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A cup of yoghurt a day... . is a way of keeping the doctor away.

Research proves that yoghurt is not just a food Accompaniment, a dessert or merely a diet food. There is growing Evidence to show that it is packed with microscopic warriors - Beneficial bacteria that are essential for good health. It is also a nutritional goldmine.

According to the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, a cup of yoghurt (250 mg) contains 370 mg of calcium (compare that with 300 mg in 250 ml of milk). This is 30-40 per cent of most adults' daily needs.

Besides, at eight grams of protein per cup, yoghurt meets 20-25 per cent of an adult's average daily needs. It is also a good source of Vitamin B (including folacin) and phosphorus. And, a cup of yoghurt contains 250 mg of potassium - almost as much as a banana does.

"If you want to have your own stockpile of B vitamins without having to buy them, eat yoghurt. By a strange chemistry, it sets up an efficient little factory in the intestinal tract and manufactures B vitamins for you," says PratimaKaushik, chief dietician at the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Delhi.

Besides, yoghurt also provides lactic acid, which aids protein, calcium and iron assimilation.

For those on a low-calorie diet, yoghurt is a boon in any case. "Easily available anywhere, it is a snack that tastes great at any time of the day; it is low in calories and can be sufficiently filling when combined with a high-fibre vegetable or fruit," says Dr Shikha Sharma of Clinic deRejuvenation, Delhi.The benefits of yoghurt go beyond its nutritional value and low-calorie appeal.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in an article published in 2000, says, "Increased yoghurt consumption may enhance the immune
response, which would in turn increase resistance to immune-related diseases."
In addition, yoghurt plays an important role in restoring the digestive tract to its normal condition after a course of antibiotics.

"The drugs often wipe out every bacterium in their path, good and bad, altering the natural balance of the digestive tract.When harmful bacteria dominate the intestine, essential nutrients are not produced and the levels of damaging substances like carcinogens and toxins rise. By killing the harmful `bugs', Yoghurt helps maintain a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria," Says Dr Mridula Chichra, a Delhi-based gynaecologist.

In the Indian context particularly, doctors and practitioners of alternative medicine often recommend yoghurt to patients recovering from diarrhoea, and help ease other intestinal tract ailments.

Elixir for women
Women stand to benefit immensely from yoghurt. For instance, women are often prone to vaginal candidosis, which causes itching and possibly
a thick, white discharge.
The risk of this infection increases during pregnancy, diabetes or when a woman is on birth control pills. "Eating yoghurt that contains natural bacteria and yeasts helps re-establish the
Equilibrium," says Pratima.
A study conducted by E. Hilton et al (Annals of Internal Medicine) in 1992 found that yoghurt consumption decreased vaginal infections three-fold. "A particular feature of vaginal infection is the reduction or absence of lactobacilli in the vaginal flora. Yoghurt is full of lactobacilli, hence the logic in its use," explains Dr Mridula.
Then of course, there is osteoporosis, especially in women. Studies have shown that most people consume far less calcium than the recommended daily levels, which could cause osteoporosis. While there are many calcium supplements that are not readily or effectively absorbed, yoghurt provides an excellent source of easily absorbed calcium.

That's not all. Daily consumption of yoghurt also helps improve complexion, making it more radiant.

A word of caution, though. The fruited varieties of yoghurt are high in calories, even though it has a low-fat profile. "The jams and fruit concoctions added for flavour can dump in as much as seven teaspoons of sugar per cup and more than double the calories. So go easy on these, particularly when calories are a concern," says Dr Shikha. If you want a fruit flavour but do not want to lose out on calcium or gain calories, mix chopped fruit with yoghurt. You'll get all the calcium, and also the extra vitamins and fibre from the fruit.

However, to be effective, yoghurt must contain sufficient amount of`live' lactic cultures, meaning it must be `fresh'. Make it at home, is Dr Shikha's advice. Or, when buying it, look for packing as close to the date of manufacture as possible to get maximum
beneficial bacteria. She adds, "Always keep it cold, as the helpful bacteria in yoghurt cannot withstand high temperatures."
Women's Feature Service

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