Yogurt for Healthy Aging

By Mark Lange, PhD

Many aging adults have a wide range of health issues associated with nutritional deficiencies. Yogurt can be a convenient and enjoyable food product for the older population, which makes yogurt an ideal way to enhance their nutritional status.

There are many reasons why malnutrition occurs in the elderly, including difficulty chewing, poor absorption of nutrients, decrease in mobility and limited income. Yogurt has a relatively long shelf-life and there are no obstacles for those with chewing difficulties. Moderate lactose intolerance, which is prevalent in the older population, is not an issue with yogurt – especially Greek yogurt where straining the fermented milk removes the liquid whey and lactose.

Yogurt is a great source of probiotics and their associated health benefits. Yogurt must contain abundant live cultures of lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles. Yogurt is also a good source of minerals — a 100 gram serving of plain low-fat yogurt provides 183 mg magnesium, 17 mg potassium, 144 mg phosphorous and 0.9 mg zinc. The levels of these minerals are nearly 50% higher in yogurt than in milk.

It can also assist with weight maintenance in the elderly. In the Nurses’ Health Studies and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study[1], female and male participants had an average weight gain of 3.35lbs per 4-year period.  However, those who consumed yogurt every day had less weight gain (-0.8lbs). The effect of yogurt could be related to altered gut bacteria, which in other studies has been associated with reduction in body mass index (BMI). Data from NHANES database shows that yogurt consumption is associated with fewer metabolic disorders, lower waist circumference and improved systolic blood pressure[2].

Yogurt is a wonderful source of calcium and high-quality protein. Because it is a cultured milk product made by adding friendly bacteria called probiotics to milk, it’s a source of good bacteria similar to the ones that already exist in the human gut. These bacteria help to support the immune system, a healthy digestive system and healthy body weight in aging adults.