Yogurt is often touted as one of the most nutritious foods around, and millions of Americans enjoy yogurt as a calcium-rich snack. But yogurt does more than just strengthen your bones; research is finding that it can actually aid in weight loss. Yogurt’s unique nutritional profile may have the power to help you burn fat, protect your metabolism and maintain your muscle strength when eaten as part of a healthy diet.
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According to research conducted at the University of Knoxville and cited in the Huffington Post, foods rich in calcium can increase your body’s breakdown of fat and help preserve your metabolism when you’re on a diet. Calcium is particularly effective at reducing fat around your midsection; a 2004 study by M. B. Zemel and colleagues presented in "Obesity Research" shows that participants who ate enough dairy to provide 1100 mg of daily calcium lost more weight overall and more weight around their midsections than those who ate a low-calcium diet or a diet that included 1200 mg of calcium from supplements.
While dairy foods as a whole have been studied for their role in weight loss, yogurt in particular has been shown to help burn fat and reduce weight overall. The Huffington Post cites a University of Tennessee study in which participants who ate three daily servings of yogurt lost 22 percent more weight and 61 percent more body fat than dieters who didn’t add calcium to their diet. The yogurt eaters also maintained their lean muscle tissue, which is important for preventing a decrease in metabolism.
Yogurt is rich in protein and it’s this protein that can help you feel fuller and more satisfied than you would eating a fat- or carbohydrate-rich meal with the same number of calories; according to Arne Astrup in the July 2005 edition of "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," protein is more satiating than both fat and carbs. Eating yogurt as a snack or adding it to your breakfast or lunch may help you to eat fewer calories overall by keeping you fuller throughout the day and helping you last longer between meals.
Yogurt can also help you cut calories when you use it to replace higher-calorie foods. Plain yogurt, especially the thick Greek-style, has a tart flavor that makes a convincing substitute for sour cream; try reduced-fat plain Greek yogurt in any recipe that calls for sour cream, mix it with pureed beans and Mexican spices for a healthier chip dip or simply use it to top tacos and baked potatoes. Greek yogurt can also be used in place of mayonnaise to make tuna salad, coleslaw and salad dressing. If your taste buds don't like the yogurt substitution, start by replacing just half the sour cream or mayo with yogurt and increase the ratio as you get used to the flavor.
When it comes to weight loss, not all types of yogurt are created equal. Full-fat yogurts can be packed with calories, so choose nonfat or reduced-fat versions, which have just as much protein and calcium as the full-fat types. Flavored yogurts usually have more calories and sugar than plain, so add healthy flavor to plain yogurt at home by mixing in fruit or a teaspoon of honey. For the greatest protein benefits, eat Greek-style yogurt, which has more protein than regular yogurt and is thicker and creamier, even in the nonfat version.