It’s hard not to be impressed by the myriad of health benefits that probiotics can deliver. And when most people find out about them, they make foods like yogurt the mainstay of their diet.
Despite the popular belief, though, yogurt isn’t rich in probiotics by default. In fact, an average supermarket shelf has plenty of yogurts that have a better chance of destroying healthy gut flora.
How can you tell if a yogurt is indeed probiotic?
Let’s learn more about what turns certain yogurts into foods that abound with probiotics. And then discover how to spot a decent probiotic yogurt.
Back to Basics: What Makes Certain Foods Probiotic?
In essence, probiotics are live microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. And as they help balance out the harmful bacteria and yeast there, they improve digestion and strengthen the immune system.
What’s more, for the vast majority of people, reaping these health benefits is as simple as eating enough probiotic foods. But what’s the caveat? You have to know what actually makes some food probiotic.
Fermenting is the simplest and most natural way to enrich foods and drinks alike with live probiotic cultures. As a food or drink ferments, the amount of probiotic bacteria in it increases.
In most cases, fermenting fosters the growth of these two major families of probiotics:
- Lactobacilli, including the L. reuteri and L. acidophilus strains.
- Bifidobacteria, including the B. lactis, B. breve, B. longum, and B. animalis strains.
In addition, these families of probiotics may also be involved:
- Saccharomyces boulardii.
- Streptococcus thermophilus.
Altogether, these probiotics significantly increase the nourishing potential of foods and drinks. For instance, the probiotics in fermented dairy products make it much easier for the body to digest lactose.
In theory, this explains the popularity of yogurt.
In practice, however, many yogurts aren’t probiotic in the true sense of the word.
Some Yogurts Just Don’t Have What It Takes
We’ve all been told that yogurt is a delicious source of probiotics. And that eating yogurt daily benefits health in a number of ways. These popular beliefs, however, are relative at best.
In reality, there’s no shortage of flavorful yogurts out there that are heavily processed. And more often than not, these yogurts contain no probiotics. They may not even have any live cultures in them.
Most yogurts do contain live cultures, though. But these live cultures often don’t belong to the families of probiotics. As a result, such yogurts don’t deliver any benefits linked to probiotics.
Where does this leave us?
Probiotic yogurts are few and far between.
We can consider as probiotic only those yogurts that come with both live and probiotic cultures. Such yogurts will usually have millions of colony-forming units (CFUs) of probiotics in them.
In this regard, the National Yogurt Association (NYA) has established a special standard. According to the NYA, a probiotic yogurt must contain at least 100 million CFUs at the time of manufacture.
If a yogurt manufacturer adheres to or exceeds this standard, the NYA allows it to use its seal. This seal says “Live and Active Cultures” (LAC) and will be present on the yogurt’s label.
Finding a Probiotic Yogurt Is Half the Trouble
Sadly, it’s not enough to find a yogurt with an ample amount of probiotics.
A high-quality probiotic yogurt must also include no:
- Artificial sweeteners, flavors, and dyes More and more research shows that many of these artificial components damage health in a variety of ways. For instance, sucralose – a common artificial sweetener – wipes out probiotics in the gut and is a proven excitotoxin.
- Added sugars Some probiotic yogurts contain added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose. These high-glycemic ingredients, however, are shown to decrease the effectiveness of probiotics.
- Preservatives and stabilizers As some evidence suggests, these artificial additives destroy and inhibit the activity of good bacteria in the gut. As a result, their use in some probiotic yogurts defeats the whole purpose of supplementing probiotics.
Simply put, a decent probiotic yogurt must contain only milk and live probiotic cultures. And if any flavors or sweetness are added to it, only natural ingredients must be used.
How Can a Probiotic Yogurt Benefit Your Health?
Delivering the healing power of probiotics, a decent probiotic yogurt can support:
- Healthy digestion and metabolism Flatulence, bloating, diarrhea, constipation – these common signs of ineffective digestion can become history if your diet includes enough probiotic foods. Some probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus rhamnosus, can also make you feel full, allowing you to eat less and lose fat faster.
- Immune function Probiotics support the immune system by fending off the harmful bacteria in the gut and in the mouth. Some evidence even suggests that probiotics can safeguard the body from various respiratory infections and lessen their severity.
- Brain and heart health According to some research, eating enough probiotic foods can help decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure alike. Probiotics have also been shown to protect mental health and soften the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
In addition, as other types of yogurt, a probiotic yogurt can be a good source of:
- Calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D It’s hard to imagine having strong bones and teeth without getting enough of these key micronutrients. Probiotic yogurt contains them in abundance and makes it easy for the body to replenish these micronutrients.
- B vitamins This essential group of vitamins is extremely crucial for a variety of processes in the body. By delivering them, probiotic yogurt helps safeguard cardiovascular and nervous health, supporting multiple other body systems.
- Magnesium and potassium From muscle function to bone density, these minerals perform a wealth of roles in the body. Having a decent amount of these minerals, probiotic yogurt makes for a potent source of them.
As you see, probiotic yogurt can be a wonderful addition to diet. And we’re glad if our guide has helped you learn more about this healthful food.