Yogurt is a well-known probiotic food. Probiotic-rich foods are considered to be good for your gut as they are full of healthy bacteria. Good bacteria, like the ones found in yogurt, can improve the health of your gut microbiome and positively influence the gut-brain axis.
Bacteria and Human Health
Microbes like bacteria often get a bad reputation since bacteria are known to cause disease. However, bacteria are more than just pathogens. They're actually crucial for human health.
Bacteria and the Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is able to influence a variety of different aspects of your health through the gut-brain axis: the connection between your gastrointestinal system and brain that is linked via the body's longest cranial nerve. The gut-brain axis is incredibly important; it can impact your personality, mental health, immune system responses and the likelihood you'll experience certain health issues, like digestive system disorders.
The foods you eat are well-known to impact the health of your gut microbiome. Given the amount of bacteria inside you, maintaining the health of your gut by eating healthy foods is very important.
Fermented and probiotic-rich foods are a good way of making sure that there are primarily healthy, good bacteria colonizing your body. The probiotics in these foods can help improve your immune system's function, protect your body from hostile bacteria, regulate digestion and improve nutrient absorption.
Bacteria in Yogurt
Yogurt has been around for thousands of years and is commonly consumed around the world. This food is made by heating milk to about 80 C (176 F), then cooling it to about 45 C (113 F). Bacteria are then added, and the mixture is allowed to ferment for between four and seven hours.
Many different bacteria can be found in yogurt, but all yogurts have to contain the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These strains of lactobacillus and streptococcus are examples of good bacteria. Other bacteria that you may find in yogurt that are also examples of good bacteria include:
- Bifidobacterium animalis (sometimes also known as Bifidus regularis)
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Enterococcus faecium
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus johnsonii
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Given the amount of variety in yogurt products, not all of them can be considered equivalent. Despite the fact that all yogurts are made with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, not all yogurts can be considered to be probiotic foods.
Types of Yogurt
- Low-fat yogurt
- Non-fat yogurt
- Light yogurt
- Swiss yogurt
- Custard yogurt
- Sundae yogurt
- Frozen yogurt
- Liquid yogurt (also called drinkable yogurt)
- Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt
- Greek style yogurt
- Balkan style yogurt
- Herbal yogurt
Not all of these yogurts are made from milk products; many are plant-based yogurts and vegan yogurts. However, whether or not these products are made from a type of animal milk isn't so important. What's much more important are the types of bacteria these products contain.
Bacteria in Different Yogurts
The Lactobacillus and Streptococcus bacteria found in standard cultured yogurts are good for your gut, but don't want to remain there long-term. When these bacteria are ingested, they play a supportive role for the other healthy bacteria that already reside within your gastrointestinal tract.
Probiotic yogurts, also known as yogurts made with active cultures or bio yogurts, have a wider variety of bacteria. The bacteria in probiotic yogurts include Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus., which are some of the types of bacteria that live in your gut. These yogurts can help to:
- Improve lactose tolerance
- Improve immune system function
- Improve digestion
- Improve weight control
- Prevent and help treat gastrointestinal disorders
Since probiotic yogurts have the widest variety of cultures, they're also likely to provide you with the largest range of health benefits.
Yogurt With Active Cultures
According to the National Yogurt Association, the Food and Drug Administration requires all yogurt to be made with active bacterial cultures. However, many yogurts are not considered to be probiotic foods because the final product lacks these cultures.
The National Yogurt Association has a Live and Active Cultures Seal that can help you differentiate yogurt with active cultures from yogurts that lack them. Yogurts without this seal are likely heat-treated products, which means that the beneficial bacterial cultures have likely been killed, making this product less healthy. Those that are not heat-treated retain their live and active bacterial cultures.
In fact, according to the National Yogurt Association's guidelines, to receive this seal, the final products have to contain a minimum of 100 million live cultures per gram. The only exception to this are frozen products, which should contain at a minimum of 10 million live cultures per gram in their final form. This means that all yogurts, even alternative products like drinkable yogurts, blended yogurt products and plant-based yogurts, can be probiotic foods that can benefit your gut microbiome.
Other Sources of Healthy Bacteria
If you're not a fan of yogurt products, many other fermented foods can also provide you with healthy probiotics. Probiotic-rich foods include products like:
- Miso paste
- Fermented milk
- Pickled vegetables
Like the good bacteria found in yogurt, probiotics in these foods can also prevent various types of cancer and osteoporosis and combat diseases like intestinal disorders and urogenital infections. They can also help regulate your bowel movements, preventing and alleviating both constipation and diarrhea. Fermented, probiotic-rich foods can also help regulate your cholesterol levels.
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- Pacifice Journals: Do You Have Guts to Have Food
- AboutYogurt.com: Yogurt Varieties
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Benefits of Probiotics Bacteria
- Dairy Council of Northern Ireland: Yogurt
- Harvard Health Publishing: Fermented Foods for Better Gut Health
- Nature: Diet Rapidly and Reproducibly Alters the Human Gut Microbiome
- GABA-Modulating Bacteria of the Human Gut Microbiota.
- Frontiers in Neuroscience: The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis
- Biochemical Journal: Introduction to the Human Gut Microbiota
- PLoS Biology: Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body