Ask anyone why yogurt is good for you, and they’re likely to tell you that it’s packed with probiotics. But ask that same person what probiotics are, and you may only get the vaguest of answers.
You know that probiotics are good for you. But why? How do they work? How many probiotics in your yogurt is ideal? And is there such a thing as too much?
Probiotics: The Basics
Most of the time, you think of bacteria as something to avoid. Your cleaning products promise to kill bacteria in your environment. You clean your hands with antibacterial soap (though there’s evidence that you shouldn’t). You take antibiotics to get rid of bacterial infections.
But there is such a thing as beneficial bacteria. That’s what probiotics are. They’re gut microbes: living organisms that thrive in your gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotic organisms maintain a healthy microbial balance in your gut. They can have many health benefits, including:
- Aiding digestion
- Nourishing the immune system
- Combating bad bacteria that makes its way to the digestive tract1
- Friendly bacteria may even have a positive effect on your mood, according to at least one study.2
How Probiotics Come To Be
Probiotic bacteria grow through a process known as fermentation. In the case of yogurt, a live bacterial starter culture must be introduced to milk. In commercial processes, manufacturers may use yogurt starters like lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus jugurti, lactobacillus bulgaricus, or streptococcus thermophilus.
The words streptococcus thermophilus might sound scary. You might be asking, “Is that the same streptococcus as strep throat?” But rest easy — it’s a completely different species. By definition, yogurt must contain some streptococcus thermophilus.
Whether it’s regular yogurt or Greek yogurt, the processes are roughly the same. The milk heats up to 110º C. It’s then inoculated with yogurt cultures. The microorganisms multiply. The yogurt thickens, giving it its distinctive texture.3
You can also make your own yogurt at home. With yogurt starters available for purchase, you can use them to ferment milk at room temperature.4
Different Types Of Probiotics In Yogurt
Many of the beneficial bacteria in yogurt come from the genus lactobacillus. And each of them have unique benefits.
Lactobacillus bulgaricus is actually a subspecies of lactobacillus delbrueckii.5 Like streptococcus thermophilus, anything called yogurt must contain L. bulgaricus.
Studies have shown that lactobacillus bulgaricus may also support lactose digestion.6
Antibiotics are necessary for bacterial infections. But they can sometimes lead to bowel issues. Without enough friendly bacteria in your system, your body’s digestion may suffer. Lactobacillus rhamnosus may help support normal bowel movements. And fortunately, it’s a very common strain of dairy probiotic.7
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a substrain of lactobacillus rhamnosus. Unlike regular rhamnosus, it may persist longer in the digestive tract, and in higher concentrations.8
At least one study has shown that lactobacillus rhamnosus GG may be helpful in aiding normal pediatric bowel movements.9
Probiotics and Cardiovascular Health
It makes sense that many of probiotics’ benefits have to do with digestion. But they can have other health benefits as well.
Lactobacillus bacteria may help support cholesterol and blood pressure levels already in the normal range.10,11
Certain bad bacteria may have a negative effect on your heart health. Introducing good bacteria to the gut microbiome may help support cardiovascular health. Unsurprisingly, most of those good bacteria are the same ones found in yogurt.12
How Probiotics Enhance Yogurt’s Other Health Benefits
The USDA recommends adults consume between 46-56 grams of protein per day, and between 1000-1300 mg of calcium. As a dairy food, yogurt is very high in both.13,14
An eight-ounce container of plain yogurt can contain almost 12 grams of protein and 415 mg of calcium.A seven-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt can contain nearly 20 grams of protein and 230 mg of calcium.15,16
Of course, there are other dairy products that are high in both those nutrients. But the bacteria present in yogurt may increase their effectiveness in a unique way.
One study has shown that probiotic yogurt may support the levels of calcium in the body. It may even aid the body’s bone mass density and the absorption of consumed protein. Probiotics can help make every gram count.17,18
Conversely, the presence of dairy may increase the beneficial effects of probiotics. Dairy has a protective effect on microorganisms. It can help probiotic strains survive the passage through the stomach. This means more of them make their way to the intestines, where they can have the most beneficial effects.19
Other fermented foods and beverages, like kombucha or tempeh, may contain beneficial bacteria. But it’s the synergy between dairy and probiotics that helps set yogurt apart.
With Probiotics, It’s About Quality And Quantity
When purchasing yogurt, study the label carefully. It’s important to look for live and active cultures. That means they contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.
It also means the probiotic organisms are still alive. Probiotic bacteria won’t provide the same health benefits if they’ve died during processing.20 Also, note that certain bacteria strains can decline after some time in storage.21
You probably won’t get enough probiotics exclusively through yogurt consumption. A daily probiotic supplement can have many positive health benefits.22
Probiotic Yogurt Makes Healthy Eating Fun
And if you’re looking to add some extra flavor to your yogurt, try adding fresh fruit to plain yogurt. Not only will it taste great, but the yogurt and fruit may also complement each other’s health benefits.23
There are dozens of ways to incorporate yogurt into different recipes. You can enjoy it as a breakfast, a snack, or even as a dessert. However you choose to enjoy it, you’ll know you’re doing it while enjoying the health benefits of probiotics.
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