Greek. Probiotic. Live cultures. Heat-treated. The verbiage on yogurt containers can be dizzying. A Kansas State University nutritionist said that while there are differences in the array of yogurts available, most aid digestibility and have other nutritional benefits.
“The nutrient content of different kinds and brands of yogurt varies a lot for calories, protein, carbohydrate/sugars, fat and other nutrients,” said Mary Meck Higgins, human nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension. “If yogurt is your go-to dairy food, know that while almost all fluid milk is fortified with vitamins A and D, only some brands of yogurt are. Several brands have extra amounts of probiotics. Many yogurts have added colors and either added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Some have added preservatives and thickening agents. Some yogurt is certified organic. Some are made from soy rather than cow’s milk.”
“Read the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts label before you buy yogurt,” said Higgins, who is also a registered dietitian. “Compare brands, so that you know what you’re getting.”
Plain fat-free yogurt (regular or Greek) has the lowest amount of calories compared to flavored types and higher-fat yogurts, and has no saturated fat, no added sugars and no added food dyes. Regular-fat yogurt made with whole milk has the most saturated fat, followed by low-fat yogurt, followed by non-fat yogurt. Flavored yogurts have the most carbohydrates.
“A 6-ounce serving of almost any brand of yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B-12,” Higgins said.
Because most yogurts have live and active cultures of probiotics, which are the kinds of bacteria that are beneficial to our health, most yogurts aid digestibility, she said. These bacteria are added to milk as part of the fermentation process involved in making all yogurt. They convert lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk, into lactic acid. That gives yogurt its tart and tangy flavor.
If the yogurt is heated after being cultured, it no longer has live probiotic bacteria and is labeled “heat-treated.” However, if the yogurt package states it contains “live and active cultures,” then it had at least 100 million cultures of live probiotics per gram of yogurt at the time of manufacture.
“Probiotics may prevent both diarrhea and constipation, improve lactose tolerance, reduce gastrointestinal infection and inflammation, improve the immune system, help with digestion, offer protection against detrimental bacteria and help re-establish healthy gut flora after taking a dose of antibiotic medicine,” Higgins said. She noted, however, that not enough research has been done to make an evidence-based recommendation on which strains of probiotic bacteria are the most beneficial, nor to give advice on how much or how often they should be eaten to maximize their effect.
Higgins cautioned against eating raw (not pasteurized) yogurt. It puts one at risk for a foodborne illness from disease-causing microorganisms, such as salmonella, E. coli, listeria and Campylobacter.
For more about yogurt, click here.
Source: K-State Research and Extension News Release