Thursday, August 23, 2012

Well-Cultured Living: Yogurt, Three Ways

Usually, I like to do things around here This American Life-style: each week, I pick a theme (or nutrient) and bring you a number of recipes or information on that theme.  But today's post is going the way of a spotlight episode, where I focus solely on one glorious foodstuff without which my mornings would be  all too bleak, my calcium intake dramatically lower, and my beneficial gut flora much less populated.

Yes, ladies and gents.  It is yogurt, this magical substance of which I speak.  I've been nursing this addiction for a good four years now.

There are reams of studies dedicated to understanding and quantifying the beneficial effect of yogurt consumption on the human body.  In the nutrition world, probiotics are without a doubt the new black, and everyone wants a piece of this.  Why, exactly?

1. It's easier than pie to digest (or a tall glass of milk, for that matter).  Yogurt is a godsend for those who have a hard time processing the sugars or the proteins found in milk.  For one, the live bacteria in yogurt work to break down lactose into its two more easily digested building blocks, glucose and galactose.  Those same bacteria also happen to break down casein, the main milk protein, making the proteins found in a big tub o' the good stuff easier to absorb for some people than those found in milk.

2. It cleanses the colon, sans spontaneous sprints to the water closet.  If lactobacteria are the super-star family of bacteria analogous to the Jackson 5, then acidophilus is definitely their Michael.  Together, these tiny organisms promote the population of healthy flora in the colon while sweeping it clean of potentially carcinogenic bile compounds.  As a bonus, yogurt is high in calcium, clocking in at around 30-40% of the recommended daily intake for adults.  And as it just so happens, consumption of calcium is negatively associated with colorectal cancer rates.  One study even found that ingesting 1,200 mg a day of the stuff lowered the risk of colon cancer by as much as 75%.

3. It optimizes nutrient absorption.  It's a good thing there's so much calcium and B-vitamins in yogurt, because the culturing process makes these nutrients much more bioavailable - or ready for absorption and use by your body.

4. It grants you immunity better than Jeff Probst.  Consumption of moderate amounts of yogurt every day has been associated with a higher level of interferons, disease-fighting proteins, as well as their infection-roundhousing counterpart, white blood cells.  This is great news for those who ride public transportation often, work with the young or elderly, or just like to exist in the outside world more generally.  Too bad fewer sick days means fewer excuses for an all-day Survivor marathon.

5. It keeps the fungus among us at bay.  This includes the yeast responsible for the eponymous vaginal infection as well as other fungi, like malassezia, which may cause inflamed, flaky and itchy skin in areas like the scalp.

6. It's a prime vegetarian protein source.  A one-cup serving of yogurt has around 1/5 of a person's daily protein needs all by itself.  Moreover, these proteins are more easily digested than most.

Just imagine the possibilities if you combined a cup of the good stuff with a couple spoons of nut butter!  ...Well, we're going to do just that.

To nourish:
Peanut Bogart
Serves 1

3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt (use Greek if you prefer for an extra protein boost)
2 tbsp nut butter of choice 
1/3 cup blueberries
1 tbsp or more of cinnamon
sweetener, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir until well mixed.  Enjoy with a steaming hot cup o' joe or some OJ.  Bonus: not only are cinnamon and yogurt a dynamic duo when it comes to fighting nefarious fungi, but cinnamon can also help stabilize the effect of yogurt's sugars on blood glucose levels alongside the healthful fats and fiber from the nut butter and blueberries.  It's a big bowl of WIN.

The low-down: 336 calories, 25 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 18 g protein, 461 mg calcium (46% of daily requirement!)

To shine:
Nourishing Yogurt Hair Masque

If you thought yogurt's power-packed combo of proteins, probiotics and lactic acid was only good for putting into your mouth, you thought wrong.  After all, protein is what hair is made of (and a lot of other things too).  But as hair is continually exposed to the chemical agents in shampoo, hair dye and swimming pools, microscopic holes in the hair shaft can start to form.  Treating the hair with proteins from yogurt can help fill in these gaps, rendering the hair shaft stronger and more resilient (and as a bonus, it will also hold onto hair color longer!)

So many of the compounds we expose our hair to on a regular basis are alkaline (have a pH higher than 7) - and this is especially true in the summertime.  The ammonia in permanent hair color, the chorine in swimming pools, the salt in seawater or in your beachy waves-inducing salt spray, all possess a pH that hovers above the neutral zone.  However, the pH of hair (and skin) is naturally slightly acidic, so it only makes sense that repeated exposure to basic elements might send your hair's natural state out of whack.  The acidic components found in yogurt and lemons help restore the scalp's natural pH balance, helping to ease dry or flaky skin, as well as add shine and moisture restoration to limp, weary locks.  And what a better time to introduce this fix-all formula than the end of summer to help your hair bounce back from a season of sun, salt, and swimming?

Excuse me, is this where I audition for the Garnier commercial?  
1 cup plain yogurt:
           for a strengthening and revitalizing masque, use non-fat
           for shine, lustre and moisturization, use full-fat
           for a little bit of both, use low-fat
1 tbsp almond or coconut oil
1 tbsp color-enhancer
           for a brighter blonde with sunny highlights, use 1 tbsp lemon juice
           for a richer, velvetty brunette, use 2 tbsp cocoa powder + 2 tbsp honey (to make sure blondes don't have more pH-balancing fun, choose the least processed, lightest-colored cocoa powder you can find - cocoa becomes more basic as it is processed)
Saran-Wrap or an old-timey shower cap
A face rag or towel for drippage control
Time: the more, the better!

Select the ingredients recommended for your desired outcome and mix in a bowl.  Place a towel over your shoulders and carefully spread the good stuff around the front, sides and back of your hairline, working toward the ends of the hair.  Once all hair is well-saturated, twist into a bun on the top of the head and cover with Saran Wrap.  The wrap will not only protect from spills once your head heats up the yogurt into a liquidy state, but it will also trap that heat and optimize the masquing process.


...and after!
Leave on for as long as desired, or as long as you can.  Wash out with your regular shampoo once or twice, and let naturally dry.  Style as usual and enjoy your revitalized locks!

To glow:
Yogurt Lemon Cream Dream Facial

By this time, you're likely sitting alone, avoiding all human contact as the pungent odor of fresh yogurt wafts through your nose.  But speaking of your nose, I think your face is getting jealous of all that attention - so you may as well appease it with a face masque to complete your head-to-toe dairy-aisle makeover.  The proteins in the yogurt will plump up your mug, while its lactic acid helps slough off dead skin that can dullen your skin tone and texture.  And like hair, the natural pH of skin is slightly acidic.  The alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and vitamin C in the lemon juice restore your skin's natural pH while fighting hyperpigmentation - or the dark spots that arise from the dermatological woe trifecta of acne, aging and sun damage - and working to noticeably brighten skin tone and improve elasticity.  

2 tbsp plain yogurt - whichever type you used for your hair masque
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Mix both ingredients in a bowl and apply carefully to a dry, clean face.  For a one-two punch, apply the facial about 20 minutes before you intend on washing out the hair masque.  Use warm water and a gentle cleanser to rinse your face, and don't forget to finish with a liberal dose of face lotion and sunscreen, since AHA might make your skin more prone to sunburn for a while.

Question of the day: what is YOUR favorite way to eat yogurt?  I just had mine for lunch yesterday in a Green Monster smoothie: 1/2 cup yogurt, a cup of milk, one banana, a peeled kiwi, a handful of blueberries and about three cups of spinach - it tasted so decadent, I couldn't shake myself to realize how nutrient-packed it was!

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