The yogurt aisle offers more options than ever, but how do you choose the best ones for your gut?
People have been consuming yogurt for thousands of years, ever since ancient cultures learned to ferment milk to preserve it. Indian Ayurvedic texts dating back to around 6,000 BC mention the health benefits of yogurt. Today, instead of transporting milk in animal skins to create an environment for bacterial growth, we can buy a large number of commercial yogurt options: from plain whole milk yogurt, to creamy Greek style, tangy kefir, and even dairy-free nuts and oatmeal gurts.
All yogurts can have their place in your diet, whether for breakfast or dessert. To choose which yogurt to eat when, you have to take into account the needs of your own body.
Any health problem you have should influence your food choices. For example, if you suffer from cardiovascular disease, you should not consume whole-fat yogurt.
But what about your gut health?
Yogurt is known to contain probiotics, which are good for the gut. When it comes to your gut health, is plain Greek yogurt with no added sugar the same as caramel flavored whole milk yogurt or vanilla cashew yogurt?
What about probiotics?
To go into detail about the gut benefits of different types of yogurt, we need to talk about probiotics. Probiotics are natural good bacteria and yeast that live in your body and keep it in balance. Natural probiotics found in certain foods have supported gut health long before supplements became popular.
Be careful though, presenting a product as healthy and full of probiotics is one thing, but transparency is another. Don’t think that just saying “probiotic” is good for your health. It is more complicated than that. The name of the specific live probiotic cultures contained in yogurt should appear under the “ingredients” section of the food label. Ideally, a yogurt label should list at least three types of probiotics, namely genus name, species name, and strain name. For example, S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus or L. Casei are common probiotics in yogurts. With this information, it is possible to consult the research on this specific strain if one wishes to know more.
Yogurt provides probiotics, plus more protein and calcium than milk, but your body needs more nutrients to reap the full benefits of yogurt.
To make probiotics by eating foods like yogurt, your body also needs prebiotics, which is anything that nourishes or grows the microbiome. The building blocks of probiotics are prebiotics, which are found in fiber-rich foods like whole grains. A diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which contain prebiotics, allows the intestine to manufacture probiotics.
Choosing gut-healthy yoghurt at the supermarket
So what are the healthiest yogurts for your gut? Do things like sugar content, fat content or other ingredients matter?
Sugar and sugar free
Sugar is known for its pro-inflammatory effects and more and more studies suggest that excess sugar is bad for the microbiome. Even if you consume yogurt with added sugars, or even cookies, you will experience the potential benefits of probiotics, even though it is a less healthy choice from a holistic perspective.
However, you can start with plain yogurt and add a little sugar or fruit to it yourself, if you don’t like the taste of unsweetened yogurt. If you look at the “added sugar” line on a food label and note the amount, 20 grams is about 5 teaspoons of sugar. Even if you add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to plain yogurt, it will still be less than the amount added to flavored yogurts. Also, our taste buds can adapt and over time you may crave less added sugar. Crushed fresh fruit is another way to add a natural sweetness to yogurt.
Fat or low fat
The vitamin D in yogurt is fat soluble, which means it needs a certain fat content to be absorbed by the body. It may be helpful to consume yogurts with a certain amount of fat in order to reap the full benefits of the vitamin D you are consuming.
Non-dairy products or dairy products
Research shows that the probiotics in yogurt produce the enzyme lactase, which helps break down lactose. This is why some people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt without any problem! However, if your body does not tolerate dairy-based yogurts or if you are vegan, nut, soy and oat yogurts may be a better choice.
To find out if there are probiotics, check the label. The most common probiotic strains in non-dairy yogurts are Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium bifidus. If you can’t find yogurt to your liking, other fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, or kombucha, also contain probiotics that can boost your gut health.