Dairy products are certainly off the menu if you have life-threatening milk allergies, but if you don’t have a milk allergy or severe intolerance, it can be confusing whether to eat or avoid them.
Early research suggested that dairy products, including yoghurt, increased the risk of cardiovascular disease because of their saturated fat content (Baspinar and Güldaş, 2020). However, recent studies discredit those claims and show that yoghurt is a nutrient-dense food containing functional compounds that boosts health (Baspinar and Güldaş, 2020).
Depending on the variety you choose, yoghurt is also an excellent and easily accessible source of probiotics with substantial health benefits for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. This article details the health benefits of traditional and probiotic yoghurt and suggests five tasty varieties, including a vegan option to add to your diet.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live organisms, including specific bacteria and fungi strains, that boost health when consumed in adequate quantities. Bacteria that produce lactic acid after fermenting carbohydrates, especially those belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family, are mostly considered probiotics. However, some non-lactic acid-producing bacteria and yeast, including certain Saccharomyces species, are also probiotic.
The most common probiotic bacteria are listed in the table below.
|Table 1: The Bacteria Species Considered as Probiotics (Kechagia et al., 2012)|
|Lactobacillus species||Bifidobacterium species|
|L. acidophilus||B. adolescentis|
|L. casei||B. animalis|
|L. crispatus||B. bifidum|
|L. gallinarum||B. breve|
|L. gasseri||B. infantis|
|L. johnsonii||B. lactis|
|L. paracasei||B. longum|
|Other lactic acid-producing bacteria||Non-lactic acid-producing bacteria & yeast|
|Enterococcus faeciumLactococcus lactis*Streptococcus thermophilus*||Propionibacterium freudenreichiiSaccharomyces cerevisiaeSaccharomyces boulardii|
|*Bacteria used in yoghurt cultures, but little is known about their probiotic properties.|
What is yoghurt?
Traditional yoghurt is defined as milk fermented with bacteria. It is made by fermenting milk with starter cultures – Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus bacteria (Nagaoka, 2019).
Both bacteria work together synergistically to produce yoghurt; S. thermophilus replicates rapidly at the start of fermentation, producing various compounds that increase the growth of L. bulgaricus.
At the same time, L. bulgaricus breaks down milk proteins into smaller molecules and amino acids that encourage S. thermophilus to grow.
The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process causes milk to become acidic and thicken. And depending on the type of milk used and bacteria added (besides the starter cultures), various compounds are produced that give yoghurt its characteristic flavour, nutrition and health benefits (Nagaoka, 2019).
What are the health benefits of yoghurt?
Yoghurt is a rich source of protein. Besides increasing satiety, yoghurt proteins increase serotonin – a hormone that promotes healthy sleeping patterns and balances mood. Interestingly, serotonin may also prevent weight gain and regulate food intake.
Yoghurt proteins also regulate blood pressure by blocking angiotensin, a protein that narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure (Wade et al., 2021; Choi et al., 2012)
Yoghurt is a rich source of calcium, which has many remarkable benefits. It regulates body fat content, increases insulin release from the pancreas, improves glucose regulation and reduces inflammation. It also significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes (Godos et al., 2020). Interestingly, calcium is more stable and easily absorbed from yoghurt than milk because of the acidic environment. Calcium seems to preserve other nutrients and bioactive components within the yoghurt matrix, preventing them from degrading.
Although low-fat yoghurt has become popular, there are many benefits to consuming full-fat yoghurt. Full-fat yoghurt contains medium-chain fatty acids that increase metabolic rate and fat breakdown.
Besides, a study in Australia found that older adults eating full-fat yoghurt had better lipid profiles, with higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels (Liu et al., 2019). Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another nutrient found in milk fat that improves blood sugar regulation and increases fat breakdown, preventing fat gain (Baspinar & Güldaş, 2020).
Yoghurt is a rich source of Vitamin K1 and the rarer Vitamin K2. These vitamins play a role in bone health and blood sugar regulation. A 2012 study found that taking 100 mcg of vitamin K daily could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 17% (Ibarrola-Jurado et al., 2012)
Yoghurt is also a good source of iodine, particularly for people living in countries without an iodine-fortified food supply, such as the United Kingdom.
Probiotic yoghurt is distinct from regular yoghurt because it is supplemented with other live bacteria for additional health benefits, including some of the table above. It is worth noting that probiotic yoghurts are generally more effective than conventional yoghurts for improving health (Kok and Hutkins, 2018). For example, in a study of 64 individuals with type 2 diabetes, probiotic yoghurt significantly decreased fasting blood sugar and increased antioxidant status compared with conventional yoghurt (Ejtahed et al., 2012).
The health benefits of probiotic yoghurts depend on the type of live bacteria they contain. However they generally increase immunity, reduce cholesterol, improve blood sugar control, and prevent cancer and cognitive decline (Castellone et al., 2021). They also stimulate the production of mucin, a protein that lines and protects the small intestine. With a high mucin content, harmful bacteria cannot attach to the small intestine and cause disease.
It is worth noting that although conventional yoghurt containing only L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus is not considered probiotic, these bacteria do reach the small intestine and may have important health benefits (Castellone et al., 2021). In a study of 130 healthy individuals, regular consumption of conventional yoghurt was linked to lower inflammation, improved antioxidant and lipid profiles and higher levels of Akkermansia bacteria in the small intestine (Gonzalez et al., 2019). Notably, this bacterium has been associated with lower body fat and better overall health in clinical trials (Dao et al., 2016).
The best way to eat probiotic yoghurts
The best way to eat probiotic yoghurts is to consume them with prebiotics – foods containing non-digestible carbohydrates that feed probiotics and provide fermentable substances for bacteria in the colon to grow and multiply (Fernandez and Marette, 2017).
Fruit such as bananas, nectarines and raspberries contain the type of carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) that probiotics need to grow. So, by consuming probiotic yoghurts with fruit, beneficial bacteria stay ‘alive’ for longer in the small intestine, providing health benefits.
5 Tasty Probiotic Yoghurts in the UK to Add to Your Diet
There are many probiotic yoghurts available on the market in the UK. As current research shows that excessive added sugar intake may increase the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, it is wise to avoid yoghurts with added sugars (Jean and Te Morenga, 2016).
All yoghurts listed below do not contain added sugars. Please avoid heating these yoghurts to keep the bacteria alive and get the maximum benefits.
1 | Yeo Valley Natural Yoghurt
Ingredients: Organic British Milk, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Streptococcus Thermophilus.
Although not marketed as probiotic, this yoghurt contains live probiotic bacteria. It has a distinct sour flavour typical of plain yoghurts, but it is very rich and creamy. This is an excellent product to start with if you are not used to eating plain yoghurt.
The yoghurt is available to buy from all leading supermarkets in the UK, including ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. However, the price varies from £1.60 to £1.75 for a 500g tub. Yeo Valley Natural Yoghurt is currently on sale at £1.25 for Tesco Clubcard members until 24 May 2022.
|Nutritional Content of Yeo Valley Natural Yoghurt||Per 100g|
|Energy||72 kcal (298 kJ)|
of which saturates
of which sugars
|Calcium||166mg / 20% Nutrient Reference Value|
2 | Yeo Valley Organic Kefir Natural Yoghurt
This yoghurt has a slightly thinner consistency than the original, and it is also sourer with a lovely creamy texture. This yoghurt has 14 different live bacteria cultures, making it a superior product to the natural yoghurt.
Ingredients: Organic British Milk with 14 Live Cultures, including – Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies lactis, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus parascasei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactococcus lactis subspecies cremoris, Lactococcus lactis subspecies lactis biovar diacetylactis, Lactococcus lactis subspecies lactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Leuconostoc pseudomesenteroides, Streptococcus thermophilus.
The yoghurt is available to buy at all leading supermarkets, and the price ranges from £1.50 to £1.60 for a 350g tub. Yeo Valley Organic Kefir Natural Yoghurt is currently on sale for £1.00 for Tesco Clubcard members until 24 May 2022.
|Nutritional Content of Yeo Valley Natural Kefir||Per 100g|
|Energy||64 kcal (268 kJ)|
of which saturates
of which sugars
|Calcium||180mg / 22% Nutrient Reference Value|
3 | The Collective Straight Up Greek Style Live Yoghurt
An extremely thick, creamy yoghurt with a slightly tangy flavour. This one has a much higher protein content than the others mentioned, so it is a great option to boost protein intake, especially at breakfast. Once again, it is not marketed as a probiotic yoghurt despite containing beneficial bacteria.
Ingredients: Live Yoghurt (Milk), Gelling agent (Pectin) and Live cultures, including Streptococcus. thermophilus, Lactobacillus. Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus. Bulgaricus
This Greek-style yoghurt is available to buy at Sainsbury’s for £2.00 per 450g tub, and it is currently on sale for £1.30.
Please note that The Collective also offer a Natural Kefir Yoghurt with 13 Live Cultures. The product is available at Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and the price ranges from £2.00 to £2.30 for 400g
|Nutritional Content of The Collective Greek-Style Live Yoghurt||Per 100g|
|Energy||105kcal (437 kJ)|
of which saturates
of which sugars
4 | Biotiful Oat Kefir Original
This is a vegan kefir with a distinct oat flavour and medium to thin consistency. It is marketed as a drink, but it is thick enough to eat with a spoon. It contains thickeners, sunflower oil, and other extracts, unlike the dairy options. It is fortified with vitamin D, but it is a poor source of protein with a high carbohydrate content.
Ingredients: Oat Base (Gluten-Free Oats (11%), Sunflower Oil, Salt, Water, Coconut Cream, Stabilisers (Tapioca Starch, Pectin), Rice Flour, Fruit Extracts (Apple, Carob, Grape), Natural Flavouring, Lemon Concentrate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2, Calcium Phosphate, Live Vegan Kefir Cultures, Includes: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus.
This original flavour is available to buy at Sainsbury’s. It costs £1.85 for a 250ml bottle.
|Nutritional Content of Biotiful Oat Kefir Original||Per Serving (250ml)|
|Energy||155kcal (645 kJ)|
of which saturates
of which sugars
|Calcium||120 (15% NRV)|
|Vitamin D2||0.75 mcg (15% NRV)|
|Vitamin B12||0.38 (15%)|
5 | Bio & Me Vanilla Gut-Loving Prebiotic Yoghurt
By far the best probiotic yoghurt in my opinion. This has a lovely rich, creamy texture without sourness. It is a good source of protein and fibre and contains at least 18 different live cultures. Because it has prebiotics (from chicory root fibre), you can enjoy this with or without fruit.
Ingredients: Yoghurt (Milk), Fermented with 18 Different Live and Active Cultures (including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium), Chicory Root Fibre, Natural Flavouring, Madagascan Vanilla Bean Extract (0.1%).
This is available to buy from Sainsbury’s. It usually costs £1.80 for a 350g tub, but it is currently on sale for £1.35.
|Nutritional Content of Bio & Me Vanilla Gut Loving Prebiotic Yoghurt||Per 150g Serving|
of which saturates
of which sugars
|Calcium||299mg (37% NRV)|
|Phosphorus||245mg (35% NRV)|
|Vitamin B12||0.7mcg (28% NRV)|
|Vitamin B2||0.3mg (23% NRV)|
You know the health benefits of conventional and probiotic yoghurts and five tasty options you can add to your diet.
Please note that the health benefits of dairy yoghurt do not necessarily apply to plant-based options. More research is needed to elucidate the health benefits of plant-based yoghurt.
And if you don’t already eat yoghurt, what are you waiting on? There are so many health benefits to be gained!
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- Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N., & Fakiri, E.M. (2013). Health benefits of probiotics: a review. ISRN Nutrition, http://dx.doi.org/10.5402/2013/481651.
- Nagaoka, S. (2019) Yoghurt production. Methods in Molecular Biology, 1887: 45-54.
- Wade, A.T., Guenther, B.A., Ahmed, F.S., & Elias, M.F. (2021) Higher yoghurt intake is associated with lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals: Cross-sectional findings from the Maine-Syracuse longitudinal study. International Dairy Journal, 122: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idairyj.2021.105159.
- Choi, J., Sabikhi, L., Hassan, A., & Anand, S. (2012) Bioactive peptides in dairy products. International Journal of Dairy Technology, doi: 10.111.j.1471-0307.2011.00725.x.
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- Castellone, V., Bancalari, E., Rubert, J., Gatti, M., Neviani, E., Bottari, B (2021) Eating fermented: health benefits of LAB-fermented foods. Foods, 10: 2639.
- Ibarrola-Jurado, N., Salas-Salvado, J., Martinez-Gonzalez, M.A., & Bullo, M. (2012) Dietary phylloquinone intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in elderly subjects at high risk of cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(5): 1113-8.
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- Ejtahed, H.S., Mohtadi-Nia, J., Homayouni-Rad, A., Niafar, M., Asghari-Jafarabadi, M & Mofid, V. (2012) Probiotic yoghurt improves antioxidant status in type 2 diabetes patients. Nutrition; 28: 539-543.
- Gonzalez, S., Fernandez-Navarro, T., Arboleya, S., de los Reyes-Gavilan, C.G., Salazar, N., & Gueimonde, M. (2019) Fermented dairy foods: impact on intestinal microbiota and health-linked biomarkers. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10: 1046.
- Dao, M.C., Everard, A., Aron-Wisnewsky, J., Sokolovska, N., Prifti, E., Verger, E.O., Kayser, B.D., Levenez, F., Chilloux, J., Hoyles, L., MICRO-Obes Consortium, Dumans, M-E., Rizkalla, S.W., Dore, J., Cani, P.D., & Clement, K. (2016) Akkermansia muciniphila and improved metabolic health during a dietary intervention in obesity: relationship with gut microbiome richness and ecology. Gut, 65: 436-436.
- Fernandez, M.A., & Marette, A. (2017) Potential health benefits of combining yoghurt and fruits based on their probiotic and prebiotic properties. Advances in Nutrition, 8(Suppl): 155S-64S.
- Jean, M.E., & Te Morenga, L. (2016) Sugar and type 2 diabetes. British Medical Bulletin, 120(1): 43-53.