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You Ask, I Answer: Live, Active Cultures in Yogurt

YogurtWhen I’m buying yogurt, should I only look for brands that contain Acidophilus?

Or am I better off buying brands that have probiotics or live cultures?

– Marisa (last name withheld)
Brooklyn, NY

As if the wide array of brands and flavors wasn’t enough to confuse the yogurt shopper, now there’s all these health claims to sort through!

First of all, the absolute best yogurt you can buy is plain, unsweetened yogurt.  Most flavoreds yogurt have six or seven teaspoons of added sugar (that “fruit on the bottom” is pure sugar, not real fruit with fiber and phytonutrients.)

If plain yogurt is too sour for your tastes, you can always sweeten it at home (with fruit, vanilla or coconut extracts, or even just one or two teaspoons of your sweetener of choice.)

As for probiotics and cultures, let’s clarify that tangled web:

  • Probiotics is the name given to microorganisms that closely resemble the “friendly”/healthy bacteria that live in our colon (prebiotics, meanwhile, are components in certain foods that feed these “critters”) and have beneficial health effects.
  • In other words — and this is important — while all probiotics are bacteria, not all bacteria are probiotics
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus is a “hot” probiotic mainly because it has been the focus of the most studies; its efficacy is well documented
  • Many probiotics have not undergone sufficient testing.  One concern is that some are rendered useless when they come in contact with stomach acids
  • Additionally, most probiotics need refrigeration to survive.  Probiotics in shelf-stable foods have a minimal chance of surviving by the time they make it to your pantry

When it comes to buying yogurts, there are four things to keep in mind to ensure you are getting as much probiotic bang for your buck as possible:

  1. Buy yogurts that contain “live and active cultures.”  This usually means the cultures are added AFTER the milk has been pasteurized.  If they are added before pasteurization, they are killed by the heat.  Yogurts that only claim to “be made with live cultures” may fall into the latter category
  2. Look for the National Yogurt Association (NYA)’s Live & Active Cultures seal.  FYI: The NYA is “a national non-profit trade organization whose… Live & Active Culture seal, which appears on refrigerated and frozen yogurt containers, helps you recognize those products containing significant amounts of live and active cultures.”  The seal is voluntary, so its absence does not necessarily imply a lack of live and active cultures
  3. Although there are many strains of probiotics, acidophilus is considered the “golden” one because it has been well researched.  We know, for instance, that unlike other probiotics, acidophilus is not destroyed by stomach acids
  4. Lactobacillus Bifidobacteria has also been well-researched, and is also believed to survive the digestive process

Aren’t you glad you asked?

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One Comment

  1. Ross said on March 3rd, 2010

    I LOVE Kefir with it’s 10+ cultures. I actually feel a difference when I consume it on a regular basis. It is so versatile and can be used in almost anything.

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