When your baby or toddler is tucking into their yogurt, it’s good to know they may be enjoying health benefits too. In fact, experts say yogurt is a great choice to be included among an infant’s first complementary (weaning) foods.
Eating a daily serving of yogurt is not only good for tiny tummies, it could help to prevent skin and allergy problems as well. In this review of published studies, the authors found evidence that yogurt consumption by children aged 4 to 24 months boosts ‘friendly’ gut bacteria and is associated with reduced risk of developing eczema and food sensitivity, and shortened duration of infectious diarrhoea.
The health benefits of eating yogurt in older children and adults are well known, including an association with a reduced risk of developing diabetes. However, we don’t know so much about the effects of yogurt in infants and toddlers, the authors say.
In the first scientific review to focus on the effects of eating yogurt during the first 2 years of life, the authors identified 10 studies reporting health outcomes in youngsters who were eating yogurt or fermented milk products when aged 4 to 24 months.
‘…yogurt shows promise in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhea and in preventing allergy and promoting gut health in infants and toddlers. None of the studies identified reported adverse effects of yogurt consumption in infants or toddlers.’– Donovan SM and Rao G, 2019
Children who eat yogurt have a reduced risk of eczema
In one study involving 1,041 children, introducing yogurt to the diet during the first year of life was independently associated with a lower risk of developing eczema.
In a second study of 1,166 children, yogurt consumption at 12 months of age was associated with a lower likelihood of eczema and food sensitivity at 5 years of age, compared with those who did not eat yogurt. The authors conclude that regular consumption of yogurt in infancy may prevent eczema and food sensitisation.
Yogurt consumption is associated with shorter diarrhoeal illness
When 45 infants with persistent diarrhoea were given milk formula or yogurt for 5 days in a clinical study, diarrhoea continued in 10 of those receiving milk formula, compared with only 3 receiving yogurt. The infants eating yogurt also gained more weight and needed less rehydration solution, the authors report.
How does yogurt produce health benefits?
Eating yogurt is associated with higher levels of Lactobacillus bacteria, and a higher proportion of bifidobacteria among the microbes in our gut. These ‘friendly bacteria’ are known to benefit gut health.
Scientists are investigating how gut microbes may affect the development of allergic disorders, such as eczema and food allergies, but the exact mechanisms have yet to be fully explained.
Lactobacillus bacteria are likely to be particularly important for shortening the duration of infectious diarrhoea, as they play a role in normalising microorganism balance in the gut after a diarrheal condition. They’re also thought to improve lactose intolerance and support immune function.
What are the implications for infant nutrition?
Your choice of solid foods to start your infant on during complementary feeding can have a major impact on growth and development, as well as overall health and well-being. Yogurt has long been a popular choice, as it’s packed with nutrients and is an excellent source of potassium, calcium and vitamin D.
As this review of published studies found a raft of potential health benefits and no adverse effects linked to yogurt consumption, the authors conclude that yogurt should be included among an infant’s first complementary foods.
‘Yogurt should be included among an infant’s first complementary foods, a recommendation consistent with the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.’ – Donovan SM and Rao G, 2019.