Yogurt contains bacteria, called probiotics, that have health benefits. The digestive tract contains both probiotic (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria. Encouraging the growth of probiotic bacteria helps maintain a strong digestive tract lining, improves absorption of nutrients, and helps block toxins and pathogens from entering the body. Probiotics in yogurt inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and aid normal eliminations. As a result, probiotics reduce symptoms and risk for a wide range of digestive tract problems, from diarrhea, lactose intolerance, and certain allergies to gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and possibly colon cancer. Beyond the gut, probiotics in yogurt might help boost the immune system and lower the risk for both urinary tract infections and candidiasis infections in women. Limited evidence suggests yogurt might help lower the risk for dementia, cancer, heart disease, and more. Finally, yogurt is a great source of nutrients, such as calcium, zinc, protein, and B vitamins.
Not all “healthy” bacteria are considered probiotics. A strain of bacteria is only considered a probiotic if it survives the acidic stomach and thrives in the intestine. Skip the high-priced, designer yogurts. Instead, look for plain, low-fat yogurts that contain tried-and-true bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and L. rhamnosus. Probiotics do not permanently adhere to the intestinal lining, but exert their benefits as they move through the intestines. So, you need to consume yogurt at least several times a week, choosing ones with a variety of strains rather than a single strain. Besides being the perfect snack food, add yogurt to smoothies or use as a topping for pancakes or as a dip for fruit.