When Yogurt Is All Greek to You

There are a lot of choices in the yogurt world.   It used to be we had two.

Plain or with fruit.  Now, there are endless rows of different brands.


Today,  John Stamos brings his woman the BEST yogurt in the world.

She swoons.  He’s smug.

Yet, Jamie Lee Curtis wants us to get ACTIVA with Probiotics.  Is one BETTER?


The real kind of Greek Yogurt from Greece is typically made of sheep’s milk.

Some people will tell you the healthiest yogurt is to make your own.

Images of Lucy & Ethel stomping on grapes just flashed through my brain.  So, let’s go back to already made.

New York Magazine convened a panel of experts for a blind taste test:

The panel included Turkish chef Orhan Yegen of Sip Sak and Bi Lokma, who, according to the magazine, “considers ‘Greek yogurt’ more a marketing gimmick than a bona fide foodstuff”; Maria Loi, a.k.a. “the Martha Stewart of Greece’; and chef Eric Ripert, who eats nonfat Fage every morning.

The Results

The Non-Fat Winner: Fage. This was the judge’s overall favorite.
The Non-Fat Loser: Chobani. Then unpleasant aroma really turned off the judges.
The Full-Fat Winner: Argyle Cheese Farmer. Generally delicious.

The best Fat-Free Plain Yogurt I’ve tried is a toss-up between Chobani ($1.69 for six ounces) and Fage ($1.89 for six ounces). They’re both creamy and around 100 calories for a six-ounce serving.  High in protein.

Dannon always taste the sweetest, but that’s because if you look at the ingredients you’ll find loads of sugar.  Six tablespoons can be heaped into one cup of yogurt.

The one below looks like GREEK, but it’s sugary sweet DANNON in disguise.  Always check the amount of sugar on the label.

So, if you want to eat yogurt to stay healthy your best bet is Fat-Free Plain Greek Yogurt.

You can toss fresh blueberries or strawberries into it to give it added zest!

Other than the above, what should you look for in a yogurt label?

Chris Dankosky at Science Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) had the same question.  He conducted an interview with Jeffrey Gordon, professor of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He’s also director of the school’s Center for Genome Sciences. 

I’m a little concerned about Dannon partially funding this research, but  let’s take a look at what they found.

CHRIS: Well, I had a question about the different types of yogurt. I know when you walk into a yogurt aisle at any Wal-Mart or any kind of big-box store, there’s so much selection. I was wondering if there’s one type of yogurt that’s better for you than another, and really what it is in the yogurt that we should looking for in the label to find out what it is really that gives us these probiotic benefits.

GORDON: Well, that’s a wonderful question and one of the reasons that we embarked on this set of experiments. We really wanted to create an analysis pipeline, where we could use models – in this case, an animal model where we reconstructed a human gut community – to answer some of the questions that you ask.

We do know that individuals vary in terms of their collection of gut microbes. Even genetically identical twins have somewhat different collections of gut microbes. We know that diet plays an important role in shaping the structure and operations of these communities. There are different types of yogurt. There are different types of fermented dairy products.

As I said in the beginning of this episode, there are – a minimum of two types of bacterial strains that are required to be present in a fermented milk product in order for it to be labeled yogurt.

There are some types of products that have more than these two strains. You can also, as you know, go to supermarkets and various stores and pick up probiotics that have a variety of different components. We really don’t have sufficient information to answer the question you have asked. We do, we think, have a set of tools in a new toolbox to address this.

How do foods and how do gut bacteria interact with one another? Is the nutritional value of food influenced, in part, by the microbes we normally harbor? Can it be further modified by these live microbes we ingest deliberately? And in the future, if we open up a medicine cabinet in the 21st century, can we find – should we discover a series of new probiotics that can enhance the nutritional value of the particular diets that we consume?

DANKOSKY: Well, you mentioned the off-the-shelf probiotics. I know a lot of people are interested in that. If you take probiotics in capsule form, is it different somehow than eating yogurt in the morning?

GORDON: That also is a great question. And just relating to the episode that preceded this one, it’s going to be very important for the formulation of these products to be carefully validated. Is there a set number or an indicated number of live microbes in that formulation as advertised? Do we know the genome sequences of the bugs that are contained in these products? Is manufacturing such that from lot to lot we have consistency? I know that issue of consistency is taken very seriously by the manufacturers of a number of yogurts. But as you indicate, probiotics are sold widely, they’re advertised having very – a variety of different health effect. And for those claims to be validated, we’d need the types of tools that we described in this study and others.

DANKOSKY: I’m John Dankosky. And this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. The yogurt company Dannon, which partially funded this research that we’re talking about today, recently settled a suit for claiming on its packaging that yogurt can improve digestion and immune system. What do you think of labels like this? Does this study back up these claims?

GORDON: Well, actually, Dannon funded part of our research in order to construct this type of analysis pipeline, to test the types of claims that are being made, not only by themselves but by others. I do think that this particular study indicated that there’s an effect on the digestion of a component of our diet, polysaccharides. There have been other studies in mice, for instance, that shows that certain consortium of bacteria that are found in fermented milk products, including products made by Dannon, may modulate immune function in a way that would be beneficial, at least in the setting of colitis.

So I think that there’s much to learn. I think we have to be very rigorous in terms of testing the claims in order for the public to gain additional trust that we should be equipped to address the complexity of our gut microbial communities in the form of representative animal models, learn from those models, and then design, execute and carefully interpret clinical studies. A lot of public will know.

DANKOSKY: Yeah. Lyle is in Eagle, Michigan. Lyle, a quick question for the doctor?

LYLE: Yeah. After reading the China study, I quit eating dairy and meat. And I was real curious and overjoyed to hear about the billions of bacteria I have in my belly. Good to hear that because I was kind of concerned that because I was not going to eat any more yogurt that maybe there was a challenge. I never really had any issues. I was wondering if your research has gone that way with people that didn’t eat any meat or dairy, and how their bacteria as well as digestions have been affected.

DANKOSKY: Yeah. How is Lyle’s gut, Doctor?

GORDON: Well, I don’t know, Lyle, but thank you for sharing your personal story with me. Lyle, I’ll tell you something. Your thought is a very important one because there is an emerging set of observations, in part, made by our group and others, that diet has a huge effect in shaping the structure and operations of your gut communities. We’ve studied many different mammalian species, including humans, to look at the impact of different diets on how our gut communities are configured. And not billions, Lyle, but trillions of microbes live in our gut. And people on different diets have different gut structures. And when they switch diets, the representation of members of your gut community will change.

It’s part of an important adaptation, part of the fitness. We have to learn how to digest the foods that we eat. As humans, we change what we eat over time. What is the code that relates the nutritional value of what we consume in the structure and operations of our gut communities? That’s going to be a very important issue to address because looking forward, we heard this week that the population of our planet has reached seven billion humans, by 2050, 9 billion humans. What types of crops we plant, what kind of recommendations we make about what to eat in the future will be informed by deeper knowledge of the operations of this vast collection of microbes that live inside of us.

DANKOSKY: Jeffrey Gordon, you eat yogurt every day?

GORDON: I don’t eat yogurt every day, but I do eat yogurt intermittently.

DANKOSKY: OK. And it has any health benefits for you?

GORDON: Not noticeable, but I enjoy the experience.

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