Yogurt has been associated with healthy eating for years—and with good reason.

One eight ounce serving of yogurt contains 138 calories, 275 mg of calcium, eight grams of protein, vitamin B2 and B12, potassium, and magnesium. But there's more. Yogurt's active cultures—Lactobacillus bulgaricus, bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus thermophilus—aid digestion, as well as help digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease.

How Yogurt Helps Digestion

Yogurt that contains live active cultures helps keep the good bacteria balanced in the digestive tract, says Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to 200-300-400 Calorie Meals (Alpha, 2012). It helps improve transit time in the bowel. Live active cultures are listed as Lactobacillus bugaricus (L. Bulgaricus), Streptococcus thermophilus (S. Thermophilus), and bifidobacterium.

What to Look for in a Yogurt

  • Active cultures. Look for a yogurt that specifically says it contains live active cultures. Then check the ingredients list for L. Bulgaricus, bifidobacterium, and S. Thermophilus.
  • Low-fat or nonfat. One serving of full-fat yogurt contains five grams of saturated fat-that's over 25 percent of the recommended daily intake.
  • Low sugar. "All yogurts contain some naturally occurring sugar but check labels to find those with the least amount." Your best bet: buy plain yogurt and flavor it yourself.

What About Specialty Yogurts?

Greek Yogurt
The tangy-tasting cousin of conventional yogurt, Greek yogurt has a thicker, creamier consistency. And it's becoming a popular choice for adults and kids. Sales of Greek yogurt (Chobani®, Fage, Oikos®) have skyrocketed in recent years. Both regular yogurt and Greek yogurt have beneficial bacteria, but the Greek variety has twice the amount of protein and half the sugar (as long as its not sweetened).

Some yogurt brands are marketed for digestive health, such as Dannon's Activia®. The brand touts an exclusive probiotic culture called Bifidus Regularis. This option is fine if you like the taste, but McIndoo isn't certain the trademarked strain of bacteria is any more beneficial than the live cultures in other yogurts. Another disadvantage: the price. The serving size is smaller, and it's usually priced higher.

Homemade Yogurt
By making your own yogurt, you can control the tartness of the treat. And it's simple to make. Mix warmed milk (about 120 degrees) with live cultures (you can buy a probiotic starter or use a small amount of yogurt with live and active cultures) and incubate for a few hours. Search "how to make yogurt" online to find recipes.

Frozen Yogurt
The proliferation (and popularity) of Red Mango, PinkBerry, and other fro-yo shops are serving up some tasty options. But do these yogurts offer the same benefits? McIndoo says that yes, it's possible. "Just like regular yogurt, you need to read the labels to make sure it contains live and active cultures. If it's not clear, ask," she advises. A tip when adding toppings: Avoid the candy and dried fruits and top your bowl with fresh fruit and nuts instead to up the fiber intake.

7 Ways to Dress Up Plain Yogurt

One of the healthiest ways to enjoy yogurt is to buy plain, low-fat, or nonfat yogurt and add your own toppings. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Add your favorite fresh fruit.
  2. For crunch, add some granola.
  3. For fiber, add some flaxseeds.
  4. Sweeten with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
  5. Make a parfait, layering yogurt with fruit and granola.
  6. Make a banana split: swap the vanilla ice cream for vanilla yogurt, slice a banana length-wise and top with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry.
  7. Go savory. Make a tzatziki sauce to use as spread for grilled chicken pita sandwiches. Mix cucumber, lemon juice, and garlic into plain yogurt.




Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to 200-300-400 Calorie Meals (Alpha, 2012)

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Web.