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Misc. News : Consumer Affair Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Making Sense of Yogurt Choices
Aug 2, 2008 - 2:59:26 PM

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AICR Ever Green Ever Healthy

July 2008
Topic: Food

Making Sense of Yogurt Choices
from the American Institute for Cancer Research                      

            As you approach the yogurt section at your local grocery store, it’s not unusual to see dazed shoppers staring in confusion at shelves filled with seemingly endless options. Today’s shoppers can choose plain or flavored yogurt; varieties made with whole milk, low fat or nonfat milk; varieties made with soymilk; brands sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners; products with added probiotics, prebiotics, omega-3 fat, sterols and extra vitamins. How do you make sense of it all? Here’s a quick tutorial:

Probiotics. All yogurts provide probiotics, live microorganisms (bacteria) that confer a wide range of potential health benefits. Research tentatively supports using probiotics to help resolve diarrhea and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, as well as to enhance immune system functions and reduce susceptibility to infections. But not all types of probiotic bacteria offer identical benefits.  In the U.S., the starter bacteria for yogurt cultures (L bulgaricus and S thermophilus) have been shown to help with lactose intolerance, but research does not provide convincing evidence of the other proposed benefits.

            Prebiotics. Several yogurt manufacturers now go a step further by adding prebiotics to their products.  Prebiotics are carbohydrates that feed probiotic bacteria, supporting their growth or activity. Some types of dietary fiber are classified as prebiotics, but it’s not as simple as just looking for fiber on the Nutrition Facts panel. Prebiotics added to yogurt include inulin (made from chicory or table sugar), soy oligosaccharides and some types of maltodextrins and modified food starch. And don’t assume that prebiotics are listed on all labels; some yogurts contain one or more prebiotics without identifying the ingredient to the consumer. Other yogurts correctly note that they contain prebiotics, but each serving may contain only a quarter to a half of the amount that research identifies as effective.

            Omega-3s and plant sterols. Omega-3 fats and sterols that promote heart health are now added to some yogurts. Omega-3 fat, which has received much attention for its purported role in reducing heart disease, is naturally abundant in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. While yogurts fortified with omega-3s may convey some benefit, they often contain less than 10 percent of the amount found in a standard serving of salmon. Alternatively, many yogurts contain the plant form of omega-3s (the type of essential fatty acid supplied by flax), which does not seem nearly as potent as the compound found in seafood.

Added sterols, which are naturally found in plant cell membranes and have been shown to lower blood cholesterol, are also associated with lower risk of heart disease. While eating yogurt that contains the amount of sterols recommended to help lower blood cholesterol (0.8 grams/day) will help those with elevated cholesterol, sterols don’t benefit people with normal cholesterol values.

Vitamins and minerals. All yogurt varieties provide protein and calcium. Those labeled “live active cultures” provide a good supply of these nutrients in a form that even most lactose-intolerant people can handle.  Choosing a product with vitamin D is a good move, as yogurt is not necessarily fortified with the vitamin, which is so important to bones and overall health.  Be sure to avoid full-fat yogurt varieties, which provide just as much saturated fat as a similar serving of whole milk.

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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