The future could see the supermarket shelves stacked with ‘designer’ yogurts and probiotic fermented milk made specifically to address different childhood health issues.
And if you’re a mum or dad, you may find yourself choosing a different yogurt according to how old your child is, scientists believe.
The authors of a review of research on children’s yogurt consumption believe that intriguing possibilities may lie ahead in the use of yogurt in our daily diet to support our health and well-being, starting in childhood (1).
Yogurt is an everyday food that’s easy to get hold of and generally affordable – and most kids like it. It’s also a nutrient-dense food, packed with macro and micro-nutrients. As part of a balanced diet, it’s a great food for helping kids to reach their recommended nutrient intakes such as that of calcium. Even better, it’s a perfect vehicle for delivering potential health-promoting probiotics, say the authors.
‘Encouraging yogurt consumption, as a healthy snack or dessert may be beneficial to achieving recommended nutrients intake and healthier dietary patterns among children and adolescents.’
Probiotics in yogurt may vary in their health effects
Yogurt is made by fermentation of milk by two starter bacterial cultures, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. These live bacteria have probiotic properties, meaning they confer health benefits when consumed in sufficient amounts. Many yogurt products also contain other strains of bacteria that are added to give additional potential health benefits.
Adding specific types of probiotic bacteria to standard yogurt cultures may have different health benefits according to the strain of bacteria that has been added, the authors believe. For example, yogurt’s effects on childhood infectious diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and atopic-related disorders have been attributed to the specific probiotic strain used.
Childhood is a window of susceptibility for illness in later life
Yogurt consumption may play a role in preventing both childhood infections and long term diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, say the authors. That’s because during childhood there’s a ‘window of susceptibility’ when the risk of developing these long-term diseases may be influenced by diet. For example, children’s weight and metabolic profile strongly influence their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life. Consuming yogurt during childhood is associated with reduced chances of obesity and CVD, although the cause of this association isn’t yet understood, say the authors.
From infancy to teenage years and on, health benefits of yogurt may differ
To find out more about the possible health effects of yogurt consumption in different age groups, they reviewed the published research carried out over the past 25 years in children up to the age of 18 years.
They found that regularly eating yogurt is associated with several health benefits for children.
Infants and toddlers
Research suggests that specific probiotic yogurt or fermented milk may be associated with:
- Reduced diarrhoea when supplemented with additional probiotics such as Lactobacillus (Lb) casei which may modulate the immune system (2)
- Reduced risk of common infectious diseases and urinary tract infections in pre-school children given a prebiotic dairy drink containing Lb casei or Lb rhamnosus
- Reduce risk of atopic disease during infants’ complementary feeding stage and early childhood (3).
Childhood and adolescence
Regular yogurt consumption may be associated with:
- A better diet quality, eating more healthy food such as fruits and vegetables, with more dietary fibre and less total fat compared with children who don’t eat yogurt
- Reduced rate of severe diarrhoea when the yogurt is supplemented with probiotics
- Reduced risk of obesity when eaten by school-aged children and adolescents (4).
‘Non-invasive manipulation of gut microbiota composition by yogurt and probiotics consumption during infancy could offer an interesting approach to prevent childhood obesity’
How does yogurt achieve its health benefits?
Research suggests that yogurt probably exerts its health benefits by modifying the gut microbiota – the community of microbes that live in our gut – which in turn may have an impact on our immune responses. Exactly how this happens in children has not been fully explored, but the authors believe that it may be possible to modulate the gut microbiota using different strains of yogurt probiotics, and so achieve specific health benefits.
More research is needed to find out the differing effects of specific strains and how they interact with children’s immune systems to achieve different health outcomes.
According to the research team, led by Prof. Sculati, Once we know the health effects of specific strains, it would make sense to add certain probiotic strains to standard yogurt to help promote kids’ health.
[Increasing yogurt consumption] ‘is a desirable goal in the paediatric age: it results in better nutritional habits that, in turn, potentially impact obesity and cardiometabolic outcomes.’
Find out more: read the original article.