You’ll have no doubt heard the phrase “friendly bacteria”, but what exactly is it?
Live yoghurt isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, yet more recently supermarket shelves have seen more “live” yoghurts than before.
So how do they work? What are the benefits of eating live yoghurt and what does it do in your body?
In this article, we’ll be look investigating live yoghurts and probiotics so you can add a little bit of culture to your life.
What is live yoghurt?
Live yoghurt is a type of yoghurt that has been fermented with live cultures, or ‘friendly’ bacteria which may help your digestive system and may contribute to the balance of natural bacteria in your body.1
Typically, live yoghurts will contain species of bacteria from the lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family of bacteria.
According to the National Yoghurt Association, this process converts pasteurised milk to yoghurt during the fermentation process.2
There are a number of ways to add probiotics to yoghurt to produce live yoghurt.
One way is to use some premade live yoghurt, which is known as a ‘starter’, other ways include using dry bacteria or probiotic powder.3
Traditionally, a live yoghurt starter uses a well-balanced blend of bacteria that consumes sugars that naturally occur in milk – this bacterium turns lactose that is present in milk to lactic acid, which in turn changes the taste and texture.
This gives your starter a thicker, creamier and more tangy taste.
What are probiotics?
According to the NHS, probiotics are live bacteria that are often described as “good” or “friendly” bacteria which are promoted as having various health benefits.
It is thought that probiotics may help you restore the natural balance of bacteria in your stomach and intestines when they’ve been upset by illness or after treatment.
There is some evidence that suggests that probiotics can be helpful for diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome, however, there is little evidence to support all of their health claims.4
With that said, for most people probiotics are mostly safe.
So, if you want to try them and you have a good immune system, fire away.5
If you have any concerns, speak to your GP or a health professional before having probiotics or probiotic supplements.
What does live yoghurt do in your body?
Whether or not a yoghurt is a healthy choice completely depends on the type of yoghurt.
The market is full of choices and some yoghurts are high in protein, calcium, a variety of vitamins and live culture, or probiotics which are thought to support your improved gut health6.
Calcium can contribute to the maintenance of normal bones and teeth when used as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Probiotics are said to be great for promoting gut health and according to Harvard School of Public Health in the US, lowering the risk of conditions such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis7
The probiotics that are found in live yoghurt are made up of yeasts and bacteria that are considered good for your digestive system.
This is why regularly including live yoghurt in your diet may be a great way of keeping your gut healthy.
However, you should always check the type of probiotics and look at sugar quantities before purchase, as some yoghurts may contain high amounts of sugar and sweetener which can have an adverse effect.
What are the 5 health benefits of live yoghurt?
Read on for the top 5 health benefits of live yoghurt.
Live yoghurt is high in nutrients
Yoghurt contains nearly every nutrient that your body needs.
As pointed out earlier, live yoghurt contains high amounts of calcium which helps your teeth and bones.8
It is also high in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and riboflavin.
Studies show that both of these vitamins may protect against heart disease and certain neural tube birth defects.9,10
You can also find other essential vitamins such as magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.
Both of which are all vital for a numb er of processes within your body, such as regulating your blood pressure, supporting your immune system and improving bone health.11,12
One nutrient yoghurt doesn’t contain naturally is vitamin D, however, it is commonly added to many branded yoghurts.
This is because vitamin D helps promote bone and immune system health, and there is also evidence to suggest that it may also reduce the risk of heart disease.13,14
High in protein
Scientific studies show that protein helps support your metabolism by increasing the way you use energy and the way you burn calories throughout the day.15
Studies indicate that protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient, which means that your body has to generate enough heat to digest it.
This results in a slightly higher amount of burned energy.
Keeping on top of your protein intake also helps keep your appetite in order, as it is thought that protein can increase the production of hormones that indicate how full you feel.
This may be beneficial for weight control as it may reduce the number of calories consumed.16,17,18
In one 2014 study, participants who snacked on yoghurt were found to be less hungry and ate on average 100 fewer calories – when compared to those who ate snacks that were lower in protein with the same number of calories.19
May help with digestion
Live yoghurt contains live bacteria or probiotics that have either been part of a starter culture or added after the yoghurt has been pasteurised.
These are thought to help with your digestion.20
Probiotics such Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus which are found in yoghurt have been shown to help the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).21,22
One particular study looked at participants which regularly consumed yoghurt that contained bifidobacterial.
After three weeks, it was reported that results showed improvements in bloating and stool frequency. 23
Another study found that yoghurt that included Bifidobacteria saw improvements in symptoms connected to digestion. 24
There is also consideration from several studies that have illustrated that probiotics may protect against diarrhoea and constipation that are associated with antibiotics.25,26
You should ensure that your yoghurt contains, live, active cultures as many pasteurised yoghurts have been lost in the heating process and are therefore less beneficial.
So, make sure you look on the label for live yoghurt.
It May help your immune system
Yoghurt that contains probiotics may help support strengthen your immune system.
Studies show that live yoghurt that contains probiotics may reduce inflammation, which is linked to many health conditions such as viral infection and gut disorders.26,27
Research has also found that in some instances, probiotics may also help reduce the symptoms and the severity of the common cold. 28
This also includes the earlier mentioned vitamins and minerals that are found in yoghurt which are also thought to help support improve your immune system.
May promote weight management
Yoghurts have several properties which may help with weight management.
As mentioned, it’s high in protein which works along with calcium to help increase the level of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY and GLP-1.29
There has also been a number of studies that have found that consuming yoghurt is associated with lower body weight, lower body fat percentage and waist size.30
Other studies show that eating yoghurt may help you have a better overall diet.
When compared to those who do not eat live yoghurt.
This is partly down to its higher nutrient content and low-calorie content.31,32
Do all yoghurts contain probiotics?
No, not at all yoghurts contain probiotics.
Although a majority of the yoghurts sold in the UK will have probiotics in them and will still be considered ‘live’ because of their probiotic content.33
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they contain the right bacteria.
What ingredients should you look out for?
If you look for “live yoghurts” or “active cultures” on the labelling, then you can’t go really go too wrong when picking your yoghurt off the shelves.
If you’re looking on the ingredients table, you should see “lactobacillus” or “Bifidobacterium” listed. Both ingredients would be considered “friendly” bacteria.34
You should also be sure to check the protein and sugar content before digging in.
Lactose intolerance happens when your body lacks lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose – the sugar found in milk.
An intolerance to lactose may lead to digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhoea after milk consumption.
For this reason, those who are lactose intolerant may need to avoid eating live yoghurt.
That said, much of the lactose contained in milk is broken down in the production of yoghurt so it may be that those with lactose intolerance may be able to stand it depending on the severity.
It is also considered that the probiotics in live yoghurt may help with digestion.35
If you are lactose intolerant, it may be a case of trial and error to find out what works for you personally.
If you have any concerns, then you should discuss them with your GP or a health professional.
Milk and its product contain proteins such as casein and whey, which some find they have an allergy to.
In these cases, milk can trigger reactions that range from hives and swelling to more serious anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening in severe cases.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid yoghurt if you have a milk allergy.
Many types or brands of yoghurt may contain high sugar content, particularly those that are low in fat.
Having sugar in excess may be associated with several health problems, including diabetes and obesity.36,37,38
To avoid this, make sure you read the food labels and look at the sugar content before purchasing.
You also asked...
Some people should be cautious with their yoghurt intake, as in certain circumstances it may cause adverse effects, particularly for those who are lactose intolerant or those who have a milk allergy.
It’s perhaps best to have a look for yourself as there are many options available as an alternative to dairy yoghurts.
There are live yoghurts available in vegan options with bases such as oat and coconut milk, but these will vary by the supermarket.
You will find that a majority if not all UK supermarkets have an array of live yoghurts and vegan or vegetarian alternatives available which all have the same benefits.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 6 December 2021