Is Yogurt Really That Good for You? Is Yogurt Really That Good for You?
Is Yogurt Really That Good for You?
The Daily GOOD
Get our daily dose of information and inspiration. Sign up Now ›
Are probiotics a prescription for glorious guts or just a gimmick?
Until his death in 1916 at the unremarkable age of 71, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian scientist Ilya Metchnikoff promoted a theory for prolonging human life. His recipe for longevity was simple: yogurt. Metchnikoff thought that the consumption of the bacterial cultures enabled Bulgarian peasants to live for an average of 87 years and he sought to bring its transformative qualities to the West.
A half decade later, in 1977, Dannon made a TV commercial for its yogurt repeating a similar claims, only this time it was Soviet Georgians who prolonged their lives by eating spoonfuls of creamy, fermented milk. Many of these longevity claims have been refuted, but yogurt companies continue to market the bacteria that break down lactose and turn liquid milk into lumpy yogurt-like Streptococcus and Lactobaccilus-as beneficial.
These probiotics, they say, can regulate digestive health, lower cholesterol, strengthen bones, and make you and your stomach happier. Consumers are encouraged to imagine good, little critters colonizing their stomachs. The stuff is allegedly so good, in fact, that yogurt containers seem like a better fit in the medicine closet-alongside Nexium, Prilosec, and Protonix-because of their medical-sounding prospects of transforming your digestive tract.
We've been introducing bacteria into our stomachs for millennia-not to mention the some 50 trillion microbial cells and thousands of species of microflora in the gut already-but many of the scientific-sounding claims surrounding probiotic bacteria have nothing to do with the actual science itself. While some recent studies have suggested that Lactobacillus bacteria aid in digestion and play a role in our body's immune defenses, many of the contemporary claims seem almost as exaggerated as Metchnikoff's longevity theory.
As the list of digestive ills that probitoics can allegedly cure expands, so do the number of probiotic drinks, cereals, and shakes. Now, there's probiotic dog food, probiotic ice cream, and probiotic treatments for farm-raised salmon. The only problem: Some so-called probiotic bacteria don't contain strains medically recognized as beneficial. As one expert told Tara Pope Parker, "To say a product contains Lactobacillus is like saying you're bringing George Clooney to a party. It may be the actor, or it may be an 85-year-old guy from Atlanta who just happens to be named George Clooney."
And even when products do contain beneficial bacteria, the bacteria are sometimes dead. This is especially true when they're frozen in "probiotic" ice cream.
The lack of regulatory oversight about these kinds of nutritionistic health claims in the United States has led to litigation. As Marion Nestle pointed out on The Atlantic Online, lawyers won a large class-action settlement against Dannon in September for claims that Activia regulated digestion and stimulated the immune system. While food companies worked to get an approval from the European Standards Agency, the agency rejected all "probiotic" strains of bacteria under consideration last week.
For now, no bacterial strain has proven to be the all-purpose boost, the key to the fountain of youth, a hundred years of yogurt solitude. Don't let that stop you from enjoying the mouth-tingling taste of bacteria-laden foods like fermented yogurt, kim chi, or Lambic beer.
Photo by Jeff Potter.
Honoring the Dead By Feeding Them The sweet (and savory) hereafter of Día de los Muertos Understanding the food-filled altars of Día de los Muertos
Drawing a Bead on a Better World The Purple Buddha Project attempts to forge beauty out of ugly histories that continue to alter life in the present.
The Message-Maker: On the Ground with Baltimore Street Artist GAIA Internationally acclaimed artist uses painting to reach his city.
Buckets are the New Pumpkins Do you annually waste nourishing squash flesh on bourgeois porch displays? Jettison the traditional jack-o’-lantern with this one simple trick
Watch Out for the Witch Flick A guide to the positive, negative, and complicated depictions of women as witches in movies, warts and all
The Not-So-Mad Science of Head Transplants We may soon be able to successfully graft a human head onto a different body, but is it worth the cost in terms of dollars and ethics?
A Friendly Game of International Border Subversion Activists in Morocco and Algeria hope to play a volleyball game using the countries’ mutual border as a net
13 Spooky Sites That Redefine the Term Skeleton Structure Humans have been using bones as building materials for centuries While world religions and ancient history are replete with alternative burial solutions, some of the most mesmerizing are found in ossuaries
Teacher’s Little Reading Helper Know any child iPad addicts who should be learning how to read instead of playing Candy Crush? Try Bam Boomerang
How Elves and Serpents are Saving Iceland for Future Generations Most Iceland residents believe in magic to some degree, and it’s helping to preserve the environment, foster community … and rake in tourism dollars
5 Tales of Halloween Heartbreak A conversation about growing up in the U.S. without celebrating national dress-up-and-get-free-candy day