Thursday, November 20, 2008

Superfoods for Vegetarians - Part 2

This is nutritionist Dipa Shah-Patel's fourth article in her series on vegetarian nutrition.

In my last article, I touched on superfoods from the meat/bean and grain food groups. Today I am going to address superfoods in the dairy and fruit food groups.


Yogurt can be a wonderful 2-for-1 deal, providing good nutrition and improved digestion. One cup of plain nonfat yogurt can have as much as 13g of protein along with almost half the daily requirement for calcium (488mg).1 It is also an excellent source of riboflavin and vitamin B12, nutrients that I will talk more about in future articles.

Be sure to buy yogurt with the label "live and active cultures.” "Cultures" in this case refers to bacteria. Two bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, are required to make yogurt. In heat-treated yogurt, these cultures are killed. But if a yogurt label says "live and active cultures," they have not been killed and can bring positive effects to your body. Other bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus acidophilus, can be added to yogurt for additional benefit.2

Studies have shown that, when taken in large amounts, these bacteria may aid with constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and allergies. These bacteria also help make yogurt easier to digest than milk, which is why persons with lactose-intolerance tend to find yogurt to be better tolerated by their bodies. The bacteria help break down lactose (the sugar found in milk), and thus decrease those unpleasant side effects that tend to occur when anyone with lactose-intolerance eats other dairy products like milk, ice cream, and cheese.3

The bacteria that I mention above are also known as "probiotics," a term you may have heard in the news. Probiotics are defined as "living microorganisms, which on ingestion in sufficient numbers, exert health benefits beyond inherent basic nutrition."3 Studies are still being conducted to fully understand the benefits of probiotics, but so far the data looks good.

Yogurt makes a perfect mid-afternoon snack, but bear in mind that many flavored yogurts contain about 6 teaspoons of sugar. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises people who eat a 2,000-calorie diet to limit themselves to no more than 10 teaspoons of added sugars per day. To add natural sweetness, try adding chopped fruit like fresh berries, peaches, or bananas. You’ll get more vitamins and fiber that way too!


Blueberries have often been in the news for their health benefits. One cup of blueberries contains 4g of fiber and is only 84 calories.4 Blueberries are full of antioxidants that can inhibit cancer cell development and inflammation.5 Blueberries, along with other berries such as strawberries, have also been associated with improved brain function and memory.6

Blueberries add color and sweetness to any recipe. You can top your cereal or oatmeal with them, or include them in a smoothie along with strawberries, yogurt, ice, and a splash of pineapple juice. Yum!


  1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 (2008). Accessed October 20, 2008.
  2. National Yogurt Association Accessed October 18,2008.
  3. Adolfsson O, Meydani SN, Russell RM. Yogurt and gut function. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Aug;80(2):245-56.
  4. Nutrition Data Accessed November 1, 2008.
  5. Mazza, G., Kay, C, Cottrell, T., and Holub, B. Absorption of Anthocyanins from Blueberries and Serum Antioxidant Status in Human Subjects. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2002 Apr;50(26): 7731 – 7737.
  6. Shukitt-Hale B, Lau FC, Joseph JA. Berry fruit supplementation and the aging brain. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13;56(3):636-41.
If you have a question or comment for Dipa, please send an email to A recipe incorporating yogurt and blueberries will be posted on Monday.

Previous articles by Dipa Shah-Patel, MPH:
Superfoods for Vegetarians
The Complete Story on Protein
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Proteins - Oh My!

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