03.Are "friendly bacteria" (aka probiotics) effective in yoghurt?
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria
that can help restore the
balance of microflora in the gut if
it’s been upset by disease, stress,
poor diet or antibiotics. In a healthy
bowel, these bacteria fend off
harmful microorganisms, aid
digestion and nutrient absorption,
and contribute to immune function.
Evidence of the benefits of
probiotics in yoghurt has been
difficult to validate scientifically. In
the EU, use of the word “probiotics”
has been banned on packaging as
the word implies a health benefit,
although individual strains of
bacteria may be mentioned.
a class-action lawsuit in the US
health benefits of
its Activia yoghurt
it could strengthen
settled out of court
for $US35 million and
changed the wording
on its packaging.
To avoid falling foul of
health claim regulations and still
be able to spruik the benefits of probiotics, food
companies use vague, pseudo
scientific-sounding language and
fancy trademarked names such
Danone’s “Bifidus ActiRegularis” (its
scientific name is actually B. lactis
The packaging claims its bacteria “can help to improve digestive discomfort such as a bloated feeling” and is accompanied by a funny little diagram. But this health benefit is conditional on eating 250g of the yoghurt each day over four weeks as “part of a varied diet and health lifestyle”.
There is no guarantee that the bacteria survives in the yoghurt to colonise the gut. “The trouble with probiotics is there are many factors that affect whether the bacteria survives,” says Gudorf. “For those products that do list the number of probiotic cultures on the packaging, that number reflects the amount of bacteria added at the time of production. But bacteria can be affected by storage, air, light and moisture, and there is no guarantee that the bacteria survives in the yoghurt to colonise the gut.”
If conditions are right and the bacteria survives, you’d need to eat 100 million colony-forming units (CFU) regularly every day to increase the activity of good bacteria. And, says Gudorf, probiotics by themselves are not enough to increase the activity of good bacteria.
You should also eat 10g per day of prebiotics, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for the good bacteria.
“Don’t eat yoghurt just to get probiotics,” advises Gudorf. “If you’re
concerned about IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or bloating see a dietitian who specialises in gut health who can set up a diet plan and direct you to the correct bacteria strain.”
To maximise your probiotic benefits, look for yoghurts that have at least 100 million CFUs. Some yoghurts mention the names of the cultures but don’t list how much it contains, so you have no idea how much – or how little – bacteria is in the product.