Yogurt is a commonly consumed dairy product that is enjoyed around the globe for both its creamy flavor and stellar nutrient profile. Adding probiotic strains to the mix to the mix is a quick and convenient way to amp up the health benefits of this tasty ingredient even further, and studies show that probiotic yogurt can boost immune function, enhance heart health, ramp up fat-burning and more.
So is yogurt a good probiotic? Is all yogurt probiotic? And does flavored yogurt have probiotics? Let’s dive in and take a closer look at these questions one at a time.
What Is Probiotic Yogurt?
Traditional probiotic yogurt is made from dairy that’s been fermented into a creamy food packed with beneficial probiotics and is a balanced source of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. When it’s sourced from grass-fed cows or goats, then yogurt’s nutrition is maximized, supplying omega-3 fatty acids, whey protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, enzymes and probiotics.
What are probiotics, and what do probiotics do?
Probiotics are a beneficial form of bacteria that have been linked to a long list of benefits. Not only can probiotics help support digestive health, but some research suggests that they may also be involved with immune function, mental health and disease prevention as well.
Probiotic yogurt drink products can be made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, but traditional cow’s milk is still the most popular. Also, yogurt is the most consumed fermented dairy product in the United States today, with the second being kefir.
It’s believed that the fermentation process of dairy milk dates back over 6,000 years to Central Asia and was used as a way to preserve milk. Historical records place yogurt in India, Persia and Turkey not long after it was seen in Central Asia.
Yogurt was prized for its creamy texture and multitude of uses. Back then, fresh milk was often carried in the stomach linings of animals, where many believe the healthy bacteria, along with the climate, contributed to the fermentation.
Today, however, the process is much different. Dairy milks are heated to the point of killing the existing bacteria, a process known as pasteurization. A starter culture of live bacteria is introduced, and the milk is allowed to ferment for several hours, until it is thick, rich and tart.
More and more research has found new benefits associated with yogurt and probiotic consumption. However, the main difference between supplementing with probiotics vs. yogurt is that probiotic yogurt supplies a broad array of other important nutrients as well, including protein, calcium and potassium. There are also a variety of other key vitamins and minerals in probiotic yogurt, meaning it can be an excellent addition to a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Health Benefits and Uses
1. Supports Digestive Health
One of the top benefits of probiotics is their ability to boost digestive health. Healthy bacteria that are added to yogurt help improve the microflora in the gut, which is responsible for supporting digestion and a healthy digestive tract. The yogurt probiotic content could potentially help treat certain gastrointestinal conditions, including colon cancer, IBS, constipation, diarrhea and lactose intolerance. Not only that, but many individuals who struggle with lactose intolerance find that yogurt is a soothing food rather than one that causes digestive distress.
2. May Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
A recent study published in BMC Medicine found that eating more yogurt was associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Like other probiotic foods, yogurt supports digestion and the absorption of nutrients throughout the digestive tract, which is essential for healthy blood sugar regulation. Another large review of 17 studies also found that taking probiotics benefits blood sugar control, which could help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
3. Could Help Protect Against Colorectal Cancer
In a large study of over 45,000 individuals published in the International Journal of Cancer, yogurt consumption was linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Researchers indicated “the protective effect of yogurt was evident in the entire cohort.” The reason for this is a healthier digestive tract, which is due to the probiotics and healthy bacteria found in yogurt.
4. Increases Bone Density
What you put on your plate plays a central role in bone health, and getting enough calcium and vitamin D is absolutely essential when it comes to keeping your bones healthy and strong to protect against bone loss. The benefits of yogurt with probiotics for women are especially important. It’s estimated that one in three women around the world will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis at some point in their lifetimes.
Dairy yogurts are particularly high in calcium, which helps strengthen and maintain bone mass. Many dairy yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D, which promotes calcium absorption and supports proper bone mineralization.
5. Supports Weight Loss and Fat Loss
According to a study from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, yogurt may help increase fat loss. The study showed that consuming yogurt daily for 12 weeks nearly doubled the amount of fat lost compared to a control group. The group that consumed the probiotic yogurt also lost 22 percent more weight and 61 percent more body fat. The study found the belly region and the waist circumference were particularly affected by yogurt consumption.
Probiotic supplements have also been linked to increased weight loss and fat-burning. In fact, one review conducted in 2018 found that taking probiotics for three to 12 weeks increased weight loss and led to reductions in body mass index and body fat percentage compared to a control group.
6. Boosts Immunity
In one recent study, researchers noted that the probiotics found in yogurt and other fermented milk products could improve immune function by increasing cytokine-producing cells in the intestines. Researchers also suggested that probiotic yogurt for babies could be especially beneficial, stating that “supplementation of probiotic organisms in infancy could help prevent immune-mediated diseases in childhood.”
Another study evaluating the effects of probiotic yogurt for toddlers and infants found that consuming formula with added probiotics reduced the number of days with fever, antibiotic prescriptions, clinic visits and child care absences.
For adults, consuming yogurt with probiotic content helps keep the digestive tract free of disease-causing bacteria. A randomized and placebo-controlled study in Sweden found that taking a probiotic slashed the number of sick days for shift workers in half compared to a control group.
7. Reduces Blood Pressure
Yogurt has over 600 milligrams of potassium in a single eight-ounce serving, knocking out nearly one-fifth of your daily needs for this important, heart-healthy mineral. A review of 36 clinical trials and 17 studies confirmed that potassium intake can play a major role in regulating blood pressure levels. Potassium is believed to help decrease sodium reabsorption and alter nervous system cell function to help reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.
A 2005 study from Harvard School of Public Health led by Dr. Alvaro Alonso found that people eating at least two to three servings per day of low-fat dairy experienced a 50 percent reduction in the risk of developing high blood pressure. Therefore, adding a good probiotic yogurt to your daily diet is imperative if you want to lower blood pressure or optimize your heart health.
8. Decreases Cholesterol
Some research suggests that the live probiotics in yogurt, including Lactobacillus Acidophilus, could help reduce cholesterol levels with just one serving per day. In a controlled clinical study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, consuming just one serving of probiotic yogurt containing Lactobacillus Acidophilus daily for three weeks led to a 2.4 percent reduction in serum cholesterol. According to the study, regular intake of probiotic yogurt has the potential to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by a whopping 6 percent to 10 percent.
9. Regulates Mood
The effects of probiotics on the digestive tract and blood sugar levels have been well-documented. However, few people are aware just how closely gut health is tied to mood and mental health. In a study from UCLA’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress that studied brain scans during and after the study, researchers found healthy women who consumed two servings of probiotic yogurt daily for four weeks exhibited more control in emotions and less anxiety when introduced to emotional events than a control group.
A 2017 study also showed that the health of the gut microbiome could be closely linked to mental health as well. In the report, researchers noted that intestinal inflammation and alterations in the gut microbiome could potentially contribute to serious conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
10. Promotes Brain Function
In the same study mentioned above regarding mood regulation, researchers noted that probiotics have the potential to help with chronic pain, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism. Researchers also raised the question of whether repeated courses of antibiotics can affect the brain. Antibiotics are prescribed to kill the dangerous bacteria but also kill the healthy bacteria that reside in our guts in the process. This reinforces the recommendation that yogurt and other probiotic-rich foods should be consumed as part of a healthy diet, especially after taking a course of antibiotics.
Protein, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, potassium, zinc, riboflavin, calcium and phosphorus make up the nutrient profile of yogurt. It’s a complete food, with just the right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Plus, just one serving can provide over 25 percent of the daily value of protein and nearly 50 percent of the DV of calcium.
Yogurt is also a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an essential fatty acid not made by the body that has been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease. It also helps reduce belly fat, protect against cancer growth, lower cholesterol, increase metabolism and strengthen immune function.
Some types of probiotics may also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can help support weight loss, reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, fight cancer and protect against cognitive decline. While we mostly focus on the omega-3s in wild-caught salmon and tuna, probiotic yogurt from grass-fed cows makes the list as one of the top food sources available. Selecting grass-fed, organic probiotic yogurt is crucial to maximizing the content of beneficial fatty acids.
Probiotics in yogurt stimulate healthy digestive function and help produce vitamins B12 and K. Strains of healthy bacteria added to yogurt and kefir include Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidus. The key is to look for yogurt that contains “live and active cultures” to ensure you get the real deal.
Best and Worst Yogurt to Buy
Which yogurt has the best probiotics? And which types should you look for on your next shopping trip?
Here are some of the most common probiotic yogurt varieties available, ranked from best to worst.
Best: Raw Yogurt from Sheep or Goats that Are Grass-Fed, Cultured 24 Hours
Did you know that goat milk is the closest dairy to human breast milk? It’s easier to digest than cow’s milk due to the high concentration of medium-chain fatty acids and also supplies a wealth of important vitamins and minerals in each serving. For individuals who are lactose intolerant, goat’s milk contains significantly less and is much easier to tolerate than traditional dairy.
Sheep milk is the creamiest of all dairy, which is one of the reasons that sheep milk cheese is prized all over the world. Sheep’s milk yogurt is easy to digest, just like goat milk yogurt. Either are great options to get all the health benefits of yogurt.
When buying or making your own yogurt, you want to look for or make yogurt that is cultured for 24–29 hours to ensure that it contains the highest levels of probiotics and the lowest levels of lactose.
Second Best: Raw Yogurt From Grass-Fed Cows
Raw dairy is rich with probiotics and healthy bacteria, and it’s often considered the type of yogurt with the most probiotic strains. Raw milk is rich in nutrients, helping increase bone density, build a stronger immune system, enhance lean muscle mass and so much more. Through the process of pasteurization, the nutrient profile is dramatically changed, which is why raw milk, raw cheese and other dairy products are often recommended instead.
Rather than heating dairy to 161 to 280 degrees prior to adding probiotics, with raw dairy yogurt, the milk is only heated to 105 degrees — and only for a short time. This is just enough heat to activate the healthy bacteria and start the fermentation process, without killing the nutrients that make raw dairy so good for you.
Third Best: Organic Yogurt from Grass-Fed Animals
If you don’t have access to raw sheep, goat or cow dairy yogurt, your next choice should be minimally processed organic yogurt from grass-fed animals. As mentioned above, grass-fed dairy has many nutritional benefits over other dairy, many of which help fight chronic diseases, reduce inflammation and so much more.
The best probiotic yogurt brands should be fermented for 24–29 hours, which reduces the lactose content and boosts the amount of probiotics present in the final product. Kefir probiotic yogurt, which is a fermented milk drink, is another great alternative brimming with probiotics, which is typically made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep.
OK in Moderation: Dairy-Free Probiotic Yogurt
Non-dairy probiotic yogurt varieties have been growing in popularity and are commercially made from almonds, coconut and soy. While the fermentation process is slightly different, these vegan probiotic yogurt products still have the trademark creaminess of traditional dairy. However, they don’t thicken naturally or become creamy when fermented like regular yogurt. Instead, thickeners are added to reach the desired texture and consistency.
Thickeners used include arrowroot, tapioca flour, agar, zantham gum, guar gum, soy lecithin and other chemical-ridden ingredients. Additionally, not all non-dairy yogurts contain healthy bacteria, so it’s important to read the label carefully to make sure that they contain “live active cultures” to ensure you get the most soy, almond or coconut yogurt probiotic content possible. Watch for sweeteners in these yogurts, and opt for plain probiotic yogurt whenever possible, as many flavored types are highly sweetened and processed.
Worst: Conventional Yogurt
Not all probiotic yogurt is created equally — and conventional yogurt is definitely not the best choice. The over-processing and added thickeners and preservatives diminish this disease-fighting food’s natural nutritional benefits.
Many people wonder: Is Greek yogurt a good source of probiotics? What brand of Greek yogurt has the most probiotics?
Unfortunately, most Greek yogurt products fall into the category of conventional yogurt as well and are typically just a type of yogurt that has been strained. For the best probiotic Greek yogurt option, try straining one of the recommended yogurt varieties above and keep the whey for smoothies or other preparations.
Be sure to avoid conventional yogurts that have been sweetened or flavored with additives and extra ingredients. Many of the yogurts in the dairy case today are little more that over-processed milk, with a ton of added sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you need to sweeten your yogurt, that’s OK, but just do it at home with your choice of natural sweeteners instead.
How to Make Probiotic Yogurt (and Recipes)
Tools and Ingredients Required:
- Slow cooker
- ½ gallon raw, grass-fed milk from cows, sheep or goat*
- Mesophilic yogurt cultures
- Glass jars
- 2 towels
*Can substitute pasteurized milk if desired
Note: This is a two-day process
- First, test the temperature of slow cooker. Add ½ gallon tap water to your slow cooker, and turn on low for 2 ½ hours. Use your food thermometer to check temperature. If the water is above 115 degrees F, it’s too high, and it will essentially kill the raw milk’s healthy bacteria. If you’re not using raw milk, above 115 degrees F is OK. If the heat of the water is between 110–115 degrees F, you are free to proceed.
- Unplug the slow cooker and allow to cool to room temperature. Dump out the water and dry. Add the dairy milk (at or near room temperature) of choice, cover with the lid and turn on low. Set a timer for 2 ½ hours. Turn off slow cooker, and unplug it. Do not remove the lid to peek! Allow milk to remain in the slow cooker, lid in place, for 3 hours.
- Remove 2 cups of the milk to a stainless bowl, and add the starter culture according to the instructions. Mix thoroughly and pour back into the crock, and replace the lid. Immediately wrap the unplugged crock in towels (warmed in the dryer if the room temperature is low), and let set for 18–24 hours undisturbed. This is the culturing period.
- After 18–24 hours, remove from the slow cooker by filling clean, dry jars. Seal and refrigerate for at least 6–8 hours. While cooling, the yogurt will continue to thicken. Yogurt made from raw dairy will not be as thick as conventionally made yogurt available in the store.
Note: If you want a thicker consistency, after the chilling stage, place several layers of cheesecloth in a strainer, over a large bowl. Place yogurt in strainer, and allow to drain overnight in the refrigerator. Don’t toss away the whey liquid! It’s packed with nutrients, beneficial bacteria and protein. Reserve for other uses.
Once you’ve whipped up your own yogurt at home, the possibilities for how to use it are limitless. Here are a few tasty recipes that you can start experimenting with at home:
- Creamy Avocado Lime Cilantro Dressing
- Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie
- One-Pot Chicken Tinga
- Coconut Yogurt Chia Seed Smoothie Bowl
Risks and Side Effects
Along with the many benefits associated with this nutrient-rich ingredient, there are also some probiotic yogurt side effects to consider as well. In particular, those with a sensitivity or allergy to lactose or dairy should be mindful of their intake. While fermented milk products are generally low in lactose, they may trigger adverse side effects in some people. If you have an allergy to dairy or milk products, it’s important to stick to dairy-free varieties instead to prevent food allergy symptoms.
In most cases, probiotic yogurt for kids is generally safe, unless they have a compromised immune system. For children with underlying health conditions or other concerns, be sure to talk to your pediatrician before starting supplementation or use of probiotic yogurt.
Finally, keep in mind that there are several key differences between probiotic supplements vs. yogurt. Although adding probiotic yogurt to your diet can help you take advantage of the many potential probiotic benefits along with several important micronutrients, it may not provide as much of a concentrated amount as supplementation. Therefore, it’s best to enjoy a variety of different fermented foods as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
- Probiotic yogurt is a type of yogurt that has undergone fermentation and contains a host of important nutrients, including probiotics, protein, calcium and potassium.
- Some of the potential benefits of probiotic yogurt include better digestive health, improved blood sugar levels, enhanced heart health, stronger bones and increased weight loss.
- Is yogurt a probiotic? Or is Greek yogurt a probiotic? While it is definitely possible to find Greek yogurt with probiotics, not all yogurt is created equally, and many commercial varieties don’t contain live and active cultures.
- So what is the best probiotic yogurt? Ideally, opt for raw, cultured yogurts from grass-fed animals, such as sheep, goats or cows. Organic yogurt or unsweetened varieties from dairy-free sources are also fine in moderation.
- However, regardless of which type you select, the best probiotic yogurt brand should be free of artificial sweeteners, added sugars and other preservatives, fillers and chemicals.
- Try making your own probiotic yogurt at home and adding it to your favorite recipes for an easy and nutritious way to enjoy the benefits of this power-packed ingredient.
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