It can be difficult to decipher which yoghurt is good for your health, looking at the yoghurt aisle in the supermarket can be overwhelming. With choices like low-fat, natural, Greek, flavoured and light staring back at you, it can be difficult to decipher!
Yoghurt adverts market the dairy product as a nutritious choice, promising your daily intake of calcium and a good source of protein, but is yoghurt all that healthy?
Checking the sugar content of the UK’s most popular yoghurt brands reveals that it is alarmingly high. In fact, some contained over half of the daily sugar allowance recommended to adults.
This fact shouldn’t make you strike yoghurt off your weekly shopping list. Understanding which yoghurts are good for you will not only ensure they become part of a healthy, balanced diet, but the best varieties have a whole host of benefits.
Essentially, all yoghurts that look like desserts, or have added flavouring, are the ones to steer clear of when actively aiming for a healthier choice. Yes, these make a nice treat (who doesn’t love a sweet pick-me-up?) but these yogurts are pumped full of sugar, which cause your blood sugar levels to rise. This can lead to a dramatic decrease in energy, sugary cravings and increased hunger.
Of course, dairy products contain natural sugar, so you shouldn’t necessarily look for those that have zero sugar content. Yoghurts that have 4-6g of sugar per 100g are recommended.
Low fat yoghurt isn’t as healthy as you might think either. When fat is stripped from dairy it loses vitamins A and D, both of which are fat-soluble, meaning they need fat to be absorbed. So, if yoghurt has had the fat removed and these vitamins are added back in, you may not be able to absorb them.
The healthiest yoghurt option is plain, unsweetened, whole fat yoghurt. Basically, the fewer ingredients there are, the better.
When you regularly eat this type of yoghurt, there are proven benefits you can enjoy based on yoghurt content:
- Calcium promotes strong bones and teeth, maintains blood pressure, reducing the risk of blood clotting and therefore heart attack
- Probiotics contribute to your gut health by decreasing gas and bloating, boost your immune system and may reduce the risk of cancer
- The fat content increases fullness, which can contribute to weight loss
These benefits have been based on human studies in adults and children.
What are probiotic yoghurts?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast, which are considered good for your gut. Due to its fermentation process, you’d assume that all yoghurts are probiotic yoghurts, as fermentation allows live bacteria to thrive, but that is not always the case. To understand this, let’s look at how yoghurt is made:
- Milk is heated, or pasteurised, and homogenised to spread the fat in the milk evenly
- It is then cooled
- Lactic bacteria are added. These are cultures called Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles and will ferment the milk
- During this time, the bacteria convert the lactose in the milk to lactic acid, which thickens the milk into yoghurt and gives it the distinct sour flavour
The cultures mentioned above are beneficial bacteria and are considered probiotics. More probiotics may also be added to the yoghurt, these include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidus.
Some yoghurt brands heat the milk after fermentation, which destroys the live beneficial bacteria. Good bacteria may then be added to the yoghurt after it’s been heat-treated.
So, how do you know if yoghurt contains probiotics? Well, if you look at the ingredients on the container, you should be able to spot some, if not all, of the cultures mentioned above. If you can, the yoghurt contains probiotics.
Is Greek yogurt good for you?
Greek yoghurt is different to regular yoghurt due to the way it is processed. Greek yoghurt is strained three times instead of two. The added straining removes the whey from the yoghurt, reducing the calcium content, but increasing its protein content by as much as two times. The added protein content will probably keep you fuller for longer, which may help if you’re aiming to lose weight.
Greek yoghurt and regular yoghurt have their pros and cons, but both are healthy choices when plain varieties are chosen.
Can I mix prebiotic supplements into probiotic yoghurt?
Prebiotics appear in foods such as garlic, onions, leeks and asparagus among others. These foods contain a prebiotic fibre, which cannot be digested, so go through the small intestine undigested. Once they’re in the large colon they become fermented. This fermentation acts like fertiliser to the good bacteria in the gut, feeding it and subsequently increasing its population. The more good bacteria there are, the less room there is for bad bacteria.
Many of us find it hard to eat enough fruit and vegetables to get this effect, in which case a prebiotic food supplement may help. Prebiotic supplements can come in powder-form in a sachet, which you can easily pour into your hot drink or sprinkle over your food.
Prebiotic supplements have an advantage over probiotic supplements in that heat or digestive fluids do not affect them, therefore sprinkling a sachet of prebiotic supplement on a probiotic-rich food, like yoghurt, is often seen as an effective way of increasing levels of good bacteria in your gut.