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When you think of yogurt, do you picture something which is delicious to eat, or do you think of something which is extremely healthy for your entire body? Yogurt is many things, but healthy is certainly something you should picture.
Of course, either one is the correct route, but the sheer choice of different types of yogurt found on supermarket shelves can make it hard to find the healthiest choice.
Not all yogurts are healthy, especially if they have been supplemented with large amounts of sugars and flavourings. Having said that, there is no denying the initial benefits of yogurt from a health point of view.
Finding the right yogurt product is vital if you are aiming to increase your overall health and wellbeing, and by knowing which to go for, and which to avoid, you can give yourself the best chance at being fighting fit, and boosting your gut health too.
If you know anything about probiotics, you’ll also know that yogurt is one of the foods with the highest probiotic content, but before we explain all about that subject, and before we get onto the benefits of yogurt overall, what exactly are probiotics anyway?
What Are Probiotics, and Why Should I be Taking Them?
Probiotics are actually bacteria and yeasts which live in your gut and ensure the healthy running of your entire gastrointestinal system. Without this good bacteria, the bad stuff would overrun everything and cause illness. Various lifestyle factors can reduce the number of good bacteria within your gut, e.g. if you have to take antibiotics due to an infection of some kind, and this can cause issues in your stomach, such as bloating, or even the development of certain conditions, such as IBS. Having a smooth running, healthy gut is vital to overall health and wellbeing, because when you feel bloated, or generally sluggish due to a stomach issue, your mood is certainly going to be on a downer, at the very least.
By ensuring the right amount of healthy bacteria in your gut, you ensure that food moves through your intestines smoothly and at the right pace. Probiotics can be taken via food, or you can take a supplement, such as a capsule, tablet, or supplement drink. All are equally beneficial, however if you’re going down the natural route (always best) then you need to look at the many different probiotic foods on the market. Yogurt is one of the best.
Let’s sum up the main benefits of probiotics before we move on:
- Probiotics affect the nerve signals in your gut, which affect the way food moves through your intestines. This helps to keep everything running on time and smoothly, with no delays or build ups
- Can help to reduce or even eradicate constipation and diarrhoea
- Can help with antibiotic-related diarrhoea issues
- May help to reduce the instance of urinary tract infections and thrush in women
- Can help with oral health, e.g. lower incidences of oral thrush
- Helps to boost the overall immune system
- Some studies suggest probiotics may give you more energy
Whilst a lot more research and studies need to go into the finer details of probiotics, there is no denying that gut health takes a major boost from using probiotics on a regular basis, be it through food or through supplements overall. Which one you choose to focus on, or indeed both, is a personal decision, and one which should suit your lifestyle the best.
An Introduction to Yogurt
Yogurt is a dairy product, derived from milk, which is cultured or fermented. For probiotic content, you need to look more towards the fermented variety, as this is where the greatest benefit will be found. As the fermentation process progresses, cultures are added to the milk, which contain the ability to produce lactic acid. All of this helps to culture the good bacteria, therefore giving yogurt its probiotic content.
The most common types of cultures added to yogurt production are lactobacillus and streptococcus thermophilus, including ones you have no doubt heard about from health magazines and adverts, such as lactobacillus casei and bifidus. These help to give yogurt its major probiotic abilities, such as boosting gut health and immune system function.
Studies have shown that these types of bacteria are ideal for maintaining the smooth running of the gut, and are hardy enough to withstand stomach acids and other conditions.
The Benefits of Yogurt
Probiotic yogurt benefits are quite far-reaching, but it’s important to find the right type of yogurt, and not just go with any old yogurt product. When we talk about ‘probiotic yogurt’, we’re talking about yogurts which have live cultures within them, which are sometimes called ‘active’ on packaging. Any yogurts which do not have this on the outside, or which are laden with sugars, additives, and are bright colours, aren’t going to be that beneficial for your gut, or any other part of your health for that matter.
Stick to the most natural type of yogurt you can, and you’ll reap many of the benefits overall.
Yogurt contains protein, calcium, and those active or live cultures we just mentioned. All of this creates the perfect storm, because you’re not only helping your bones and teeth, thanks to the calcium element, but you’re also helping your gut health and immunity too. The active cultures refer to the good bacteria, which is basically what probiotics are.
In order for yogurt to be the best probiotic yogurt for you, it needs to have 100 million cultures per gram. If you’re going for the frozen yogurt type of product, then this must have 10 million cultures per gram. These types of products are likely to have ‘live or active’ cultures on the packaging, because they meet the basic guidelines set out by the National Yogurt Association (NYA), but from country to country this may vary.
To sum however, the benefits of yogurt are:
- Beneficial for gut health
- Beneficial for immune system heath
- Yogurts which contain active cultures may help women to avoid yeast infections (thrush)
- Calcium content may help to prevent osteoporosis
- May help reduce blood pressure
- Helps in a weight loss programme, because it helps you feel fuller for longer
Which Yogurt Has The Best Probiotics?
We’ve covered this in passing already, but the best probiotic yogurt is without a doubt the type which has the active or live culture seal or wording on the packaging. Anything less than this and you’re not going to be getting much in the way of probiotic content, if any at all.
You’ll find yogurts come in all different shapes, sizes, flavours and varieties, and this can make purchasing the right one for you quite difficult. Many people wonder about whether Greek yogurt is a good source of probiotics, and the answer really varies according to the brand. Greek yogurt is strained three times, as opposed to twice in the regular processing procedure. This is what gives Greek yogurt that iconic thick and creamy feel, but you lose out on some of the whey in this process, which means it has a lower calcium amount than regular yogurt. In terms of probiotics, this varies from brand to brand, and you should check on the packaging as to whether any live or active cultures are present or have been added, to ensure you’re getting a good probiotic hit.
Overall, traditional yogurt is probably the best route, but let’s check out some of the other options you might have before you.
You will find frozen yogurt which contains active and live cultures, and some which don’t, so this is a case of looking at the packaging and taking it on a case by case basis. Frozen yogurts certainly taste wonderful, and are very refreshing on a cool day, as well as being a great alternative to fatty ice cream, but the freezing process does tend to kill off some of the goodness. Where probiotic strains are concerned however, freezing shouldn’t kill them, so it’s still possible for frozen yogurt to be good for you from a probiotic point fo view. In this case, the strains will remain still and frozen, but will come back to life once they are warmed up a little and consumed by you.
It really is all about the packaging with this one however.
Soy overall is a good probiotic source, and soy milk is a great choice for vegetarians or for vegans. The amount of calories in soy yogurt, compared to regular yogurt is very similar, and the probiotic amount is also the same, provided the packaging has the same ‘live and active cultures’ labelling on it.
You’ll find many probiotic supplements come in the form of a yogurt drink, and these contain the live and active cultures that you need for your daily amount. On the whole however, regular yogurt drinks aren’t that great for you, because they contain less in the way of protein, and more sugar overall, making them quite unhealthy. These are also quite expensive, when you compare them to buying a regular pot of yogurt, and aren’t going to give you probiotic content. Make sure when buying yogurt drinks for probiotic purposes that you buy one which is specifically for that use, by checking the packaging and labelling very carefully indeed.
The problem with yogurts and the probiotic industry overall is that it isn’t regulated, so it can be very easy to pick up a yogurt product and consume it, thinking you’re getting a healthy snack and plenty of probiotic content, but in actual fact, you’re not. Certain yogurts can be very unhealthy, especially when extra sugars and colourings are added, and these will not contain the probiotic strains that you need. Again, it’s down to packaging, as companies cannot lie in terms of what they write on the ingredients label. When you see the ‘live cultures’ or ‘active cultures’, or even both, then you know you’re onto a winner.
Should You be Eating/Drinking Yogurt on a Daily Basis?
Yogurt has some fantastic health benefits, as well as being really quite delicious too! If you’re comparing yogurt to another type of snack, such as a milkshake or an ice cream, then it’s really a no brainer. Even the more unhealthy types of yogurt are better for you than a fat-laden milkshake, but if you’re looking for overall health and wellbeing, you should certainly look towards natural yogurts, which contain live and active cultures.
Yogurt is very easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sweet treat either. You can add yogurt into savoury dishes, and this is done quite often in Mediterranean cooking, such as around the Greece and Turkey region. Of course, breakfast is one of the best times to add yogurt into your diet, as you can have yogurt on top of your muesli, you can eat yogurt with berries or other fruits, or you can go for a yogurt drink which is aimed towards the probiotic audience, to fill up until later on.
Overall, the benefits of yogurt outweigh the negatives, provided you opt for the right type, and avoid the sugar-laden options which may seem more attractive at first. Frozen yogurt is a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, and one which is very healthy, provided you check that it contains the right amount of those all-important live and active cultures.
From a probiotic point of view, yogurt is certainly one of the easiest probiotic foods to add into your diet. The other types of food, such as pickles, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, etc, all need to have a specific taste palate to enjoy them on a regular basis, but yogurt is a food which can be adapted to every taste. The production process of yogurt is also very favourable for ensuring gut health, and with careful label monitoring, you can ensure that your gut runs healthily and smoothly, whilst allowing your immune system to gain a boost at the same time.
Josh is a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist based in Sydney Australia. He is passionate about helping people reach their health and fitness goals through proper nutrition choices. Josh also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Juris Doctor from The University of Melbourne.
You can connect with Josh here on Twitter or Facebook.