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Does All Yogurt Have Probiotics?

Does all yogurt have probiotics

Does all yogurt have probiotics in them?

You'd think they do.

After all, it makes sense...

We're told yogurt is an easy way to incorporate gut friendly probiotics in to our diet. And its tasty too.

In reality, its not always the case.

In this article I reveal the truth about probiotic yogurts and whether their health claims stand up to scrutiny. 

Are all Yogurts Probiotic?

It depends.

Live bacterial cultures (fermentation microbes) are added to milk to start the fermentation process that turns milk in to yogurt. 

These fermentation bacteria are called starter cultures and Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are the most commonly used to make yogurt.

Based on that fact, you would think all yogurt is probiotic.

I can see companies saying “made with” but forgetting the “but we killed them all” part. 

Unfortunately, most regular yogurt brands are pasteurized after fermentation. The heat kills off the beneficial bacteria so there no longer probiotic.

Yogurt can contain live and active cultures as long as its not been heat treated or bacteria has been added after fermentation.

Are Live Active Cultures Truly Probiotic?

Just because yogurt is unpasteurized or bacterial cultures have added later does not mean its truly a probiotic.

Probiotics vs. Live Active Cultures

The World Health Organisation define probiotics as follows...

 “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”  

Therefore, to be a called probiotic, live bacteria should fulfill the following criteria: 

  1. 1
    Living 
  2. 2
    Adequate amounts
  3. 3
    Confer a health benefit to the host

Lets expand on this.

Many unpasteurized yogurts claim to be probiotic but provide no information about the type live bacteria and how it's beneficial. If there isn't a specific health benefit, technically it isn't probiotic.

Also, many nutritionists consider that live active cultures are only probiotic if they reach the intestinal tract alive.   

It seems, L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus are not probiotic because they're destroyed by our stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes and can't provide a beneficial effect on the intestinal tract. 

However, due to their high lactase activity, L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus can improve lactose digestion and eliminate the symptoms of lactose intolerance. 

Starter cultures don't have a beneficial effect on the intestinal tract but their beneficial effect on lactase digestion meets the current definition of a probiotic.

To be truly probiotic, manufacturers enrich their yogurt with specific strains of beneficial bacteria

These strains are able to survive the journey through the stomach and reach the intestinal tract alive to convey a benefit.   

How Do You Know if Yogurt is Probiotic?

There are a few tell-tale signs.

In the USA and Canada its easy to spot. Yogurt manufacturers can display the term 'probiotic' or 'Live' on their packaging.

In UK or Europe its not so easy.

Under EU regulations yogurt manufactures are banned from using the term 'probiotic'.

Instead, you'll find probiotic yogurts called 'Bio-Live' or containing 'Live Cultures'.

Take a Close Look at the Label

Just because the yogurt has 'probiotic' on the packaging isn't enough.

Remember, to be a probiotic it must meet the following criteria:

  1. 1
    Live 
  2. 2
    Have adequate amounts
  3. 3
    Confer a health benefit

Alive or Dead?

Yogurts with added live probiotic bacteria should proudly display 'Probiotic' or 'Bio-live'. 

If not, its probably pasteurized and is not a probiotic.

Does the Yogurt have enough probiotics to have a therapeutic effect? 

To experience their therapeutic effect probiotics need to be consumed in sufficient quantities. 

There's no consensus on a minimum number of probiotics you need to take. 

However, there is a broad agreement that yogurts must contain a minimum of 1 billion CFU's to be considered probiotic.

Colony Forming Units (CFU's)

Live active cultures are measured in CFU's (Colony Forming Units).

Unfortunately, very few yogurts list the number of CFU's. 

When it comes to yogurt, accurately measuring CFU's is challenging. Many variables can change with each batch such as age, temperature and length of storage. 

Also, the minimum concentration of live cultures required to give you a therapeutic effect is  dependent on the strain. 

And even if the yogurt lists the number if CFU's, you still won't know if it contains enough of a specific strain to be beneficial. 

To be certain you're getting specific probiotic strains with the optimal therapeutic quantities consider a quality probiotic supplements. They're produced in a more controlled environment that guarantees a therapeutic dose

Look for the Live and Active Cultures Seal of Approval  

The National Yogurt Association'Live & Active Cultures (LAC) seal was devised to help consumers identify yogurt products containing at least 100 million live microbes per gram at the time of manufacture.  

The LAC seal can also be displayed on frozen yogurt products containing a minimum of 10 million live cultures per gram.

However, the seal doesn't discriminate between starter cultures and probiotics. Therefore,  yogurts containing only L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus can also display the seal. 

The LAC seal is voluntary and expensive. That's why many smaller manufacturers don't display it, even if their product contains a sufficient amount of live active cultures.

If there's no LAC seal or quantity of CFU's on the label check it lists the specific strains. 

Common Probiotic Species and Strains and their Health Benefits 

probiotic strains yogurt label

Check label for probiotic strains in the yogurt

In general, most probiotics will help improve your gut health.

However, different strains do offer different health benefits.

The most common probiotic strains added to yogurt are from the two main species.

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacteria

BTW, these species are the most studied and researched. 

Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus are lactic-acid producing bacteria. They ferment the lactose (sugar) in milk into lactic acid and this gives yogurt its sour taste. 

Lactobacillus strains

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus - helps strengthen immune system (70% of it is in your gut) by protecting you against mold, toxins and viruses. Studies show it helps relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Lactobacillus plantarum  - shown to reduce bloating and stomach pain helps lower LDL cholesterol (1)
  • Lactobacillus casei  - a friendly bacteria that naturally forms in the mouth and GI tract. Known to help reduce mold, yeast overgrowth and kill parasites.

Bifidobacteria  

Bifidobacterium are friendly microbes found in the GI tract and are known to help digest fiber, produce health boosting chemicals and prevent infections.

Bifidobacteria strains

  • B. bifidum  - can help with constipation, issues with allergies and lactose intolerance. Has the ability to reduce intestinal inflammation and improve immunity by competing with pathogens.
  • B. lactis* - has the ability to create lactic acid making it essential in producing diary products, pickled vegetables. Recent studies reveal promising results in treating antibiotic resistant pathogens.
  • B.longum - helps improve gut health and restore vaginal flora health. Could help with health issues related to constipation, intestinal inflammation, ulcerative colitis, and crohn's disease.
  • B.reuteri - a bacteria living naturally in the mouth and gut. Has wide range of benefits especially infants and young children with helping to alleviate colic, reducing and preventing diarrhea. The strain acts like a antibiotic by inhibiting the growth of harmful pathogens. 

*Danon use their own trademarked B.lactis strain called B.lactis DN-173010 in their Activia yogurt dairy products.

Choosing the Best Probiotic Yogurt - Buying Guide

best yogurt for probiotics

Now that we've covered all the bases about probiotic yogurt and its potential health benefits.

The next step is choosing the healthiest option from the vast array of products at the supermarket.

You can make the process a breeze by narrowing you're choice to a few key ingredients.

Checklist 

  • Choose plain yogurt with no added sugar or flavorings. Yes, raspberry pomegranate with added cereal and nuts may taste yummy but their full of calories. Its far healthier to buy plain natural yogurt and add fresh fruit and nuts later. And certain fruit such as kiwi are rich in prebiotics that feed the probiotics.
  • Yogurt contains added probiotic cultures. Regular yogurts contain the starter cultures L.Bulgaricus and S.Thermophilus to begin fermentation process. However, you want to see added probiotics. Check label for the LAC seal or a listing of probiotic strains. If you live in Europe look for 'Bio-Live' on the label.
  • Number of CFU's -  for a therapeutic effect the yogurt should ideally contain a minimum of 100 million CFU's per gm or 5 billion per cup).
  • Protein - yogurts high in protein helps promote satiety, making you feel full, which is helpful if you're trying to loose weight. Greek yogurts have the highest levels of protein per serving

Types of Probiotic Yogurts

There are several varieties of probiotic yogurt to buy and the list below are the most popular.

Greek Yogurt 

Greek or Greek style yogurt is thick and creamy. Traditionally its plain but nowadays many brands produce flavored options. Typically, Greek yogurt has the highest amounts of protein and probiotic organisms. 

Best Brands

Chobani non-fat Greek Yogurt

chobani probiotic greek yogurt

Image source: Protopian Pickle Jar

This is a tripled strained yogurt with a whopping 19 grams of protein per serving.

Contains live active cultures and three probiotics:

  • S. Thermophilus
  • L. Bulgaricus
  • L. Acidophilus
  • Bifidus
  • L. Casei

Its also gluten and Non GMO, kosher-certified and contains no artificial flavors or preservatives.   

FAGE Plain Greek Yogurt

Fage, pronounced ‘fa-yeh,' is the real thing because the Fage company originates from Athens Greece. It has a rich creamy texture. It contains skimmed milk making it low in fat. 

High in protein with 20 gm of protein per pot.

Contains the following live Active Yogurt Cultures and probiotics

  • S. Thermophilus
  • L. Bulgaricus
  • L. Acidophilus
  • Bifidus
  • L. Casei

Balkan/Bulgarian Style

Balkan style yogurt is thicker in texture than Swiss-style but as thinner than Greek style.  Bulgarian yogurt is considered to have a wider range of healthy bacteria than Greek yogurt. 

In general, Bulgarian style yogurt has about 90 billion CFU's in one serving compared to 30 billion CFU's in Greek style yogurt

White Mountain Organic Bulgarian Plain Yogurt  

White Mountain Bulgarian yogurt is considered to have one of the highest number of active live probiotic cultures on the commercial market. It boasts a whopping 90 billion CFU's per one cup serving. Its also organic.

Live Active Yogurt Cultures (L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, B. Bifidum)

  • S. Thermophilus
  • L. Bulgaricus
  • L. Acidophilus
  • Bifdum

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt consists of whole milk, cream with added yogurt. The taste is sweet with a hint of tanginess. TBH, it's more of an ice cream than a traditional yogurt.

Compared to traditional yogurt the frozen version is less healthy as its usually higher in saturated fat, lower in calcium and protein and contain artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately, most frozen yogurts don't contain added probiotic bacteria. They may taste good but don't provide much in the way of boosting your healthy gut flora. 

Frozen yogurt should contain a minimum of 10 million cultures per gram to have any  probiotic benefits.

Stoneyfield Organic Whole Milk Frozen Yogurt 

Stoneyfield frozen yogurt is made from organic whole milk, cream and sugar cane. All the ingredients are organic and natural. What's more, it contains 6 probiotics.

  • S. Thermophilus
  • L. Acidophilus
  • L. bulgaricus
  • L. johnsonii
  • L. paracasei
  • Bifidus

Non-Dairy Probiotic Yogurt

If you're vegan or lactose intolerant there are non-dairy options available to ensure you get those healthy bacteria. Most non-dairy probiotic yogurts are soy-based but they're also made from almonds, cashews, coconut and even hemp.

Daiya Plain Yogurt Alternative with added Probiotic 

Daiya produce a range of non-dairy yogurts made from coconut cream pea protein. They also the added probiotics L. plantarum, L. casei.

Limitations of Probiotic Yogurt 

There's no doubt, plain natural yogurt is healthy.

Its a rich source of protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B12.

And it does contain lactic acid bacteria as a result of the fermentation process.

However, its not the most reliable source of probiotics.

And here's why...

Survival Rate

The probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurt are living bacteria which means they are very sensitive to temperature, moisture, light and age. 

The longer they're alive and exposed to environment changes puts there survival rate at risk.

Yogurt sitting on a supermarket shelf for a few weeks can be exposed to changes in temperature or strong light that weaken or kill off large numbers of probiotics.

By the time you're ready to eat the yogurt large numbers of gut-friendly microorganisms will be destroyed or in a weakened state. This means their survival rate through the harsh acidic environment of your stomach is at risk.

Unfortunately, most of the live microbes will be destroyed before they can reach the digestive tract where they can actually benefit you. 

And the ones that do, won't be in sufficient numbers to improve your gut health 

Limited Number of Probiotic Strains

The human gut contains over 500 strains and our body thrives on having a diverse range of beneficial bacteria colonizing our microbiome.

But, take a look at most yogurts and you'll be lucky to find more than two or three varieties. 

Contrast that with a quality probiotic supplement that is formulated to provide you with an array of probiotic strains in optimum amounts to support a healthy gut.

The human gut contains over 500 beneficial bacterial strains and this diversity is what your body thrives on.

What's more, research tells us that multiple probiotic strains are more effective at promoting digestive health due to the symbiotic relationships between strains. It seems probiotics work better as a team.

Don't get me wrong, yogurt is a great place to start. However, due to the random selection of bacterial strains yogurt is not the best choice to address targeted health goals.

No Standardized Potency 

Dose is important. 

The goal with taking probiotics is to put friendly bacteria back into the gut so they can re-balance and improve the overall health of our digestive system.

According to the latest research certain strains only have a beneficial effect when consumed in certain quantities. 

However food producers aren't required by law to provide a specific dose of a specific probiotic. For this reason, they don't. 

The problem with not knowing the exact dose is that you don't know how much yogurt you should be consuming to have a beneficial effect.   

Unlike unlike yogurt, supplements do disclose the number of CFU's per strain based on doses found in research that supports gut health.

3 Yogurt Alternatives 

Yogurt is a healthy addition to any balanced diet.

However, to get a wider range of probiotic species and strains into your gut consider adding a variety of fermented probiotic foods.

And there's plenty of options to choose from.

Kefir

kefir probiotic yogurt

Kefir is similar to yogurt in that its made from milk but is fermented with yeast in addition to live bacteria. 

Because of its longer fermentation period, kefir contains a wider variety of live probiotics as well as the beneficial yeasts Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces unisporus

The taste and texture of kefir is also different to traditional yogurt. Kefir has a thinner consistency more like a yogurt drink. And the taste of kefir is more tangy in flavor.

Typically, kefir contains less fat but is lower in protein than yogurt.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a tangy fermented sweetened tea.

A 'scoby' which stands for 'symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts' is added to the tea to begin fermentation.  

The liquid is sealed in an airtight container at room temperature and left to ferment for about a week and a half.

The yeast and live microbes convert the sugar into ascetic acid and ethanol. Its the ascetic acid that gives kombucha its distinctive tangy taste. 

As well as probiotics, kombucha is believed to he high in anti-oxidants and vitamins C and B vitamins.

Conclusion

Not all yogurts contain probiotics. You have to read the label carefully to ensure it clearly says that it contains probiotics or 'live culture's.

Even if the yogurt contained enough viable bacteria several factors including time and change in temperature can diminish their potency.

Furthermore, probiotic yogurt contains a limited number of bacteria strains compared to other options

Yogurt is still a healthy option. Its a rich source of calcium, protein and vitamin B12.

However, its a good idea add other fermented foods to your diet to get as much variety of probiotics as possible to boost your digestive health. 

If you need to address specific digestive issues, then the limited and random selection of beneficial bacteria in yogurt and fermented foods is probably not the best option.

Instead, a carefully targeted approach that a premium quality probiotic supplement can give you, is a better option.

A supplement is a specifically formulated probiotic that can address your specific health goals more effectively. 

Unlike fermented foods, you know what you're getting. The probiotic strains are meticulously blended in a safe laboratory environment. 

What's more, superior quality probiotic supplements contain multiple species and strains that promote greater bacterial colonies in your digestive tract.

And considering your gut is home to over 500 bacterial strains with each one playing a vital role in keeping you healthy, it makes sense to take a diverse range of probiotics as you can.