Yogurt: Are the Health Benefits Overstated?
Americans have drastically increased their yogurt consumption in the past decade, and many clients do not really care for yogurt, but they “force” themselves to eat it. Why? Although no conclusive studies have proven that yogurt helps to control gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms or immunity, many people believe that it does.
Greek yogurt is strained, so it is thicker and higher in protein than other forms of yogurt. In fact, it contains about twice as much protein. Many brands of fruit-flavored yogurt contain around 3 grams (g) of protein for a 6-ounces (oz) serving, while 6 oz of Greek yogurt contains about 15 g and an 8-oz glass of milk contains 8 g. Unfortunately, Greek yogurt does not match other forms in one area—calcium. Greek yogurt actually contains less calcium than ordinary yogurt.
Dessert or dairy
Many of the yogurts crowding the shelves today are too high in sugar and/or saturated fat, leading many dietitians to refer to them as “dessert packaged as a health food.” The average cup of yogurt (6 oz) contains 4 teaspoons of sugar. This equates to 60 calories from sugar. The new dietary guidelines state that men should eat no more than 150 calories and women no more than 100 calories from added sugar each day. Popular yogurts now are featuring crunchy toppings (stir-ins), which sometimes leave little room in the container for any actual yogurt.
Special digestive-health products
The US Federal Trade Commission has banned Activia® from using advertising that states that it is able to relieve temporary irregularity or help with slow transit time unless the advertisement also notifies consumers that they would need to eat three servings each day to garner these benefits. However, no other yogurt can even make that statement, because no studies have proven that any amount of the other yogurts is beneficial.
The fiber added to some yogurts to make them seem healthy for the GI system actually is isolated fiber, such as inulin, which is not proven to help with regularity like the fiber does in whole grains, fruits, or vegetables. For the record, it also is not proven that these fibers are helpful for blood cholesterol reduction or blood glucose control, as natural fibers are. The claims of “improving digestive health” or “good for digestive health” are unregulated, with no standard or definition of what this means.
Probiotics are linked to many good health outcomes, including:
- Regulating immune function
- Shortening the duration of diarrhea during times of infection
- Improving tolerance of antibiotics
- Reducing incidence and improving therapeutic outcomes for some allergic diseases
- Improving outcome for bacterial vaginosis
- Improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Decreasing dental cavities
- Reducing the symptoms and incidence of respiratory infections
- Reducing the Clostridium difficile toxin in people taking antibiotics
However, different strains of probiotics definitely have different health effects. Each one seems to confer its own unique set of benefits.
As Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, pointed out in an article entitled Probiotics and Prebiotics in Dietetics Practice, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, “Live active cultures are not the same as probiotics. Live active cultures may or may not have any probiotic effect…Some probiotic products don’t show data on what they are selling consumers on. Some probiotic products don’t have data supporting their label claims. Some products don’t specify the strains found in the product…”
The most common probiotics in American products are strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. No health claim for probiotics is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and a legal definition of the term does not exist. This means that some products labeled as probiotic do not have clinically validated strains or levels. Probiotics are sensitive to heat, moisture, oxygen, and acid. They usually are destroyed in cooking, microwaving, or slow freezing. Frozen yogurt, for instance, is unlikely to contain probiotics.
The label of a probiotic should include the:
- Colony-forming units (CFUs)
- Expiration date
- Suggested serving size
- Proper storage
- Company contact information
- Health benefits
References and recommended readings
Center for Science in the Public Interest. Culture class: what’s up in the yogurt aisle. Nutrition Action Healthletter. 2011:38:13-15.
Douglas LC, Sanders ME. Probiotics and prebiotics in dietetics practice. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:510-521.
Harley J, Liebman B, Schardt D. Yogurt: super food or super swindle? Nutrition Action Newsletter [serial online]. July/August 2008;13-16.
Available at: http://www.cspinet.org/nah/08_08/yogurt.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2011.
Palmer S. Happy entrails—a close look at digestive health claims.
Available at: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/tdmay2008pg28.shtml. Today’s Dietitian [serial online]. 2008;10:28.
Accessed June 16, 2011.
Palmer S. Probiotics’ potential—research suggests beneficial bacteria may support immune health. Today’s Dietitian [serial online].
Available at: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011211p20.shtml.
Accessed June 16, 2011.
Review Date 7/11