By MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN
There’s no question that yogurt is good for you. But the marketing hype that has built its reputation as a “health food” does injustice to several facts. One is that many other foods that are every bit as beneficial, like greens, don’t enjoy the same degree of public acclaim. Another is that yogurt has been sustaining people all around the world since long before the dawn of advertising.
I prefer to think of yogurt as merely a wonderful food that has many healthful benefits. Recent studies have shown that the probiotic bacteria in yogurt have a salutary effect not only on the intestinal tract, but also on brain function. A study at University College Cork, in Ireland, indicated that the presence of probiotic bacteria in the gut can result in lower stress in the brain. Perhaps that’s one reason for the longevity observed in many yogurt-eating populations.
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered synbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. In addition, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements.
In countries where yogurt is part of the culinary landscape, it’s used in many savory dishes. I love the way it contrasts with spicy foods in India and is served, spiked with pungent garlic, as a cool topping with many hot dishes in Turkey and the Middle East.
To thicken yogurt, simply put it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate for several hours. Or buy already thick Greek yogurt or lebna in Middle Eastern markets. But whatever you do, buy organic yogurt that has only two ingredients on the label: milk and live active cultures. I used plain low-fat (not nonfat) yogurt in this week’s recipes; full-fat yogurt will work too, but nonfat is too watery and often quite sour.
2 garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
Generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup thick Greek-style or drained yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped dill or mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the dill or mint.
Serve the yogurt sauce over arugula, grilled meats, baked veggies or rice.
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