Pretty much everybody knows that eating yogurt is good for our bodies. But there is a big difference in the types of yogurts from which to choose...so let's discuss the benefits and ingredients of yogurt so that we can make the best selection for us and our families.
Most obviously, yogurt is a good source of calcium, vitamin D (in some yogurts; check the label), protein, and some B vitamins, all of which are hugely important to our bodily functions. However, what REALLY makes yogurt shine is the good bacteria in it, which is vital to the function of our digestive tract among other benefits. Most people have heard of probiotics by now, AKA active cultures, of which yogurt is the most popular source.
Probiotic's literal meaning is "for life," and WebMD states "yogurt with active cultures may help certain gastrointestinal conditions, including lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and H. pylori infection." Perhaps you haven't been formally diagnosed with any of these conditions, but most people experience problems with their digestion at some point. In our personal experiences, we have found by including probiotics in our diets daily, we just feel better, especially on days when our guts aren't happy with us for one reason or another.
Our main difficulty with selecting a healthy yogurt is sweeteners. If you check the labels of most yogurts, the second or third ingredient is sugar or an artificial sweetener. We are heavily opposed to artificial sweeteners (except for occasional use of some of the more recent, naturally-derived sweeteners on the market), not solely based on the negative research on them but because of the way they make us feel. Both of us seriously get headaches when we drink a diet cola or even chew sugarless gum frequently.
Even if you choose an organic yogurt (of which we are fans because, honestly, we don't like the idea of hormones or antibiotics from the cows passing to us in something we consider healthy), you will most likely find organic cane sugar or evaporated cane juice on the list of ingredients; these sweeteners are perhaps slightly better for our bodies, but why subject ourselves to all this sugar when there is a better option?
This yogurt recipe, which is a perfect compliment to our Easy Homemade Granola, is sweetened with agave nectar. Agave nectar is an ideal choice of sweetener because of its low glycemic index, and just a little is all that is needed for a deliciously sweet flavor. We also use it to sweeten smoothies, oatmeal, and some baked items. You can purchase
agave nectar at health food stores and some mainstream grocery stores in the baking or health food aisles.
We first heard of making your own yogurt in a slow cooker from crockpot365.blogspot.com. We have adjusted the recipe to what we think makes the tastiest, creamiest, and healthiest yogurt.
Crockpot Vanilla Yogurt
8 cups organic milk
5 tablespoons agave nectar
2/3 cup dry milk powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup organic yogurt, vanilla or plain
Whisk the milk, agave nectar, dry milk powder, and vanilla together in the crockpot. Cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. Following this, turn the crockpot off but do not take the lid off; let it sit for 3 hours. Now put 2 cups of your milk mixture in a separate bowl and stir in the yogurt. Add that mixture back to the crockpot and whisk it all together. Put the lid back on the crockpot and wrap 2 thick bath towels around the crockpot; let it sit for 8 hours or overnight. The yogurt will be ready to eat after this. Try not to stir the yogurt too much or it will lose some of it's creaminess. Store in airtight containers (you can reuse old store-bought yogurt tubs or maybe some glass canning jars) in the refrigerator. It should stay good for about 10 days.
A couple of notes about the milk: Whole milk will create the thickest, creamiest yogurt. Choose pasteurized organic milk, not ultra-pasteurized, which also helps to create a thicker yogurt.
This yogurt is SO good! If you try it, you'll wonder why you ever spent your money on store-bought yogurt. Make sure you save a 1/2 cup of your homemade yogurt to stir into your next batch so that you won't have to buy anymore store-bought yogurt.
Click here for our Easy Homemade Granola recipe to pair with the yogurt.