Every time I hit the yogurt section of the grocery store there are new products – some that claim to boost your immunity, others that make your belly dance, you know that commercial right?
Yogurt is made from adding active bacterial cultures to milk, that is what causes the change in texture. And don’t be scared of the word “bacteria”. We have naturally occuring bacteria in our gut to help digest the food we eat. When these good bacteria are in food and we eat them, they are called “probiotics”. Research suggests probiotics may help keep your immune system healthy and help maintain the good bacteria in your intestine. They may also help deal with diarrhea, reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).
So what to choose when we are in that expansive yogurt section? Well, if you don’t have any of the conditions mentioned above (diarrhea, lactose intolerance or IBS) you don’t really need an extra dose of probiotics. You know that saying, “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”. But that’s not to say yogurt isn’t a great food choice. There is just so much marketing happening with yogurt these days that I need to remind you of a few key points when choosing a yogurt.
1) Many of the lower fat products are sweetened artificially to make them low calorie – I don’t recommend artificially sweetened yogurt.
2) You don’t even need an extremely low fat product either, it can even be hard to find a full fat yogurt these days. Choosing lower fat dairy products is a recommendation in Canada’s Food Guide but 1-2% fat still counts as low fat.
3) The probiotics in yogurt can have great benefits but if you are choosing a sweetened yogurt then you are also getting extra added sugar. Some of the small containers of yogurt can have 3 or more teaspoons of added sugar. Can you imagine putting 3 teaspoons of sugar into one of those individual size containers? I hope not.
4) The strain of bacteria is not as important, as long as the yogurt label says it contains active bacterial cultures it has probiotics. In fact, you may have heard of a class action lawsuit against the makers of the yogurt with the belly dance commercial. That is one of the commercials that frustrates me most as a dietitian so I was pleased to hear the news.
So what do you choose? I recommend purchasing plain yogurt which tends to be cheaper because you aren’t paying for all the additions. It is also more economical to buy the large (500ml) tub rather than the individual size. Try adding your own sliced fruit on top of plain yogurt. I like to take some frozen berries and put them in the bottom of a reusable container and top with plain yogurt. By the time I eat it after lunch, the berries have softened and become almost syrupy. If you prefer it to be a bit sweeter you can top with a bit of sugar or honey, but this way you can control how much you add rather than having a food company do it for you. Try any fruit (banana, berries, melon, peach), a sprinkle or cinnamon, granola or another high fiber cereal for yogurt toppings. The combinations are endless and you still get the power of probiotics.