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Other issues of Nutrition Advisor

Understanding yogurt

It comes light, nonfat, organic, drinkable and with toppings. It's also a great source of protein, calcium, riboflavin, B-6 and B-12. But what makes yogurt…you know, yogurt?

Based on federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, in order for a product to be called "yogurt" it must be made by combining a dairy product with a bacteria, usually Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) has made its own rules for yogurt. In order for a special "Live & Active Culture" seal to appear on a container of yogurt, the product must contain at least 100 million bacteria per gram of yogurt at the time it is made.

You may be thinking to yourself, "bacteria in my food, yuck!" Believe it or not, the live and active bacteria are actually what changes milk into yogurt by fermenting it. In addition, some companies may use additional bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium to make their yogurts.

Friendly bacteria
Yogurt's most recent claim to fame is because of these bacteria. Probiotics, derived from the Greek word meaning "for life," are thought to be beneficial to the health of our intestinal tracts, boosting the body's immunity, fighting some cancers and for preventing osteoporosis as well as improving lactose intolerance and milk allergies.

Probiotics are able to survive the harsh environment of the stomach and make their way to the intestinal tract where they serve as friendly bacteria to help keep a balance between the other kinds of bacteria that live there. Even more amazing, this friendly bacteria helps the body break down foods, synthesize vitamins and process hormones such as estrogen. They may even help in the treatment of ulcers, colon cancer and vaginal yeast infections.

Studies have shown that this alliance actually does help with digestion and decreased infections. For people with lactose intolerance, yogurt produces lactase to help break down the sugars found in dairy products. These folks find that they usually can digest yogurt without the discomforts of gas and bloating that they might experience with other dairy products. This is good news, especially since yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium and B vitamins!

Yogurt has also been shown to help children and adults with diarrhea. Other research is in the works as to whether this food can also help boost immunity, prevent cancer and osteoporosis.

Choosing yogurt
Taking advantage of the benefits of probiotics can be tricky! Here are a few tips to aid in your search for a yogurt that's right for you:

  1. Choose a yogurt based on your calorie and fat goals. Yogurt comes whole fat, low-fat, nonfat and light (which means fewer calories and less sugar.)
  2. Decide whether or not you'd like to take advantage of organic products. Several companies label their yogurt as such.
  3. Look for a "Live and Active Cultures" seal on the side of the container. This will assure that the product has met standards for cultures used in production. Some yogurts are heat-treated after they are cultured in order to increase shelf-life or decrease the natural tartness, which inactivates the bacteria. These types of yogurt will not have this seal.
  4. For additional benefits, look for other nonstandard cultures added in the ingredients list. An example is Bifidobacterium longum.
  5. Make sure the expiration date is far in the future. As yogurts age, the bacteria count will decrease and the yogurt will become less effective.
Yale-New Haven Nutrition InfoLine, a free service. Call (203) 688-2422

The Yale-New Haven Nutrition Advisor is created by registered dietitians and dietetic interns who staff the Nutrition Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital. For information, contact the Nutrition InfoLine at (203) 688-2422.

Yale-New Haven Nutrition InfoLine, a free service. Call (203) 688-2422

For more information about this topic, see:

The web sites above are linked for your convenience. For the most part they are not managed by Yale-New Haven Hospital. While we make every effort to recommend sites of high quality, we do not continuously review, control or take responsibility for the content of sites other than our own. If you are disappointed in the quality of a site we have listed, please let us know.

Other issues addressed by Yale-New Haven Nutrition Advisor:

Last revised: March 10, 2005 (jj)

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