Myths about yogurt and probiotics abound. I was surprised to learn what many people are saying about yogurt while conducting my research for my latest book on the topic of yogurt and probiotics. To help dispel the misinformation and myths, here are the 7 most common myths about yogurt you need to know. Keep in mind that it’s not my intention to bash yogurt, only to present it in an accurate light.
Myth 1. All Yogurt is Healthy: Not all yogurt is healthy. Some is downright disgusting and contains more sugar than doughnuts. Some yogurt is full of additives, colors and gums to thicken it and are best avoided altogether.
Myth 2. All Yogurt Contains Beneficial Probiotics: Many yogurts are heated during the manufacturing or shipping process and no longer contain the “live cultures” they claim to on the label. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to find out whether the yogurt you buy contains live cultures other than to take a heaping tablespoon of it, add it to warmed milk or milk substitute, and leave it to rest for six to eight hours. If you have a new batch of yogurt from your experiment then you know the original yogurt you purchased contains live cultures, otherwise it probably doesn’t.
Myth 3: Yogurt is the Best Source of Probiotics: Not even close. Don’t get me wrong, unsweetened yogurt with live cultures is healthy and a great addition to any diet, but it isn’t the best source of probiotics by a long shot. There’s sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, curtido, kefir and miso to name a few—all of which tend to be higher in probiotics and contain many more strains of the good microbes than yogurt.
Myth 4: Yogurt Contains a Vast Array of Probiotic Strains: Yogurt usually contains two or three different strains of probiotics, which depend on the cultures used to inoculate the particular yogurt you’re buying. Yogurt usually contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and occasionally Streptococcus salivarius or Bifidobacteria. Don’t worry: there’s no connection between S. salivarius and the Strep bacteria that makes you sick.
Myth 5: Even People Who are Lactose-Intolerant or Allergic to Dairy Products can Eat Yogurt: Because the cultures turn the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, some people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt without digestive distress. Depending on the amount of lactose present in the end product (which is usually a product of the fermentation time and the activity of the particular cultures used), a person with a lactose-intolerance may not be able to eat dairy-based yogurt. Additionally, anyone with a full-blown allergy to dairy products will still have an immune response to dairy yogurt and needs to avoid it altogether. Having said that, there are many excellent non-dairy alternatives that still confer the health benefits of eating yogurt.
Myth 6: The “I-eat-yogurt-so-I-get-all-the-probiotics-I-need” Myth: I regularly hear this myth from people who consider themselves knowledgeable about health and wellness. They (incorrectly) believe that yogurt is a cure-all for what ails them and can correct any imbalances in their intestines. Because most yogurt only contains two or three strains of probiotics (out of the 1000 or so currently known probiotics possible in our food) you’re only going to reap the health benefits of taking these strains. However, there are many benefits from the few different strains found in yogurt, including: easing traveler’s diarrhea, boosting nutrient absorption, and treating H. pylori infections or food poisoning. H. pylori infections have been linked to ulcers, gastritis, and other health conditions.
Myth 7: Dairy-Based Yogurts are Nutritionally Superior to Non-Dairy-Based Yogurts: While the amount of research assessing non-dairy yogurts is still relatively small in comparison to dairy-yogurt, there are some good studies showing the health benefits of the dairy-free versions. Non-dairy yogurt has been linked to reducing cholesterol levels and heart-disease markers, and even demonstrated anti-cancer activity.
Even when yogurt is portrayed in an accurate way, without embellishment of its healing properties, this delicious food still warrants superfood status.