Many people think of yogurt as a health food that will aid digestion with probiotics, which are organisms thought to be beneficial for gut bacteria, and support bone health with calcium and Vitamin D, all in a low amount of calories. But is this really true for most common yogurts?
There is merit to this idea. Many yogurts use bacterial cultures of lactic acid- producing Lactobacillus and Streptococcus species. The lactic acid formed by these cultures gives yogurt a tangy taste. In animals and emerging studies with humans, these probiotic gut bacteria can improve lactose intolerance, prevent diarrhea, constipation, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and even allergies. Thought these outcomes are promising, they do require further research to be validated in supporting human gastrointestinal health. In terms of general nutrition, yogurt contains substantial amounts of protein, potassium, and calcium. It also generally is low in lactose, and can be a way for lactose- intolerant consumers to enjoy the benefits of dairy products.
What many people do not know is that companies look to exploit the benefits of yogurt by marketing it as a health food, particularly to women. Occasioanlly manufacturers must agree to drop health claims due to criticism that they are exaggerated and unsupported (Cleland, 2011). Some companies claim their products improve gastrointestinal regularity, and can help consumers avoid the cold and flu (Cleland, 2011). Though the effects of probiotics in yogurt are appealing, they are still not quite substantiated to be absolutely true.
Consumers also might not know that many yogurts contain large amounts of added sugar. The USDA averaged that yogurt of the fruit variety has 11.5 g of added sugars per serving and flavored vanilla yogurt has 8.4 grams of added sugar, compared to none in plain yogurt. According to a food nutrient database called iProfile, Dannon Low Fat Strawberry Yogurt with Fruit on the Bottom contains 32 g of sugar, compared to just 12 g of sugar in 8 oz of skim milk. According to the USDA’s program SuperTracker, lowfat yogurt with fruit added averages about 150 calories, 93 of which are empty calories from sugar and a little fat. This shows how many yogurts might not be as nutrient efficient as they are thought to be.
Consumers should be wary of flavored yogurt, as well as yogurt with fruit or sweets included. Instead they can consider purchasing plain yogurts and adding their own fruits and toppings for flavoring. Strained yogurt, otherwise known as Greek yogurt, can be an appropriate option that tends to be higher in protein, and lower in sodium.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yogurt is a nutrient dense food with the potential to be very beneficial to gastrointestinal health. Consumers should be wary of both the health claims and the added sugar contents of common yogurts, and should look for low sugar, low sodium plain yogurts.
Adolfsson, O., Meydani, S.N., & Russell, R.S. (2004, August 8). Yogurt and Gut Function [Fact
sheet]. Retrieved April 10, 2013, from PubMed.gov website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
Cleland, R. (2011, June 24). Dannon Agrees to Drop Exaggerated Health Claims for Activia Yogurt and
DanActive Dairy Drink. Retrieved April 10, 2013, from Federal Trade Commission website:
Smolin, L., & Wiley and Sons, Inc. (2012). iProfile (3rd ed.). Retrieved from
USDA Database for the Added Sugars Content of Selected Foods. (2006, February). Retrieved April 10,
2013, from USDA.gov website: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/add_sug/addsug01.pdf
USDA Food SuperTracker. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx
UConn Extension Nutrition Intern