Yogurt is a popular food for Ramadan as well as Eid. However, much controversy has surrounded the consumption of cow’s milk and milk products for some time.
Fortunately, though, this controversy only pertains to commercially produced cow milk and milk products. As one of the oldest foods known to man, yogurt is a product of pure milk. “…We give you to drink of what is in their bellies … pure milk, easy and agreeable to swallow for those who drink” (Surat ul Nahl, 16:66). It is said that Rasulullah, the Prophet Mohammad (saw), fed his followers with yogurt when they became ill (Eltean, p.2.). Now yogurt has become one of the essential foods used to break the Ramadan fast and is also a traditional addition to the “First Day of Eid” breakfast.
For centuries, yogurt has been popular for traditional reasons. But recently, science is finding out that this tradition has many health benefits as well. The main benefits of yogurt are in the digestive tract, where the friendly bacteria found in live yogurt can aid in digestion as well as help to clean the intestines and digestive tract.
In the Balkans, they testify as to the medicinal effects of yogurt, believing it to have therapeutic qualities as well as providing a strong constitution (Roden, p.21). During the early 1900’s, Dr. Ilya Metchnikoff proposed the widespread use of acidified (fermented) milk, similar to yogurt, and proposed that the beneficial bacteria be used in producing fermented milk. She stated that the bacteria, still present in the yogurt, upon entering the intestinal tract would prevent other bacteria in the intestines from forming harmful toxins. Further investigation revealed that undigested and unabsorbed carbohydrates in the small intestines produced three effects:
a) Carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane gas as well as alcohol.
b) Microbial by-products like lactic acid.
c) Energy for microbial growth which leads to damage of the small intestines resulting in carbohydrate malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, water drawn into the intestines increased metabolic by-products and chronic diarrhea (Gotschall, p.15 -18).
One of the first digestive enzymes to suffer damage is lactase. It has been found that most African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Southern Europeans lack the ability to digest lactose, a milk sugar (Rangwani, p.1). Deficiencies in the enzyme lactase includes celiac disease, malnutrition, cholera, gastroenteritis, infant diarrhea, irritable colon, soy protein and cows milk intolerance, parasitic infection of the intestines, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis. Former Chairman of Pediatrics at John Hopkins University Frank Osko blames a multitude of other health problems on hormone-riddled commercial milk containing lactase (Rangwani, p.1).
Unfortunately, lactase can be found in most milk products such as liquid milk, dried milk, commercial yogurt, fermented homemade yogurt, processed cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, some sour creams, whey and even in some vitamins (Gotschall, p.25). Lactase, however, is not present in fully fermented live yogurt. The standards set by the Food and Agricultural Organization for yogurt state that it must have undergone lactic acid fermentation through the action of the friendly bacterias lactobacillus bulgaris, and streptococcus thermophilus, which comes from milk.
The real yogurt culture, lactobacillus and streptococcus, should ferment the real ‘live’ yogurt, which must be alive at the time of consumption (Eltean, p.1). Researchers at the Pediatric and Adolescent Gastroenterology of the Women’s and Children Hospital in Adelaide, Australia have found that yogurts and other fermented drinks contain more than one type of bacteria from the lactobacillus family, which promote digestion. This is very important in the breaking of a fast -either during Ramadan or during any breakfast throughout the year.
Additionally, researchers have found that fermented milk plays a large role in the prevention and management of serious gastrointestinal conditions including inflammatory bowel disease. A urine test was used to check the permeability of the intestines and a breath test to measure the metabolic activity of bacteria in the intestines. Healthy adults were given yogurt for two days using the urine test. They found that the intestines had become less permeable. Diarrhea is a result of excess permeability (Reuters p.1, 2).
Microbiologists at the University of Ontario found that a strain of lactobacillus not identical to that in live yogurt and checked the spread of the dangerous bacterium, staphylococcus aureus. The laboratory research involved rats. All were given staphylococcus aureus through implantation under the skin. Half were given lactobacillus. Those that didn’t receive lactobacillus developed sores filled with pus whilst those that did had clean healthy wounds. It is still unknown as to why this occurs, but it has shown that friendly bacteria in yogurt can slow down staphylococcus instead of destroying it with antibiotics, which causes the strain to become resistant to treatment like those found in British general hospitals. This would benefit patients with weakened immune systems due to illness or surgery whereby antibiotic treatment would endanger their lives (BBC, 1,2).
These friendly bacteria become an intrinsic part of real live yogurt, when homemade and fermented for no less than 24 hours. The bacteria contain a non-complex single-sugar (monosaccharides), which requires no further splitting to be transported from the intestines to the bloodstream (Gotschall, p.3, 27, 44). As a custom, many Middle Eastern countries have enjoyed homemade live yogurt as a condiment, often adding salt, mint and garlic. It is enjoyed with a variety of vegetables and meat. Naturally sweet yogurt (curd) is more nutritious than ghee or milk, so the wisest decision if one has a limited choice of alternatives to commercially produced yogurts is to cherish the benefits of making yogurt at home.