1. Yogurt can give you flat abs.
Eat 18 ounces a day and you can drop a jeans size. People who ate that much — in conjunction with cutting their total calories — lost 22 percent more weight and 81 percent more belly fat than dieters who skipped the snack, according to research from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They also retained one-third more calorie-torching lean muscle mass, which can help you maintain weight loss. “Fat around your waist produces the hormone cortisol, which tells your body to accumulate even more belly flab,” says nutrition professor and lead study author Michael Zemel, PhD. When you eat yogurt, the calcium signals your fat cells to pump out less cortisol, making it easier for you to drop pounds, while the amino acids help burn fat.
2. Most brands of yogurt contain good-for-you bacteria.
The words “live and active cultures” on the container mean that your yogurt has probiotics, beneficial bugs that live in your digestive tract and help crowd out harmful microorganisms that can cause intestinal infections. (Only a very small number of companies put yogurt through a post-pasteurization process that kills off all bacteria.)
But many varieties now also contain special strains of probiotics meant to help regulate your digestion or strengthen your immune system. The research on them isn’t conclusive, however. “If you suffer from a particular health problem, like bloating or diarrhea, it’s worth trying one of these products for a couple of weeks to see if it helps,” says FITNESS advisory board member Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD. Otherwise, save a few dollars and stick to conventional brands.
3. Yogurt is loaded with vitamins.
One serving is a significant source of potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). Yogurt also contains B12, which maintains red blood cells and helps keep your nervous system functioning properly. “Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products, such as chicken and fish, so strict vegetarians can easily fall short,” says Jackie Newgent, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and author of Big Green Cookbook. Eating more yogurt can help close the nutrient gap: An eight-ounce serving contains 1.4 micrograms of the vitamin, about 60 percent of what adult women need daily.
4. A cup of yogurt a day can help you recover faster after a workout.
With the right ratio of protein to carbohydrates, yogurt, particularly high-protein Greek yogurt, makes an excellent post-sweat-session snack. “The perfect time to grab a container is within 60 minutes of exercise,” says Keri Gans, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. The protein provides the amino acids your muscles need to repair themselves, Gans explains, and the carbohydrates replace your muscles’ energy stores, which are depleted after a hard workout. It’s a bonus if you drink a bottle of water along with it: The protein in yogurt may also help increase the amount of water absorbed by the intestines, improving hydration.
5. Not all yogurt is equal when it comes to calcium and vitamin D.
Since it naturally contains calcium, you’d think the amount would be the same no matter which yogurt you pick. Wrong. “The levels can vary widely from brand to brand, so you really need to check the label,” Newgent says. How much is in a container depends on processing. For instance, fruit yogurt tends to have less calcium than plain because the sugar and fruit take up precious space in the container. “Vitamin D isn’t naturally in yogurt, but because it helps boost calcium absorption, most companies add it,” Newgent explains. Reach for brands like Stonyfield Farms Fat Free Smooth and Creamy and Yoplait Light Thick & Creamy, which contain at least 20 percent of your daily value for both nutrients.
6. Yogurt may prevent high blood pressure.
Every day 70 percent of us consume more than twice the recommended amount of salt; over time that can lead to hypertension and kidney and heart disease. The potassium in yogurt, almost 600 milligrams per eight ounces, may help flush some of the excess sodium out of your body. In fact, adults in a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition who ate the most low-fat dairy — two or more servings daily — were 54 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who ate the least.