Avoiding “Culture Shock” in the Yogurt Aisle

by Gina Blitstein · 0 comments

Yogurt used to be so simple. It was sweet, creamy and and often had some chunky fruit on the bottom of that cute little plastic cup to stir into it. There were lots of flavors but really only one kind of yogurt widely available. After a while there were lower calorie yogurts available made with lowfat milk and artificial sweeteners but that was the extent of “yogurt diversity.”

Within the last couple of years, however, there’s been a sort of, “yogurt explosion” in the marketplace. Now we’re hearing a whole new yogurt vocabulary, including, “live and active cultures,” “probiotics” and “Greek” yogurt. Some yogurts seem fancy and exotic while others seem to be considered health food. With so many yogurt choices, how do you know which to buy?

Let’s look at what’s in yogurt to determine what we’re buying.

Live and active cultures are the living microorganisms (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) that, during the fermentation process, turn milk into yogurt. No matter what the package says, it’s not really yogurt unless the product specifically states that it contains, “live and active cultures.” These are believed to be associated with health benefits such as preventing gastrointestinal infections, boosting the immune system, fighting certain cancers and preventing osteoporosis.

Probiotics is a term for these living microorganisms (or “good” bacteria”) that provide a health benefit when consumed in adequate amounts. Many probiotics provide benefit to the body by adjusting the natural balance of organisms in the intestines, or by acting directly on body functions, such as digestion or immune function. Yogurts can contain a variety of probiotics, depending upon the brand. Therein lies the major difference between yogurts.

Another consideration is the number of live and active cultures contained in the yogurt. The National Yogurt Association has established a definition of “significant amounts of live and active cultures” as 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Note that heat-treating yogurts after fermentation kills most of the bacteria.

As an additional boon to health, the live and active cultures break down lactose, making yogurt a source of milk nutrients for those who are lactose intolerant.

Additional differences between yogurts have to do with their fat content or formulation.

Fat content

  • Regular yogurt is made from whole milk and contains at least 3.25% milk fat.
  • Lowfat yogurt is made from lowfat milk and contains between 2% and 0.5% milk fat.
  • Nonfat yogurt is made from skim milk and contains less than 0.5% milk fat.
  • “Light” yogurt contains ⅓ less calories or 50% less fat than regular yogurt.


  • Greek yogurt is regular yogurt, made of cow, sheep or goat milk which is strained several times to remove the liquid whey, producing a thicker yogurt. Because less of its volume is whey, Greek yogurt has a higher protein content; otherwise, its nutritive value is equivalent to other yogurt.
  • Swiss or custard style  (also known as “blended” yogurt) has fruit and yogurt  mixed together. To ensure the proper texture, a stabilizer, such as gelatin, may be added.
  • Sundae or fruit-on-the-bottom style has fruit on the bottom; when turned upside down, it looks like a sundae.

Yogurt is an extremely healthy food, rich in protein, calcium and many other nutrients, in addition to probiotics, from which most people can benefit. The major differences between the potential health benefits of yogurts lie in the types of probiotics and the number of live and active cultures they contain, so read labels carefully. There’s no magic yogurt at any price and none that is superior, so choose one that you find tasty and affordable.

How do you choose healthy yogurt?

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