Many types of yogurt are part of cuisines throughout the world. At WHFoods, we focus on yogurt that is made from the milk of grass-fed dairy cows. However, if you are interested in other types of yogurts, for example, non-dairy yogurts made from soy or coconut milk, you may want to go directly to our Description section for yogurt. This section also includes information about Greek style yogurt. If you are particularly interested in yogurt as a probiotic food, you may want to go directly to our Health Benefits section.
Grass-fed yogurt is a relatively new food in the U.S. marketplace, and grass feeding is a practice not yet familiar to all consumers. By definition, 100% grass-fed yogurt comes from cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet for much of their life. Grass feeding improves the quality of yogurt and makes the yogurt richer in omega-3 fats and CLA, a beneficial fatty acid named conjugated linoleic acid. (For more detailed information about grass feeding, please click here.) Just how important is grass feeding for yogurt quality? As you will see in the chart below, we have included grass-feeding as one of our top-level recommendations for anyone who plans to include yogurt in their meal plan:
|Shopping for Yogurt|
|Stick with organic||Organic standards help lower risk of contaminated feed and organic yogurt usually has higher nutrient quality. However, remember that organic by itself does not guarantee a natural lifestyle for the dairy cows.|
|Ask for 100% grass-fed||Go beyond organic by asking for 100% grass-fed. Don't get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms like natural" or "pasture-raised." Labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if dairy cows spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting. Unfortunately, even the term "grass-fed" is not sufficient since grass-fed dairy cows may have spent a relatively small amount of time grass feeding. The standard to look for on the label is "100% grass-fed." Talk to your grocer or the dairy cow farmer and find out how the animals were actually raised. In addition, if you would like more information about the practice of grass-feeding, please click here.|
|Consider local farms||Organic, 100% grass-fed cheese may be available from local farms with small flocks, which provide a natural lifestyle for their dairy cows. Two websites that can help you find small local farms in your area are www.localharvest.org and www.eatwild.com. Both sites are searchable by zip code.|
One final note about grass-fed yogurt: while this food is becoming more and more popular in the marketplace and is being carried by numerous whole food groceries across the country, small local dairies that are pasture-focused can be a very good source for grass-fed yogurt. One website that can help you find local grass-fed dairies in your area is www.eatwild.com. On this website, you can find a map of the United States which allows you to click on your state and find local dairies that are pasture-focused and engage in yogurt production.
"Probiotic" is a term used to describe foods and supplements that contain living micro-organisms. Bacteria are by far the most common type of micro-organism found in probiotics, but there are some probiotic supplements in the marketplace that are yeast-based.
While most commercially sold yogurts contain some living bacteria and might very loosely be referred to as "probiotic" for this reason, it's definitely incorrect to think about all yogurts as being equivalent in terms of their probiotic benefits. For example, some yogurts in the marketplace may contain less than 1,000 bacteria per gram. While that number might sound large, it's actually quite small when you are talking about bacteria. While there are no required industry standards for labeling a yogurt as "probiotic," a commonly adopted voluntary standard in the industry is at least 1,000,000 living bacteria per gram of yogurt.
Since measurement of living versus dead bacteria in a yogurt can be complicated, most companies also report the live bacteria content of their yogurt in terms of "cfu" or "colony forming units. CFUs are best thought of as viable bacterial cells that capable of multiplying and forming larger colonies of bacteria. It's also worth noting here that in scientific notation, the number one million (1,000,000) is typically written as 106. So you might see a phrase like "106 CFUs" on package information about yogurt. This phrase tells you that the yogurt contained at least 1,000,000 viable bacterial cells at the time when it was manufactured. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) has adopted this 106 CFU standard for any fresh yogurt displaying its "Live and Active Cultures" (LAC) seal.
Since the NYA program is voluntary, many yogurt manufacturers choose to provide direct information about live bacterial cultures on product labels instead of displaying an LAC seal. (Of course, some manufacturers do both.) For this reason, it's common to see phrases like "live probiotic cultures," "live cultures," "active cultures," or "probiotic cultures" on yogurt packaging. In research studies on yogurt, we've seen yogurts that contain as many as 109 CFUs per gram, which means one billion viable bacterial cells per gram of yogurt.
The specific types of bacteria found in yogurt vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, some species are used much more commonly than others. Starter cultures used to begin the yogurt fermentation process rely on lactic acid bacteria like Lactobacillus and Streptococcus to convert lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. (The increased acidity helps proteins in the milk coagulate and bring more thickness to the yogurt.) Later on in the yogurt production process, additional bacteria may be added; one common type used at this stage of production is Bifidobacterium.
Most of the research on live culture yogurts shows the ability of live bacteria in yogurt to become metabolically active in our digestive tract and to support digestion and absorption of nutrients. Consumption of probiotic yogurts has also been shown to help steady the passage of food through our digestive tract and to lessen the risk of certain digestive problems (such as diarrhea). Studies have also shown the ability of yogurt bacteria to convert food sugars found inside our digestive tract into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs can then be used as an energy source for cells that line our large intestine, providing better function in that part of our digestive tract.
Even before the yogurt is consumed, live cultures may set the stage for health benefits by transforming the nutrient content of the yogurt itself. For example, while you're likely to get 5-6 grams of lactose (milk sugar) in one half cup of grass-fed cow's milk, one half cup of grass-fed yogurt is likely to provide you with only 3-4 grams due to the breakdown of lactose by live bacteria in the yogurt.
If digestive benefits are among your top reasons for considering inclusion of yogurt in your meal plan, we recommend selection of yogurts clearly labeled to have one million or more active bacterial cultures (CFUs). However, we also believe that grass-fed, cow's milk yogurt can provide you with important health benefits even if the amount of active bacteria in the yogurt is much smaller.
The combination of strong protein content with live bacterial cultures makes yogurt a food with blood sugar benefits, even though it is a food lacking in fiber. (Most diets focused on better blood sugar balance emphasize the importance of high-fiber foods that help regulate the pace of digestion and prevent too quick digestion and release of food sugars.) Protein is an ideal nutrient for blood sugar support because it digests at a moderate rate and is associated with better regulation of appetite. As a good source of protein, yogurt makes sense as a food that would provide blood sugar benefits. While the lack of fiber might be expected to be a drawback for yogurt in its potential for supporting blood sugar, this lack of fiber appears to be offset by the presence of live bacteria in yogurt. These live bacteria—especially in probiotic yogurts containing at least millions (106) of live bacteria per gram—have the ability to take food sugars found inside our digestive tract (not only sugars directly contained in the yogurt but any sugars that are present in the digestive tract) and convert them into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs can then be used as an energy source for cells that line our large intestine, providing better function in that part of our digestive tract. At the same time, these sugars become unavailable for absorption and cannot trigger any unwanted spike in our blood sugar.
It's important to recognize the diverse range of nutrients provided by grass-fed yogurt. With the exception of dietary fiber, virtually all key nutrient groups are represented in the nutritional profile of grass-fed yogurt. We're talking about all B-vitamins, most key minerals, proteins with the vast majority of amino acids in good supply, high-quality fats like omega-3s and CLA, and also phytonutrients like sphingosine and sphinganine. In addition to this nutrient diversity, yogurts with a sufficient number of live bacterial cultures ("probiotic" yogurts) can provide us with an even greater nutritional diversity because their bacteria can continue to metabolize food and transform nutrients after the yogurt has been consumed. It's worth remembering that yogurt is similar to all traditionally fermented foods in this respect: it belongs to a group of foods that are especially diverse in nutrient content.
We've seen preliminary studies connecting yogurt intake with decreased appetite (which does not surprise us, given the protein-rich nature of this food), better immune system function, and better bone support. In one small-scale study with HIV-positive women, 4 ounces of live culture yogurt per day over a month's period of time was able to decrease digestive and vaginal problems. In several studies on dairy products and bone health, fermented dairy products like yogurt have been shown to decrease bone risk.
Studies on yogurt intake and cancer risk have been mixed. There has been a good bit of speculation about the presence of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1 and IGF-2) in cow's milk and the role it might play in increased cancer risk, but we have nevertheless seen studies showing protective effects for certain cancers from intake of yogurt. We have also seen a study showing decreased risk of bladder cancer in association with yogurt intake of 2 or more servings per day (the serving size was not specified), even though this same study showed no protective effect from either cheese or overall dairy intake.
With respect to these other broad areas of potential health benefit, we suspect that the impact of yogurt on the digestive tract may play a key role. Digestion can be a highly individual process, and individuals who do well on yogurt and find it to be a food that improves their digestive tract health may be the same individuals who derive other important health benefits as well. But we also look forward to additional research in these other areas of potential health benefit.
Yogurt can be made from either animal or plant foods. Animal-based yogurts are often referred to as "dairy" yogurts and plant-based yogurts as "non-dairy" yogurts. Dairy yogurts can be made from virtually any type of milk including cow's milk, sheep's milk, and goat's milk. Soy milk and coconut milk yogurts are non-dairy products that have also become popular. As a general rule, non-dairy yogurts are less concentrated in protein than dairy yogurts but contain more fiber. Live bacterial cultures can be present in equivalent amounts in both dairy and non-dairy yogurts, depending on the fermentation and production process used by the manufacturer. In the case of soy milk, it's worth noting here that not all manufacturers use traditional fermentation processes or produce soy yogurts containing live bacterial cultures. For example, some soy yogurts are made by blending tofu with other ingredients, yet never subjecting the mixture to a bacterial fermentation process.
While we profile grass-fed yogurt from cow's milk on our website, we recognize that some people may prefer non-dairy yogurts and we believe that these types of yogurts can also provide health benefits. If you decide to include soy milk yogurt, coconut milk yogurt, or other non-dairy yogurts in your meal plan, we believe that your best health benefits are most likely to come from products that have been fermented and that contain live bacterial cultures.
Approximately 4 billion pounds of yogurt are manufactured in the U.S. each year, and about 35% is now produced and consumed in the form of Greek style yogurt. Greek style yogurt is essentially strained yogurt. When made according to traditional methods, Greek style yogurt begins with traditional fermentation of yogurt and after the fermentation process is completed, the yogurt is strained using filters and sometimes spinning to remove a significant portion of the watery whey. The result is a thicker and creamier yogurt.
Unlike the name suggests, Greek style yogurt is not a food that originated specifically in Greece. It was originally enjoyed throughout the Middle East and is sometimes referred to in Arabic as laban or labneh. Although Greek style yogurt in the U.S. is almost always purchased in fresh liquid, many Middle Eastern countries also have a tradition of drying strained yogurt so that it can be more easily stored and transported. Sheep milk, goat milk, and camel milk are common sources for strained yogurt in the Middle East.
Most U.S. groceries offer Greek style yogurt in whole, low-fat, and non-fat versions. Non-fat Greek style yogurt is unique in its ability to provide more concentrated protein than any other type of yogurt. It's not unusual to get 12-13 grams of protein in just 4 ounces of non-fat Greek style yogurt. By comparison, 4 ounces of whole milk Greek style yogurt is likely to provide you with about 7-8 grams of protein in 4 ounces, while 4 ounces of non-Greek style, whole milk yogurt offers about 6-7 grams. While all of these yogurts provide you with a valuable amount of protein, non-fat Greek style yogurt is recommended if your primary goal is to maximize the protein content of your yogurt.
One final note about Greek style yogurt: not all of it is made according to traditional fermentation and straining techniques. Due to the rapid growth in popularity of this yogurt type, some manufacturers are working to meet the marketplace need by taking tapioca or other thickeners and adding them to non-strained yogurt, together with supplemental protein in order to match the amount in traditionally strained Greek style yogurt. While these "no-strain" Greek style yogurts may match traditional Greek style yogurts in texture and protein content, we consider them to be a further step away from whole, natural food and recommend traditionally fermented and strained products when choosing Greek yogurt.
The simplest of yogurt-making processes involve nothing more than milk, heat, and what is called a "starter culture." Starter cultures typically contain lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and often specifically include Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles. After the milk is heated to a temperature of approximately 180°F and then allowed to cool to approximately 110°F, the starter culture is added and the mixture is kept for another 3-5 hours at the same constant low temperature (110°F). This initial 3-5 hour period of time is referred to as "incubation." At the end of the incubation period, the yogurt is refrigerated and then ready for eating.
The basics of yogurt making are simple enough for you to accomplish at home. Thanks to the National Center for Home Food Preservation—a website put together by researchers and educators at university extension services throughout the U.S. together with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—we have posted easy-to-follow homemade yogurt information on our website. We have posted that that information here. You can also visit the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu/.
Yogurt making appears to have originated in the Middle East and Central Asia, even though researchers have been unable to pin down the exact time frame for this development. Camels, sheep, goats, and other animals were the primary sources of milk for yogurt since cows had yet to be domesticated. (In North America, buffalo and bison milk are two further examples of animal milks used to make yogurt prior to the domestication of cows.) Many cultures also developed techniques for drying their liquid yogurt so that it had a longer shelf life and could be more easily stored and transported. It became very common for certain nomadic cultures to rely on dried yogurt as part of their staple food.
Today, cow's milk has become the primary source for commercially produced yogurt, and this food is enjoyed in fresh liquid form worldwide. Yogurt consumption in the U.S. is about 4 times greater than it was in the 1980's, and averages about 11-12 pounds per person per year. (This amount is much smaller than would be found in other parts of the world. For example, in Europe, yogurt consumption averages closer to 65-70 pounds per person). Nearly 4 billion pounds of yogurt are manufactured annually in the U.S. each year, and due to the increasing popularity of Greek-style yogurt, nearly 1.5 billion pounds are manufactured in that form.
As sources of grass-fed yogurt, small local dairies have become increasingly popular across the U.S. One website that can help you find local grass-fed dairies in your area is www.eatwild.com. On this website, you can find a map of the United States that allows you to click on your state and find local dairies that are pasture-focused and engage in yogurt production.
In addition to Shopping For Yogurt chart presented at the beginning of this profile, we'd like to give you some additional suggestions about yogurt selection. First, it is not necessary to purchase a non-pasteurized, raw milk yogurt if you want to obtain live bacterial cultures. Most manufacturers add live cultures to their yogurt after the milk has been pasteurized. Second, it is also not necessary to select a Greek style yogurt in order to get full health benefits. As we have indicated in our Shopping For Yogurt chart, grass feeding and organic certification are the key factors here. However, if Greek style yogurt is your favorite, we encourage you to enjoy it without reservation! Just look for organic, grass-fed Greek style yogurt either in a whole foods grocery or at a local pasture-based dairy farm.
Check the expiration date on the side of the yogurt container to make sure that it is still fresh. Shelf life is especially important for fresh, live culture yogurt if you want to enjoy optimal health benefits, so it's definitely worthwhile to respect the expiration dates. Avoid yogurts that have artificial colors, flavorings, or sweeteners. Additionally, while fruit-filled yogurt can be a delicious treat, be aware that oftentimes these yogurt products contain excess sugar. We recommend the purchase of plain yogurts for this reason, with the addition of fresh fruits or other foods to the yogurt at home as desired.
Store yogurt in the refrigerator in its original container. To get the full health benefits from your yogurt—including the live culture benefits—observe the yogurt's expiration date and discard or compost if it has expired.
It's also worth remembering that yogurt making is not a difficult process and simple enough for you to accomplish at home. Thanks to the National Center for Home Food Preservation—a website put together by researchers and educators at university extension services throughout the U.S. together with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—we have posted easy-to-follow homemade yogurt information on our website. You can go directly to that information by clicking here. You can also visit the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at http://nchfp.uga.edu/.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Nationally marketed yogurts are typically made from homogenized and pasteurized milks. Even though live cultures are typically added to yogurt after the pasteurization process (avoiding destruction of helpful bacteria during pasteurization), questions have still been raised by consumers and scientists about the production and processing of cow's milk that is used in manufacture of yogurt. We've created in-depth Q & As in the areas of milk homogenization and milk pasteurization.
Yogurt, grass fed, whole milk
|iodine||71.05 mcg||47||5.7||very good|
|vitamin B12||0.91 mcg||38||4.6||very good|
|phosphorus||232.75 mg||33||4.0||very good|
|calcium||296.45 mg||30||3.6||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.35 mg||27||3.2||good|
|pantothenic acid||0.95 mg||19||2.3||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%