Confused about which yogurt offers you the best gut benefits? Nutritionists reveal their top picks for probiotic yogurts.
Bacteria is your friend
You might think bacteria in your food is a bad thing—and it in some cases it can be (food poisoning, anyone?). But in live-culture yogurt, beneficial bacteria can help keep your gut healthy, say nutrition researchers—and these so-called probiotics may even help you lose weight—find out how much, here.
“Even though probiotics are a huge buzzword lately, we’re really only starting to learn about how they work in our bodies,” says Karen Ansel, RD. “The most important thing to know is that they are strain-specific—meaning, while one type may help with immunity, another might be better for gut health.”
Yogurt is a great source of probiotics because it is made by fermenting milk with these live bacteria. But not all probiotic yogurt is the same.
The strain game
U.S. guidelines state that yogurt must contain at least two specific strains, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, although manufacturers can add more. “It’s easy to assume that all yogurt is the same, but that’s not the case at all,” Ansel says.
Only three families—Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus—have been widely researched, and the data suggests they may improve immune and digestive health and protect against yeast infections in women. In fact, these are the kinds nutritionists trust most. But probiotic yogurt brands vary in other ways, from the number of strains they contain to the amounts in each serving.
So how do you know whether a probiotic yogurt will really give you the health benefits you’re after? “It would be great if we knew how much live bacteria was in our yogurt, but this can vary substantially depending on the quantity of bacteria used during fermentation as well as storage conditions and length of storage,” says Ansel.
The closest gauge we have, she says, is the Live and Active Cultures seal, which certifies that the yogurt had at least 100 million cultures of live bacteria per gram at the time it was manufactured. Probiotics have a relatively short shelf life, so eating yogurt before its best by date increases your odds of getting a healthy dose, she adds. Also, when you’re eating your yogurt, be sure to avoid this common mistake. We asked nutritionists what their favorite probiotic yogurt brands are. These are the results.