Slow Ramadhan Foods: Health Benefits of Yoghurt

Slow Ramadhan Foods: Health Benefits of Yoghurt


By Hwaa Irfan


As one of the oldest foods known to man, yogurt is a product of pure milk. Yogurt is a traditionally popular food for Ramadhan as well as `Eid as it is said that Rasulullah, the Prophet Mohammad (SAW), fed his followers with yoghurt when they became ill.  However, much controversy has surrounded the consumption of commercially produced cow’s milk and milk products for some time.

{…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).

In the Balkans, they testify to the medicinal effects of yoghurt, believing it to have therapeutic qualities as well as providing a strong constitution. Science has found that this tradition has many health benefits in the digestive tract, where the friendly bacteria found in live yoghurt can aid in digestion as well as help to clean the intestines and digestive tract. In modern times, with so many ailments of the digestive tract, aided and abetted by the inappropriate consumption of food, especially during Ramadhan, yoghurt presents a healthful reminder of how to eat during the hot months of Ramadhan.

During the early 1900’s, Dr. Ilya Metchnikoff proposed the widespread use of acidified (fermented) milk, similar to yoghurt, and proposed that the beneficial bacteria be used in producing fermented milk. She stated that the bacteria, still present in the yoghurt, 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 mal-absorption, bacterial overgrowth, water drawn into the intestines increased metabolic by-products and chronic diarrhoea.

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. Deficiencies in the enzyme lactase includes celiac disease, malnutrition, cholera, gastroenteritis, infantile diarrhoea, irritable colon, soy protein and cow’s 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.  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. Lactase, however, is not present in fully fermented live yoghurt.

The standards set by the Food and Agricultural Organization for yoghurt state that it must have undergone lactic acid fermentation through the action of the friendly bacteria lactobacillus bulgaris, and streptococcus thermophilus, which comes from milk.  The real yoghurt culture, lactobacillus and streptococcus, should ferment the real ‘live’ yoghurt, which must be alive at the time of consumption.

Researchers at the Paediatric and Adolescent Gastroenterology of the Women’s and Children Hospital in Adelaide, Australia found that yoghurts 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 Ramadhan 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 yoghurt for two days using the urine test. They found that the intestines had become less permeable. Diarrhoea is a result of excess permeability.

Microbiologists at the University of Ontario found that a strain of lactobacillus not identical to that in live yoghurt 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.  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.

As a custom, many Middle Eastern countries have enjoyed homemade live yoghurt as a condiment, often adding salt, mint and garlic. It is enjoyed with a variety of vegetables and meat. Naturally sweet yoghurt (curd) is more nutritious than ghee or milk, so the wisest decision if one has a limited choice of alternatives to commercially produced yoghurts is to cherish the benefits of making yogurt at home.

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