seen after six weeks, as well ().
Another study found that yogurt with Bifidobacteria improved digestive symptoms and health-related quality of life among women who did not have a diagnosed digestive condition ().
Furthermore, several studies have found that probiotics may protect against antibiotic-associated diarrhea, as well as constipation (, , , , , ).
Summary: Some types of yogurt contain probiotics, which may boost digestive health by reducing the symptoms of common gastrointestinal disorders, such as bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
4. It May Strengthen Your Immune System
Consuming yogurt — especially if it contains probiotics — on a regular basis may strengthen your immune system and reduce your likelihood of contracting an illness.
Probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation, which is linked to several health conditions ranging from viral infections to gut disorders (, , , ).
Research shows that in some instances, probiotics may also help reduce the incidence, duration and severity of the common cold (, , , , ).
Moreover, the immune-enhancing properties of yogurt are partly due to its magnesium, selenium and zinc, which are trace minerals known for the role they play in immune system health (, , ).
Vitamin D-fortified yogurts may boost immune health even further. Vitamin D has been studied for its potential to prevent illnesses such as the common cold and flu (, , , ).
Summary: Yogurt provides probiotics, vitamins and minerals, all of which may boost immune health and prevent certain illnesses.
5. It May Protect Against Osteoporosis
Yogurt contains some key nutrients for maintaining bone health, including calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus and, sometimes, vitamin D.
All of these vitamins and minerals are especially helpful for preventing osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakening of the bones. It is common in the elderly (, , ).
Individuals with osteoporosis have low bone density and are at a higher risk of bone fractures (, ).
However, research shows that consuming at least three servings of dairy foods, such as yogurt, on a daily basis may help preserve bone mass and strength (, ).
Summary: Yogurt is rich in vitamins and minerals that play a key role in bone health. Consuming it regularly may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
6. It May Benefit Heart Health
Yogurt's fat content is one of the reasons why its healthiness is often controversial. It contains mostly saturated fat, with a small amount of monounsaturated fatty acids.Saturated fat was previously believed to cause heart disease, but current research shows that this isn't the case. Nevertheless, fat-free and low-fat varieties of yogurt are still popular in the US (, , ).
There is no clear evidence that the fat in yogurt is harmful to your health. In fact, it may benefit heart health (, ).
Some research shows that the intake of saturated fat from whole-milk products increases "good" HDL cholesterol, which may protect heart health. Other studies have found yogurt intake to reduce the overall incidence of heart disease (, , ).
Furthermore, dairy products like yogurt have been shown to help reduce high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. The effects seem to be most prominent in those already diagnosed with high blood pressure (, , ).
Summary: Regardless of its fat content, yogurt appears to benefit heart health by increasing "good" HDL cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.
7. It May Promote Weight Management
Yogurt has several properties that may help with weight management.
For starters, it is high in protein, which works along with calcium to increase levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY and GLP-1 ().
Furthermore, several studies have found that yogurt consumption is associated with lower body weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference ().
One review found that the intake of full-fat dairy products, including yogurt, may reduce the incidence of obesity. This is contrary to what was previously believed about fat intake and weight gain ().
Other studies have found that those who eat yogurt tend to eat better overall, compared to those who do not eat it. This is partly due to its higher nutrient content, compared to its fairly low calorie content (, ).
Summary: Yogurt is high in protein, which is very filling, and may improve your diet overall. Both of these aspects help with weight management.
Yogurt May Not Be for Everyone
Some people need to be cautious with their yogurt intake, as it may cause adverse effects, especially in those with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body lacks lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose, which is the sugar found in milk. It leads to various digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea, after consuming milk products.
Therefore, those with lactose intolerance may need to avoid yogurt.
However, some people who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate it. This is because some of the lactose is broken down during production, and probiotics may assist with its digestion ().
If you are lactose intolerant, it may be a matter of trial and error to determine if eating yogurt works for you.
Milk products contain casein and whey, which are proteins that some people are allergic to. In these cases, milk triggers a reaction that can range from hives and swelling to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
For this reason, it's best to avoid yogurt if you have a milk allergy.
Many types of yogurt contain high amounts added sugar, especially those labeled as low in fat. Excess sugar intake is associated with several health problems, including diabetes and obesity (, , ).
Therefore, it's important to read food labels and avoid brands that list sugar in the ingredients.
Summary: Yogurt may have adverse effects for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. Many types also contain high amounts of added sugar, which may contribute to certain health conditions.
How to Choose the Best Yogurt for Your Health
Less is more when it comes to choosing a healthy yogurt.
Plain, unsweetened varieties are best, since they contain minimal ingredients without any added sugar.
Whether you choose low- or full-fat yogurt is a personal choice.
Full-fat varieties contain more calories, but that doesn't mean that they're unhealthy. Just make sure to stick with the recommended portion size.
You should also look for yogurts that contain live and active cultures to ensure you get your fix of health-promoting probiotics.
Summary: The best yogurts for your health contain few ingredients and no added sugar. Aim for a brand that contains probiotics.
The Bottom Line
Yogurt is rich in nutrients and may boost your health when consumed regularly.
It may help reduce the risk of some diseases, while also benefiting digestive health and weight control.
However, make sure to choose your yogurt wisely. For maximal health benefits, choose plain, unsweetened varieties that contain probiotics.