Yogurt: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2013

Yogurt, once relegated as a “health food” is now a staple in many of our homes. Find out what you need to know about yogurt here

Yogurt, once relegated as a “health food” is now a staple in many of our homes and is available on breakfast menus across the country. It is convenient and touted for its many health benefits. It’s a great source of protein, calcium, and B vitamins.

But first let’s take a step back, what is yogurt anyway? Yogurt is made from milk and lactic acid producing healthful bacteria, either lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus, or acidophilus. The process is similar to that used when making beer, wine, sauerkraut, or cheese; in that beneficial organisms ferment and transform a basic food. The fermentation process creates the unique taste, texture and healthful attributes of yogurt that Middle Eastern civilizations have been using to produce yogurt as far back as 2,000 BC.

The health promoting properties of yogurt have only recently been discovered (relative to the amount of time people have been consuming it!), and continue to be researched. Yogurt’s nutritional profile is strong as mentioned, but the unique aspect of yogurt is the presence of live bacteria or probiotics, which positively affect the digestive tract and our overall health.

The various health benefits of probiotics have been repeatedly demonstrated through rigorous clinical trials. They are beneficial in the breakdown and absorption of certain vitamins, production of fatty acids to improve the intestinal barrier, stool regularity, immune function (70 percent of which is in the gut), and possibly lessen the severity of certain allergies. Probiotic research is constantly being updated and the list of possible benefits is impressive. It is important to keep in mind that the benefits are strain and dose-specific. Not all probiotics have demonstrated health benefits and, there is no guarantee that the organisms will be alive or effective at the time of ingestion.

Check for "live and active cultures": All yogurt products do not contain live cultures or probiotics – check for the “live and active” seal on the package –in order for manufacturers to carry the seal, refrigerated yogurt products must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram, and frozen yogurt products must contain 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Read labels carefully. Products labeled “made with active cultures” may have gone through a heat treatment that actually kills the beneficial bacteria!

If you are buying yogurts for “digestive health,” make sure the probiotics have been clinically tested and proven beneficial.

Check the “best by” or expiration date: This puts the odds in favor of the effectiveness of the “live and active cultures”.

Read labels: it’s all about ingredients. Choose yogurts that have the least amount of ingredients, ideally milk and live cultures. If you like a particular flavor, compare brands to find the one with the least amount of ingredients, or better yet, mix up your own flavor at home. A drizzle of honey, a drop of vanilla extract, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or chopped fresh fruit or nuts. When you make it at home you choose your ingredients.