Yogurt, a natural dairy product that originated thousands of years ago, is thought to have first occurred accidentally when milk that was being stored in animal skins curdled from the action of bacteria, according to the University of Georgia. Sometimes referred to as the "original health food," yogurt is an integral part of the traditional cuisines of some cultures, notably eastern European and west Asian, and offers a wealth of potential health benefits.
Yogurt offers considerable nutritional value; an 8-ounce cup provides as much as half of your daily requirement for calcium. The same serving size also provides 57 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin B12, 10 percent of your daily requirement for magnesium and 12 percent of your daily requirement for potassium. Yogurt also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a convenient source of complete protein. If you choose low-fat or nonfat yogurt, it's also a source of lean protein.
Beneficial bacteria known as probiotics in yogurt provide considerable immune benefits, including increased activity of white blood cells and increased production of antibodies -- protein molecules that rally the immune system against specific pathogens. A study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal "Helicobacter" found that probiotics in yogurt inhibit Helicobacter pylori -- a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers -- in children. Researchers noted that study participants with H. pylori infections had lower levels of certain probiotic bacteria and that yogurt can help suppress the pathogenic bacteria.
Yogurt may help protect against breast cancer, according to a study that appeared in the June 2012 issue of the "Journal of Clinical Immunology." In the laboratory animal study, supplementation with Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic bacteria extracted from homemade yogurt, for 15 days significantly decreased breast cancer tumor growth. Researchers called for further studies to determine the mechanisms by which the yogurt-derived bacteria suppressed the cancer. Yogurt helped reduce risk for throat and esophageal cancer in a study published in the September 2012 issue of the "European Journal of Cancer Prevention." Of the 959 volunteers surveyed in the study, those who consumed yogurt regularly had as much as one-third less risk for developing the upper digestive tract cancers.
Yogurt may help you reach and maintain your ideal weight by promoting abdominal fat loss, the most challenging area for dieters to lose weight, according to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of "The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet: A Simple 3-Part Plan to Lose the Fat, the Wrinkles and the Years." A study published in the April 2005 issue of the "International Journal of Obesity" found that diets that included daily consumption of yogurt containing 1,100 milligrams of calcium for 12 weeks helped obese participants lose weight without losing lean body mass. Abdominal fat loss increased by 81 percent for those on the yogurt diet compared to those on a control diet that contained 400 to 500 milligrams of a calcium supplement.