Wondering whether your favourite yogurt is doing you any good? Or if there are some better alternatives or any nasties you need to be looking out for? We’re going to take a look into the awesome probiotic benefits of yogurt. We then look at which types of probiotic yogurt you should be buying for maximum benefit. Because when it comes to probiotics, the more you know, the better.
What are probiotics?
Before we dive into the goodness that is yogurt, you need to know exactly what probiotics are and how they play a huge role in your health and wellbeing.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your gut, making up your ‘gut flora’. There are about 400 species of them in a healthy person and around 300 trillion good and bad bacteria. The important distinction to make here is that, although they’re bacteria, probiotics are the helpful kind. When the balance between good and bad bacteria is even, or tipped in the direction of the good, then all aspects of your health that probiotics affect will be functioning optimally.
Probiotics are responsible for:
- Producing vitamins A, K and B1 amongst others
- Managing and reducing symptoms/lengths of various conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn’s, diarrhea and eczema amongst others
- Responsible for 70% of the body’s immune response/defends the body against bad bacteria
- Maintaining urinary and colon health
- Maintaining healthy vaginal flora, preventing thrush and bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Regulating hormones
- Can improve mental health conditions due to the ‘gut-brain axis’
- Lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure to reduce risk of strokes/heart attacks/etc.
- Reduces fat absorption and encourages weight loss
Probiotics can be found in many forms, both natural foods and pharmaceutical products. Depending on what’s most convenient to you, consuming probiotic-rich food and drinks like sauerkraut, tempeh and kombucha are a great way of getting a good dose of healthy bacteria in your gut – we will explore this more later on. However, if you’re not a fan of any probiotic foods or you’re looking for something a bit more convenient, you could try a probiotic supplement such as capsules, tablets or powders that can be consumed daily.
Whichever option you choose, you should always be consuming a prebiotic as well for the best results. Prebiotics are tiny, indigestible fibres that your probiotics will feed on inside your gut, they come from foods like bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, oats and many of the foods you probably eat on a daily basis.
Beneficial strains of probiotics in yogurt
Not all brands of yogurt are going to contain probiotic strains that are beneficial to your health, so it’s crucial to know exactly which strains to look out for on the label so you can pick the one that’s going to be the best for maintaining that healthy bacteria balance.
Only purchase yogurt that specifies it has live or active cultures and which strains they are. The two most common strains you will find in probiotic yogurt will be Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, here’s a bit more about each:
This species of probiotic resides in your small intestine and is generally the most beneficial due to its wide spectrum of health benefits. Lactobacillus produces the enzyme lactase which actually breaks down the sugar in milk (lactose) so is extremely beneficial for those with lactose intolerances. Lactobacillus also creates an acidic environment in which bad bacteria cannot survive, therefore protecting you against all manner of nasty infections. And if you have digestive issues, this species of probiotic is known for breaking down and fermenting the carbs in your food into lactic acid which allows your body to efficiently absorb all your vitamins and minerals.
Beneficial Lactobacillus strains in yogurt:
In contrast to lactobacillus, this species of probiotic lives in your large intestine. It helps with protecting your body from bad bacteria and also assists with the absorption of vitamins and minerals by producing lactic acid. The type of lactic acid that bifidobacterium produces gives your cells the boost in energy they need to form a protective barrier in your gut to prevent excess fat absorption.
Bifidobacterium is also primarily responsible for the production of B and K vitamins which support healthy digestion, hair, skin and bones – so you get a full spectrum of support inside and out!
Beneficial Bifidobacterium strains in yogurt:
What kinds of probiotic yogurt to avoid
If you’re lactose intolerant then consuming yogurt may actually be an option for you. This is because the probiotics can convert some of the lactose into lactic acid, be sure to ask a doctor if this is a viable option before you give it a try though as it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Soy yogurt could be a suitable alternative if you find regular yogurt too intolerable.
Be wary of fat-free or low-fat yogurts as they may be filled with loads of sugar to compensate for the taste. In the same vein, normal fat yogurts with high sugar content are not going to be good for you especially if you’re wanting to consume them on a daily basis. Also beware of sugar alternatives like high fructose corn syrup and any artificial sweeteners that are listed on the label as they could be just as bad as sugar.
Any yogurts that don’t specify they have live or active cultures and exactly which strains of probiotic they contain should be avoided. Pasteurization and sterilization processes for many commercial yogurts means that all naturally occurring live microorganisms can be killed off before it gets to the shelves at your local supermarket.
Other popular probiotic-rich foods
As mentioned earlier, there are a few other foods and drink that are rich in probiotics, so if yogurt isn’t your thing you might find something yummy on this list that you can incorporate into your everyday diet.
- Kefir – A fermented milk drink that is produced when kefir grains, cauliflower-like cultures of lactic acid and yeast, are added to milk. Usually only contains a few strains of probiotic.
- Tempeh – A high-protein meat substitute that is popular with vegans and vegetarians. It’s made of fermented soybeans and has a similar texture to mushrooms. Also contains vitamin B12 which is great for energy.
- Kimchi – A spicy Korean dish of fermented cabbage that is often seasoned with garlic, ginger and chilli. Contains lactic acid bacteria strains.
- Sauerkraut – Another fermented cabbage dish containing lactic acid bacteria. This is popular in many European countries and is also rich in fibre and vitamins C, B and K.
- Miso – This is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans, a fungus called koji and some added salt for flavour. It generally comes in paste form and is put into soups. Miso is high in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals like K, manganese and copper.
But the list doesn’t stop there. There’s also a few kinds of cheeses that contain probiotics as well as pickles, kombucha and buttermilk to name a few. Do a little research into all the yummy foods and drinks that can assist with a high-probiotic diet – there will be something for everyone.
Top 5 probiotic yogurts
#1 Califia Farms Probiotic Drinkable Yogurt
Vegan and dairy-free
Wanting to get a great dose of probiotics but you’re feeling a little left out because of dietary requirements? This yogurt from Califia Farms comes in a super convenient bottle which is filled with dairy-free, almond and coconut based, flavoured yogurt. So you can get all the goodness of 10 billion live colony forming units (CFU) of probiotics without having to worry about the (non-existent) dairy content.
What’s your flavour?
If you’re not a fan of mango and passionfruit (yum!), then there’s also strawberry, super berry and plain for you to pick from. All of these flavours are low in sugar, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and non-GMO. With such a variety and no artificial nasties hidden in them, it’s no wonder that this probiotic yogurt is at the top of our list.
Price: (pack of 6) on Amazon
- 10 billion CFU per serving
- Vegan, non-GMO, gluten and dairy free
- Different flavours to choose from
- Affordable – around $7 a bottle
- Low in calories and sugar
- 3 different strains of probiotic
- Hasn’t been evaluated by the FDA
#2 Activia Vanilla Probiotic Yogurt
This yogurt contains Activia’s exclusive probiotic culture of Bifidus Regularis which is Bifidobacterium lactis – a powerful probiotic strain that improves digestion and immune function. These convenient tubs of yogurt come in a snack size so you can treat yourself to one with breakfast, lunch or dinner. They’re great for putting in kid’s lunch boxes as well for a yummy dose of probiotics throughout their school day. Aim for a couple a day to keep your digestion regular and healthy.
Huge range of products
Activia doesn’t limit themselves to just vanilla-flavoured probiotic yoghurt, there’s something to suit everyone! There’s lactose-free versions of your favourite flavours, or tubs with real fruit on the bottom for you to dig down to (lighter versions are also available if you’re on a diet). There is also mango, strawberry, peach, blueberry, banana, cherry and honey. There’s no way you won’t find a flavour and type that you love.
Price: (24 x 4 ounce tubs) on Amazon
- Heaps of different flavours
- Low-fat versions available
- Contains Bifidobacterium lactis
- Convenient size
- Should be consumed twice a day for best results
- Not transparent about how many CFU per tub
#3 Yogourmet Probiotic Yogurt Starter
Make it your way
If you’d rather make your own yogurt so you know exactly what’s going into it, or you’re lactose intolerant or vegan so would like the option for it to be dairy-free, then these yogurt probiotic packets from Yogourmet are a great option. Each packet of probiotics makes around 3-4 cups of yogurt, so it will last you quite a while before you need to make a new batch. Each batch you make will contain live cultures of Lactobacillus Casei, Bifidobacterium Longum, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Streptococcus Thermophilus and Lactobacillus Acidophilus.
Price: (12 packets) on Amazon
- 5 different strains of probiotic
- Can customize type of yogurt for your needs
- Each pack makes around 3-4 cups of yogurt
- Very affordable (for packets)
- Have to purchase a yogurt maker from Yogourmet
- Time consuming (around 12-15 hours to make a batch)
- Not transparent about how many CFU per packet
#4 Bulgarian Yogurt Starter
Natural and nutritious
Here’s another great DIY probiotic yogurt product, this one has 100% potency guaranteed lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus which are produced in Bulgaria. These strains assist with promoting healthy gut flora and can survive the harshest of conditions inside your body when attacked by your natural acids. There’s no preservatives, artificial flavours or sweeteners in this product and it’s completely gluten free. One starter pack makes around 2 litres of yoghurt.
Price: (single pack) on Amazon
- Two different strains of probiotic
- No preservatives, artificial flavours or sweeteners
- Gluten free
- 100% potency guaranteed
- Don’t need a yogurt maker for this product
- Not transparent about how many CFU per packet
#5 Lifeway Probiotic Low Fat Plain Kefir
A great alternative
So this product isn’t exactly a yogurt, it’s made from Kefir which is initially a grain that is fermented into a yoghurt or milk-like substance. Just like yogurt, this product has a heap of protein, calcium, B vitamins and probiotics in it. This specific product from Lifeway has around 7-10 billion CFU in each bottle and a whopping 12 strains of bacteria so you can experience a whole range of probiotic health benefits.
If you’re just starting out trying Kefir then the plain option might be a good beginner’s point, but there’s a whole range of flavours to try if you’re up to it! There’s blueberry, peach, strawberry, pomegranate, acai and even kiwi-passionfruit flavour. Each option is low-fat, organic and jam-packed with probiotics.
Price: (6 pack) on Amazon
- Great range of flavours
- Alternative to yogurt
- 10 billion CFU per bottle
- 12 different strains
- Affordable (around $4 a bottle)
- Not dairy-free