Yogurt has come a long way since it was presumably stumbled upon around 5,000 B.C., during the rise of animal domestication. A by-product of fermented milk, yogurt is widely accepted to have Turkish roots and continues to be referred to by its Turkish name in languages around the world.1
Because yogurt is a milk derivative, it contains many of the same beneficial nutrients as milk: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin A. Furthermore, in its traditional form, yogurt is a nutrient-dense food that is rich in high-quality protein, beneficial probiotics and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid.
Today, the availability, convenience and healthy properties of yogurt appeal to people worldwide. Sales of yogurt in the U.S. are roughly $8 billion annually, about half of which is attributed to Greek yogurt.2
As you may know, Greek or Greek-style yogurt is the result of a straining process that removes the liquid whey, resulting in a thicker, creamier yogurt. While it tastes similar to regular yogurt, Greek yogurt contains more calories, fat and protein.3
Although yogurt is generally assumed to be a nutritious snack, you'd be wise to look beyond the packaging and perceptions to uncover the facts. Many of the drinkable, spoonable and squeezable yogurt products that come in countless flavors and packages are not all they appear to be.
Most are loaded with added sugar, artificial ingredients and fillers. The majority contain only a marginal amount of probiotics. Sadly, the yogurt you are consuming from your local grocery store may not be benefiting your health as much as you think.
What You Should Know About Store-Bought Yogurt
A number of variables affect the quality of the commercially produced yogurt you buy from the store. Depending on the quality of the milk and the methods used to transform it into yogurt, your body may receive several healthy benefits or possibly no benefits at all.
High-quality yogurt contains scores of beneficial bacteria that boost your gut health. The problem is that most store-bought varieties miss the quality mark for three main reasons.4
First, poor-quality milk is used to produce most commercial yogurts. In the U.S. that means milk from Holsteins typically raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Notably, milk from Holsteins has the lowest fat and protein content as compared to that from other breeds like Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Jersey cows.7 Lower fat content detracts from the creaminess and consistency of yogurt.
Second, while many store-bought yogurts masquerade as health food, they actually contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners (including artificial sweeteners), as well as thickeners such as pectin. Ideally, "good yogurt" should contain only full-fat grass-fed raw milk and live probiotic cultures.
The sugar content of store-bought yogurt is another top concern. I use the term “sugar” lightly because, very often, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are used to sweeten yogurt. This includes genetically engineered (GE) beet sugar and corn syrup (high fructose corn syrup).
Because sugar feeds the disease-causing microbes that crowd out the beneficial flora in your intestinal tract, the most important step in building healthy gut flora is to limit your sugar intake. The negative effects from sugar far outweigh the minimal probiotic benefits you may receive from store-bought yogurt.
Third, unless the yogurt you buy is organic and made from milk provided by grass-fed cows, you are very likely ingesting yogurt laced with GE corn and/or soy. As you probably know, more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of corn and soy is GE, and most U.S. dairy cows eat a GMO-based diet.
Why Not Make Your Own High-Quality Yogurt at Home?
Perhaps you haven't considered making your own yogurt. It may be that you do not realize how easy it is to do. All you need is a high-quality starter culture and raw grass-fed milk. There are plenty of excellent starter cultures available.
Whatever you choose, be sure you don't use sweetened commercial yogurt as your source of the starter culture! It contains too much sugar and not enough live cultures to be effective.
At its most basic level, adding the starter culture to the milk and letting it sit overnight at room temperature is all that's needed to turn the milk into yogurt.
Because the cultures are temperature sensitive, the only trick to making good yogurt is keeping the milk/culture starter mixture at a consistently warm temperature until it has had enough time to ferment.8
It may take a few tries to arrive at your desired consistency and preferred taste. For example, if you end up with kefir the next morning, simply let the mixture ferment a few hours longer. Once it thickens to the consistency of yogurt, you can store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat it.