| FamilyTable Feature |

Yogurt Culture, Defined

How the darling of the dairy department can improve your life, one probiotic at a time.

Okay, folks, are you ready? I’m going to give you a lesson in gut health, a cool hack for polishing brass, and a cheap way to nourish dry hair. I’ll also advise you on the best way to replenish good bacteria after taking antibiotics, improve overall immunity, and enjoy a high-protein, nutritious snack. And it’s just one word: yogurt.

Most of you are aware that yogurt contains health benefits, but the details are somewhat vague — Greek is great, Skyr even better; YoCrunch types with loads of extra junk, not so great (but if it gets my kids to eat yogurt, a few crushed Oreos mixed in won’t hurt them). Out of curiosity, and because I experience a good dose of stomach ailments like everyone else I know, I dug a little deeper into the details on yogurt and discovered a few fascinating facts that are worth sharing.

Yogurt was likely invented thousands of years ago in Africa and the Middle East, when cows and goats were domesticated for milk. With no refrigeration, and in the warm desert climate, foods were often fermented as a form of preservation, and in trying to ferment milk, yogurt was born.

Many centuries later, Dr. Ilya Mechnikov, the first Nobel prize winner (in 1908) and a successor to Louis Pasteur at the Pasteur Institute, suggested a daily dose of “soured milk” to boost colon health. Further research was done throughout the 20th century, and beginning in the late 90s, scientists were able to fully research probiotics using new DNA sequencing technology. What followed was a massive surge of consumer interest in yogurt with live cultures, touting probiotic and other health benefits. And before we knew what hit us, the yogurt options had expanded and taken over most of the dairy department, becoming one of the largest selections in grocery items.

The yogurt craze mellowed slightly over the next decade, but in recent years, yogurt has been trending once again, with updates to the manufacturing process that give consumers the best possible health benefits. One example is Norman’s Greek Pro+, the first dairy (and chalav Yisrael) yogurt of its kind. Other yogurts’ probiotic content diminishes drastically during storage, but the pro+ has an added patented probiotic strain that stays dormant in the container. It only becomes active after swallowing, so your gut receives the full benefit of the entire probiotic load that’s in the yogurt.

Other popular yogurts include Skyr, an Icelandic version that doesn’t have the sour taste of traditional yogurt, and dairy-free versions, which use nut, soy, or hemp milk to achieve a creamy consistency.

Much like sourdough bread and other fermented foods, yogurt contains beneficial nutrients that can improve gut health and boost your immune system. Particularly after taking antibiotics, many health experts suggest taking probiotics to replace the good bacteria that may have been destroyed along with the infection. Probiotics are also a great option for those who don’t like the taste of fermented foods and want to improve their digestive health.

So what exactly are probiotics, and how are they different from prebiotics? Prebiotics are plant fibers (found in nutritious, fibrous foods) that aren’t digested by the body. They act as food for the good bacteria and other microbes in your gut, helping them to grow abundantly and do their job of processing food and keeping your body clean and healthy.

Probiotics, on the other hand, contain live organisms and are directly added to the store of microbes that reside inside your gut. You can strengthen your “supply” of probiotics by eating fermented foods such as yogurt or by taking probiotic supplements. But remember this: with both yogurt and probiotic supplements, not all are created equal, and to achieve the best results, it’s worth your while to do some research on various products and ingredients. One health expert I spoke to suggested sticking with refrigerated probiotics for higher efficacy, since warmth and moisture can kill the active cultures in the pills. And with yogurt, I suggest biting the bullet and eating plain yogurt, mixing in chopped dates, a squirt of raw honey, or other natural sweeteners to make it more palatable.

If you’ve only got time to grab and go, however, choose yogurts that are the lowest in sugar and milk fat to give yourself the best health benefits. Greek yogurt is one of the healthiest types of yogurt, as it’s made by straining out the whey, resulting in a thicker yogurt with reduced lactose and twice the protein. The higher acidity in Greek yogurt also helps your body absorb nutrients, so it’s a real winner. Suggested serving size is one cup a day, giving you about 12–17 grams of protein, depending on the type of yogurt.

But as with all things in life, balance is key — and sometimes when I crave something sweet, one of those fancy yogurts with the crunchy add-ins does the trick. Compared to an oversized muffin or cookie, it’s a much healthier choice. Compared to an apple, not so much — but hey, we can’t be perfect.

Pre- and Probiotic Cheat Sheet


Examples of prebiotic foods:

Onions, leeks, garlic, barley, oats, bananas, apples, cocoa, fl ax, and seaweed

Examples of probiotic foods:

Tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, kefi r, and some fermented cheeses

Non-food uses for yogurt:

  • For extra shine in your hair, rub plain, live-culture yogurt into your hair while showering, let it sit for three minutes, and then rinse.
  • Smear all over tarnished brass (not silver!) and allow it to seep in for several hours to break down tarnish. Wipe with a soft towel, and rinse to remove all residue.
  • Get relief from sunburns, acne, or psoriasis — simply smooth onto affected skin, leave on for 20 to 30 minutes, and then rinse well.

Culinary uses for yogurt:

  • Make a powerhouse morning smoothie by mixing Greek yogurt, avocado, and fresh berries.
  • Sub yogurt for sour cream in baked goods.
  • Replace half the oil with three-quarters of the measurement of yogurt to reduce fat and add extra protein (1 cup oil would be replaced with ½ cup oil and ¾ cup yogurt).
  • Add a few tablespoons to scrambled eggs as you’re cooking to soften them.
  • Sub yogurt for mayo in dressings and sauces.
  • Use as an egg replacement in baking: ¼ cup yogurt for 1 egg.

Much like sourdough bread and other fermented foods, yogurt contains beneficial nutrients that can improve gut health and boost your immune system

The higher acidity in Greek yogurt also helps your body absorb nutrients, so it’s a real winner

Click below for Avocado-Blueberry Smoothie recipe

Click below for Banana Yogurt Muffins recipe

(Originally Featured in Family Table, Issue 674)

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