The rise and rise of yogurt

Using ancient food to meet nutrient needs

Yogurt is known from ancient times. Around 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote “the barbarous nations…understand how to thicken milk and form therefrom an acrid kind of liquid with a pleasant flavor” in his famous encyclopedia of the ancient world. This is our first description of yogurt consumption, although it is likely to have been developed at least 7,000 years before its description by the Roman naturalist. 

Over the past millennia, societies that breed animals for their milk have learned the art of fermentation with lactic acid bacteria to form delicious and nutritious yogurt. Renowned as a source of calcium and protein, and a key ingredient in many home-made face masks, it is no surprise that yogurt has been a favorite food of humans for many thousands of years and continues to be so popular today. But, does the science stack-up: is yogurt a nutritional superfood?

Delicious and nutritious 

Global consumption is increasing. Currently, the value of the global yogurt market is estimated at $69 billion and is predicted to grow 20% over the next five years, with most of the growth coming from Brazil and China. A recent consumer survey, conducted by DSM spanning the US, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, and France, explored yogurt consumption habits to understand what is driving this trend.

Yogurt is good for the skin, both inside and out.

So, why do people eat yogurt? The survey showed that it is seen as healthy, particularly with older consumers. Specifically, people cite gastrointestinal and bone health benefits. There are some national differences: bone health is seen as very important in Turkey and France, while people in China are interested in a healthy digestive tract. Americans are less swayed by yogurt’s healthfulness but more its “great taste”. People living in Turkey, the US and Brazil find that yogurt is satiating and helps them to feel fuller for longer.

Nutrition science evidences yogurt’s healthy image. Yogurt is a nourishing food, rich in nutrients important in a balanced diet. The USDA Food Composition Database shows that a 200 gram serving (around one cup) of full-fat, low-fat, flavored or Greek-style yogurt all provide over 25% of daily protein requirements and at least 20% of daily calcium requirements. Greek yogurt in particular is very high in protein. 

bowl of yogurt

Other notable nutrients found in yogurt include zinc (>15% of the US Estimated Average Requirements for adult women [EAR]), phosphorus (>33% of EAR), riboflavin (>32% of EAR) and vitamin B12 (>49% of EAR). In addition, some manufacturers add vitamins A and D to yogurt to help people meet requirements for these particular nutrients.

Home to friendly bacteria 

The probiotic bacteria in yogurt supports digestive health. Yogurt contains large numbers of live bacteria that are able to colonize the human digestive tract and change its microbial milieu. A cup of probiotic yogurt contains around 400,000,000 bacteria (Terpou). Critical reviews, such as one from Pham, Lemberg and Day, have found that the bacteria in probiotic yogurt can be helpful in preventing episodes of diarrhea from recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea – a type of diarrhea that can develop after taking a course of antibiotics. Some people who are lactose intolerant are able to tolerate yogurt: not only is the lactose concentration of yogurt a little lower than in milk, enzymes from the microbes in yogurt also appear to be effective in breaking down lactose within the small intestine (de Vrese et al.).

The probiotic bacteria in yogurt supports digestive health

Yogurt is good for the skin, both inside and out. A well-known home beauty treatment is the yogurt face mask famed for giving the skin a natural glow. Science has found that yogurt has several properties that could be beneficial when applied directly to the skin. First of all, the lactic acid in yogurt acts as a natural exfoliant, helping to clear dead skin cells from the surface of the skin (Thueson et al.). Secondly, the acidity of yogurt is similar to that of healthy skin, so it can help to maintain a normal skin pH (see Laye and Proksch). Third, the bacteria in yogurt can displace pathogenic bacteria such as those that cause acne (Lee and co-workers). 

Eating yogurt can also help the skin through the gut-skin axis; what happens in our intestines can affect what our skin looks like. Many probiotic bacteria help our intestines to function normally. The main role of the intestines is to let nutrients into our body while keeping harmful bacteria out and probiotics do just that by stimulating the lining of the intestines to keep bad bacteria on the outside. When the lining of the intestines forms an effective barrier, the immune system is less reactive overall, and this affects how the body reacts to infections in the skin. Minor skin infections such as acne are less likely to cause redness and itching, such has been found in several clinical studies after people with acne have taken probiotic bacteria (Vaughn and Sivamani). 

boy covered in yogurt

Apart from being delicious and versatile, yogurt can help people meet their nutritional needs. Particularly the calcium and protein that it naturally contains to support bone health, and it can be used to increase numbers of gut-friendly bacteria in the digestive tract. Create your own delicious yogurt varieties by adding fresh fruit to natural yogurt! Yogurt is also good for the skin so it is no surprise that it has been a favorite food of humans for many thousands of years and is so popular today. 


DSM. Yogurt: The good-for-you food that’s fast becoming a healthy staple. July 2014.

Supporting references:

Goldin B, Gorbach S. Probiotics for humans. Edition ed. Probiotics: Springer Netherlands, 1992:355-76. 

Laye, I., Karleskind, D. and Morr, C. (1993). Chemical, Microbiological and Sensory Properties of Plain Nonfat Yogurt. Journal of Food Science, 58: 991-995. 

Lee GR, Maarouf M, Hendricks AJ, Lee DE, Shi VY. Topical probiotics: the unknowns behind their rising popularity. Dermatol Online J. 2019 May 15;25(5).

Pham M, Lemberg DA and Day AS. Probiotics: sorting the evidence from the myths. Med J Aust 2008; 188 (5): 304-308. 

Proksch E. pH in nature, humans and skin. J Dermatol. 2018 Sep;45(9):1044-1052. doi: 10.1111/1346-8138.14489. Epub 2018 Jun 4. 

Roffet-Salque M. Was Milk Processed in theseCeramic Pots? Organic residue analyses of European prehistoric cooking vessels in “May contain traces of milk – Investigating the role of dairy farming and milk coonsumption in the European Neolithic”, 127-141, LeCHE, ed., The University of York, York (2012). 

Sánchez B, Delgado S, Blanco-Míguez A, Lourenço A, Gueimonde M, Margolles A. Probiotics, gut microbiota, and their influence on host health and disease. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jan;61(1). 

Secundus GP. The Natural History of Pliny. Chapter 96 (41). The Milk: The Biestings. Cheese; Of What Milk Cheese Cannot Be Made. Rennet; The Various Kinds of Aliment in Milk. Volume 3, book XI. 

Terpou A, Papadaki A, Lappa IK, Kachrimanidou V, Bosnea LA, Kopsahelis N. Probiotics in Food Systems: Significance and Emerging Strategies Towards Improved Viability and Delivery of Enhanced Beneficial Value. Nutrients. 2019 Jul 13;11(7). 

Thueson DO, Chan EK, Oechsli LM, Hahn GS. The roles of pH and concentration in lactic acid-induced stimulation of epidermal turnover. Dermatol Surg. 1998 Jun;24(6):641-5.

Vaughn AR, Sivamani RK. Effects of Fermented Dairy Products on Skin: A Systematic Review. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Jul;21(7):380-5. 

de Vrese M, Stegelmann A, Richter B, Fenselau S, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotics–compensation for lactase insufficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2 Suppl):421S-429S. 

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