Why Today’s Commercial Yogurt is Hardly a Health Food

03/12/2012

Commercial yogurt photoSometimes deep down in the depths of reality, you know something is likely true, but even still, when the truth comes out you cringe at the thought. To be completely honest, that’s what happened when I wrote this article. I went straight to the fridge to take a look at my yogurt. We’ll get to what I found out later. 

An article in Grist this week: Not Your Grandma’s Yogurt, reminded me to look a little deeper into this so-called health food. The article recommended making your own yogurt, because according to holistic health practitioner Nishanga Bliss, homemade yogurt ferments longer than the commercial variety, which removes more of the lactose, the ingredient that can cause stomach discomfort. 

Grist also reported on what some of us may already know but choose to ignore because we thought, "well, it’s yogurt, it’s good for you." But when there’s high fructose corn syrup, loads of sugar, sweeteners, stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives added, they’re right--this ain't your Grandma’s yogurt. 

So again, I stare at the yogurt in my fridge. Dreaming Cow, an artisan yogurt made in Georgia using a style of yogurt coined in New Zealand. I buy the plain variety to avoid any of the sugar and other ingredients listed above. The ingredients are quite simple actually: Grade A non-homogenized grass based whole milk and live active cultures. The yogurt has no preservatives, added hormones, or refined sugar.

While the commercial variety does have a lot of added junk, by choosing organic or artisanal varieties, you can easily avoid it. The key is to read the labels. While Fage plain variety also has few ingredients, the cows are not certainly grass fed. You can also infer that the cows are treated with added hormones and antibiotics because it doesn't say they're not.

What About Probiotics?

But the real excitement surrounding yogurt has to do with probiotics. People eat the stuff by the gallons because these supposed probiotics have so many health benefits. Well, a recent Yale research group reported on in The New York Times, went through all the research surrounding probiotics to see what had been studied and what had been blown out of proportion. 

Plain yogurt phoot

Photo: Martin Poole/Thinkstock

Probiotics are living micro-organisms that work by restoring the balance of intestinal bacteria and raising resistance to certain harmful germs. Studies have shown that probiotics found in yogurt can work on gastrointestinal issues, reducing irritable bowel syndrome and reducing diarrhea in certain cases. Studies have linked probiotics to immune strengthening and said that gastrointestinal health was important for immune health. 

But the study did not show that this immune strengthening played a role in staving off any diseases. Therefore, they couldn’t find a link to actual disease prevention. But even still, the group did find a lot to be happy about in yogurt. That is--the good stuff, high quality, sustainably produced, organic, artisanal, and of course, plain yogurt. If you want to add sweeteners, add them yourself so you can control the sugar content. My fav--raw honey by the teaspoon full. 

Photo at top: Ryan McVay/Thinkstock

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More on Yogurt
Dannon to Pay $35 Million in Activia/DanActive Class Action Lawsuit 
Homemade Yogurt
11 Surprising Uses for Yogurt 


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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