Q. Will I benefit from the live bacteria in yogurt?


A. Judith C. Thalheimer, RD, LDN, managing editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, answers: “Probiotics are live microorganism (typically bacteria and yeasts) that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers. Specific strains are used to make yogurts and other fermented foods, like kefir (a yogurt drink), the fermented tea kombucha, sauerkraut/kimchi, and some cheeses. While there is compelling evidence suggesting probiotics may confer health benefits (including supporting weight loss, blood sugar control, and a healthy blood pressure), it is as yet uncertain which strains of probiotics may be effective, what dosages and forms are best, and who might benefit the most from their use.

“A ‘live and active culture’ seal on yogurt means it likely contains live bacteria. Since these bacteria help break down lactose in milk, people who have trouble breaking down this milk sugar themselves (lactose intolerance) may be able to eat yogurt without digestive discomfort. Whether these particular bacteria have other health benefits is not known for certain. Some yogurts may have additional probiotic species added, and this will be indicated on the product label.

“You can’t always assume yogurt (or any other fermented food) contains enough live microbes to reach the gut in efficacious quantities. A yogurt at the end of its shelf life, for example, may not have enough live bacteria left to be helpful.

“While choosing a yogurt with live and active cultures may be helpful (and certainly is not harmful), it is at least as important to choose one low in added sugars.”


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