Yogurt is a great place to start an exploration of controversial foods.

We’ve been told it’s good: nourishing, refreshing, good for digestion, better than other dairy products. It is also one of the most hyped foods around. There is more space dedicated to yogurt at the local grocery store than there is to milk and eggs combined.

yogurt and mint

I remember when yogurt was still considered hippie food or something that people who had travelled to Europe might try. It was vaguely understood to be healthy but generally distrusted by anyone with a solid American upbringing. Back then there was plain Dannon (or your mom could make it from goat milk.) A few years later there was Yoplait. Yogurt was beginning to be accepted, but kids still had to be bribed into having it with all sorts of colorful jams. In the last few years yogurt has become ‘woman's friend’ with it's low fat, sweet treat, bone-supporting, abdominal distress alleviating, yeast infection fighting qualities. It has amazingly escaped the trend against dairy and lactose. We instinctively feel that yogurt is a healthy choice.

Ayurveda has had plenty of opportunity to see what yogurt does to the body. In India dairy products are relied on heavily to provide richness and protein to the common vegetarian diet. Yogurt is thought to be healthy and especially cooling. It is eaten at every meal in traditional Indian cuisine. Ayurveda’s views on yogurt  highlight some of the differences between Indian cultural foods and the Ayurvedic diet.

So it is not surprising to me when people say “What!? No Yogurt?!” when I explain that Ayurveda has some serious reservations.

Ayurveda will admit yogurt has its benefits (anything can be a medicine). The classic texts say that yogurt improves the sense of taste and strengthens the body. It is good for children and is a specific treatment for some conditions like strengthening sexual vigor and treating diarrhea.

The tricky part is following the rules that you must in order to get the benefits of yogurt.   First, you must have a strong digestion to benefit from yogurt -- as it is actually quite hard to digest and has a tendency to ferment in the digestive tract. It must be freshly made and properly formed (thick and with a pronounced sour taste). To ensure the heavy, secretion forming qualities of yogurt don’t get the better of you make sure to eat it with one of the following: mung bean soup, honey, ghee (clarified butter) & rock sugar, or amalaki (a fruit common in India). Yogurt is best digested at lunchtime-- when your digestive abilities are naturally the strongest. Yogurt should never be eaten at night (or it will aggravate Kapha). It should not be cooked or eaten during very hot weather as it is already very heating. Also it is best not to have it everyday.

So what happens if you eat yogurt regularly and don’t follow these rules? Watch out for bleeding diseases (like nose bleeds), painful skin conditions, fever, anemia, or dizziness. These conditions are based on an accumulation of heat in the body which ‘cooks’  the blood tissues and aggravate Pitta. At the same time the sticky, heavy and slow-to-digest qualities of yogurt aggravate Kapha and can lead to accumulation of fat tissue,  increased swelling (water retention), tendency for infections, and constipation. . So if you have any of the above problems or a tendency towards yeast infections, diabetes, breathing problems, allergies, or slow digestion it is best to avoid yogurt altogether.

In summary, the Important points to keep in mind if you want to eat Yogurt:

  • Have it at lunch time when your digestion is strongest.
  • Eat it with honey, mung dahl soup, amalaki (a sour Indian fruit), or ghee and rock sugar. These ingredients have drying or anti-pitta properties which balance out the yogurt.
  • Have yogurt during dry weather to avoid the glue-y, sticky, mucous-y qualities of yogurt.
  • Try making Takra-- a light and refreshing yogurt drink-- and get the benefits of yogurt without the drawbacks.

Stay Tuned for More-- Eden EdenAyurveda.com

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