How to choose a healthy yogurt

Sainsbury’s sell about 400 different yogurts, with two aisles at my local one devoted to a  technicolor of the tubs, pots and bottles.Unknown-11

So what’s the difference between them all. How do you choose a good one? What is the Confuseddifference between plain and natural, Bio and live cultured, Greek and Greek Style, are low fat yogurts always loaded with sweeteners and thickeners, why does natural yogurt have sugar on the nutrition label? I’m an avid nutrition label reader (it’s part of my job), and I have to admit to being left confused and overwhelmed.

Yogurt is big business. In 2014, 80% of us bought it – that’s almost 42 million British stocking up on the (mostly) good stuff. 57% of British adults have yogurt as a dessert. Natural yogurts are the only variety that men are more likely to buy than women.

What makes yogurt ‘yogurt’??

Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with two very specific types of harmless bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermopiles (these are the only 2 cultures required by law to be present in yogurt).

The bacteria that are added to milk convert the naturally occurring sugar in milk Unknown-2(lactose) into lactic acid, which causes the milk to thicken, giving yogurt its characterised consistency and tangy taste. People who have difficulty digesting lactose in milk are generally able to tolerate yogurt better: this is because some of the lactose in yogurt has been broken down by the harmless bacteria used to make the yogurt.

Extra bacterial cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria may be added to yogurt as probiotic cultures. These probiotic cultures benefit human health by improving lactose digestion, gastrointestinal function, and stimulating the immune system.

In the UK, yogurt is most commonly made from cows’ milk and can be made using full-fat or lower-fat milk. New variations are also available: soy, coconut, sheep’s, goat.

  • Plain/natural: yogurt at its simplest, with no additional ingredients. Just milk and the bacteria
  • Flavoured: with added sugar, honey, fruit juice, natural flavours, sweeteners, syrups, whole or puréed fruit and/or cereals.
  • Low-fat: contains no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Fat-free: contains no more than 0.5 grams of fat per 100 grams.
  • Light: contains 30% less of a specific nutrient (for example, sugar or fat) compared to a range of similar products.
  • Greek yogurt (not Greek Style yogurt): genuine Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt, removing the liquid whey and resulting in 2 to 3 times higher protein content.Unknown copy 7  Greek yogurt is available in full fat, reduced fat and 0% fat. Even the 0% fat Greek yogurt is much thicker than regular yogurt. Total by Fage is a popular one.
  • Live yogurts:  The majority of yogurts sold in the UK are ‘live’ yogurts – this means that they contain live bacteria, even if not stated on the label. Some yogurts have extra beneficial bacteria added e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifido-bacteria. To identify if there are these extra biocultures added, you need to look on the ingredients label (due to EU legislation a manufacturer can not claim on the front of the pot that it contains ‘probiotics’)
  • Calcium: Yogurt made from milk is one of the best absorbed dietary sources of calcium. Calcium is needed for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth and is also important for blood clotting, wound healing and maintaining normal blood pressure. Most yogurts also contain varying amount of vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium.
This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

This unsweetened natural yogurt has 6.5g of natural milk sugar (lactose)

Sugar: This is where it can get confusing. Many people ask me about yogurts and sugar, or make the comment that all yogurts are high in sugar. Because yogurt is made from milk, it will contain some naturally occurring sugars (lactose), from 3g/100g to 7g/100g; the amount of lactose depends on how much of it the bacteria has turned in to lactic acid.  So although a plain/natural yogurt does not have added sugar, on the nutrition label you will read that there is sugar……confusing!

However, many manufacturers load their yogurts with sugar and very sweet fruit purees or juice. Unfortunately, the label does not differentiate between the naturally occurring lactose and this added sugar.

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is added sugar (not good)

This yogurt has a 15.2g sugars. About 7g of this is naturally occurring milk sugar (lactose = good), the remainder is about 2 teaspoons of added sugar (not good)

How to choose a healthy yogurt

Ideally, choose a plain/natural yogurt and if you  want flavour or sweetness, add your own e.g. fruit, puree, vanilla extract, jam, sugar or honey. That way, you have more control over the amount of added sugars. One teaspoon of honey, jam or sugar is approximately 5g of sugar.

If choosing a flavoured yogurt, look for one that has below 12g/100g of sugar. This generally indicates that there has been less than a teaspoon of sugar added.

 

 

Below is a comparison of just a few of the most popular yogurts in UK supermarkets. I’m a fan of the Total Greek Unknown-10yogurts, due to the high protein, low sugar and extra bacteria probiotic bacteria Unknown-6added (high protein yogurts have been shown to make you feel full up for longer and reduce appetite). I must give St Helen’s Goat yogurt a try, nutritionally I would award it second Unknown-9place, but I’ve never tasted it! Onken Naturally Set also has a great nutritional profile, although lower in protein than Total.

 

All amounts are per 100g (about half a cup)

Calories Sugars Protein Fat Extra Probiotic bacteria added
Sainsbury’s Greek Style 120 5 4 9
Yeo Valley Full Fat Plain 82 7 5 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium
Onken Naturally Set 68 3 4 4 Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium
Yeo Valley Greek Style 150 14 3 8 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium
Total Full Fat 96 4 9 5 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Total 0% 57 4 10 0 Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei
Danio flavoured 100 12 7 2
Activia Strawberry 99 13 4 3 Bifidobacterium Lactis (Bifidus ActiRegularis®)
Yeo Valley Fruity Favourites 107 13 5 4 Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus Acidophilus
Alpro Soy Cherry 73 9 4 2
Muller Crunch Corner Choc & Vanilla balls 148 18 4 5
Co Yo (coconut yogurt) 183 1 3 19
Woodland Sheep Natural 92 5 5 6 Lactobacillus acidophilus

 

St Helens Goats Natural 105 3 6 7 Lactobacillus acidophilus Bifidobacterium

Children’s yogurts are a WHOLE new ball game which deserve a post all of their own……watch this space!

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8 Cures for Constipation

Constipation is something that most people suffer from time to time, or for the unlucky, everyday. It’s also something that most people don’t like to talk about, even to their doctor. It can make you feel horrible, lethargic and bloated. images-2

Not everyone has a bowel movement daily, but you may have constipation if you pass fewer than three stools a week, if you pass hard stools, strain more than usual or if you feel that you haven’t completely emptied your bowel. Get a check-up from your doctor just to make sure a medical condition isn’t causing the problem, especially if you’ve never been constipated before now, you have stomach pain, you’ve noticed blood in your stools or you’re losing weight without trying.

Here are the most common causes of constipation:

  • Diet: not enough fruit/veg/wholegrain food, (common with people adopting a high protein diet for weight loss/muscle gain) or eating too many refined foods e.g. white bread, pastries, pasta, biscuits, cake etc.
  • pregnancy hormones slow the contractions of the bowel, possibly to allow for more nutrient absorption from food.
  • iron supplements
  • IBS – an imbalance of gut bacteria results in an over production of methane gas when fermentable carbohydrate foods are eaten. Methane is thought to reduce bowel muscle contraction.
  • hypothyroidism – a common condition when the thyroid gland in the brain doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This causes the body’s systems to slow down, including the digestion
  • diabetes – uncontrolled diabetes with high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerve endings in the bowel
  • possible intolerance to some foods e.g. dairy or nuts
  • medical conditions e.g. where the bowel has an extra loop, or the nerve endings in the rectum become desensitised

So what can you do to get things moving? If you don’t want to resort to medication/laxatives, here are 8 cures for constipation:

    1. fluid – having enough fluid in your bowel helps a lot! It doesn’t matter what you drinkbottled-water (contrary to popular belief coffee and tea aren’t dehydrating). Aim for about 2 litres of fluid a day. Water, warm water with lemon, peppermint tea etc.
    2. fruit – particularly kiwis, apples, pears, rhubarb, prunes, figs. Fruit is very effective as it acts as a natural laxative, acting as a softener by drawing water in to the bowel. The gentle fibre encourages the bowel muscles to contract, helping to move things along. If you are prone to bloating and wind, kiwis are the best (try two a day)
    3. glass of fruit juice – fruit juice has an ‘osmotic effect’ meaning that it’s sugar draws water in to the bowel, which is a great thing for people with constipation. This is why for some people prone to IBS with diarrhoea, they are advised to avoid fruit juice as it can make things even worse
    4. coffee – caffeine has a stimulatory effect on the bowel, meaning that it causes the gut muscles to contract. Many people find that a strong cup of coffee has them heading for the toilet within minutes!image
    5. flaxseed – rich in insoluble fibre, ground flaxseed absorbs water adding bulk to help move things through the digestive tract quickly. Sprinkle a teaspoon in to porridge, a bowl of soup, or try making this easy Bread
    6. yogurt – if your gut bacteria are out of balance, this can affect how your bowel functions. Yogurts contains good bacteria and when eaten daily can encourage gut microbiome. How to choose a healthy yogurt
    7. exercise – there’s an established relationship between our activity level and our bowel habits and in cases of vigorous exercise (e.g., running) there is evidence of a significant increase in activity helping with constipation.image
    8. magnesium supplement – worth trying, some people find relief within days by taking about 300mg magnesium citrate per day (this is perfectly safe). Magnesium is important for muscle contraction, and draws water into the bowel. If you have kidney or severe heart problems ask your doctor first.

4 Foods to Boost Gut Bacteria

Just when we thought we knew everything about our digestive system, the complex universe of gut bacteria is slowly being unveiled by scientific research. Experts agree that what we currently know is just the tip of the iceberg. Here is the story so far!

Gut bacteria fast facts:

  • there are 100 trillion bacteria in your gut made up of at least 500 different types
  • during the natural delivery of a baby (not cesarean section), and breastfeeding, a baby’s digestive system is populated with the beneficial bacteria
  • there is a mix of good and bad bacteria in your gut, the balance of these can significantly affect your health
  • antibiotics kill the bad AND good bacteria in your body, disturbing the balance.
  • a diet high in processed foods encourages the bad bacteria
    Processed food - not good for the good bacteria!

    Processed food – encourage the ‘bad’ bacteria

    Whole foods good!

    Whole foods encourage the ‘good’ bacteria

     

  • whole grains, fruit and vegetables ‘feed’ the good bacteria
  • some foods (see below) actively contain good bacteria. You can encourage good bacteria in your gut by including these foods in your diet.

 

How improving good gut bacteria can affect health:

There is a huge amount of scientific interest in the role that gut bacteria has on health. Watch the headlines over the next few years for how they can make big positive impacts on your waistline, brain and immune system. Here is what the science is starting to show:

  • helps gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas
  • reduces inflammatory conditions such as some cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • obesity – overweight people have a different balance of gut bacteria
  • immune system – there is good evidence that our guts provide much of the body’s immunity
  • better absorption of nutrients

 

Natural sources of probiotics (good bacteria) you can include everyday:

As well as eating lots of prebiotic foods such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains which feed the good bacteria, here is a list of foods which actually contain the good bacteria to boost the levels in your system.

Yogurt – The easiest and most popular source. Choose any yogurt that has ‘bio’, ‘bio live’ or the specific strain of bacteria on the label. Sometimes you need to look very carefully, as it
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can be in small print on the back. e.g. Yeo Valley, Activia, Rachel’s, Onken. If you have lactose intolerance, yogurt should be easier to digest than milk as the fermentation process reduces the amount of lactose. People sometimes worry that dairy products are fattening or will raise cholesterol. Eaten in moderation this is not the case, and can in fact help with weight loss.

 

Kefir This can be harder to find in the shops and is not as popular as yogurt. Kefir is a Turkish word meaning ‘long life’ or ‘good life’. With billions of friendly bacteria, Kefir is a drink made from Unknown-8milk and kefir cultures. It has the consistency of a drinkable yogurt but is much more tart and has a slight fizz (I found this very odd!). Drink it plain (an acquired taste) or add it to a smoothie. It can be bought in Tesco’s in the Polish section, Wholefoods or in some independent health food shops. The culturing process reduces the amount of lactose, therefore may be suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

 

UnknownMiso A staple seasoning in Japanese kitchens, also may contain probiotics. While it’s most often used in miso soup there are other ways to incorporate this protein-rich seasoning into meals. For an easy between meal snack, mix the Miso paste with warm water as a drink. If you have high blood pressure you probably should avoid as it is high in salt.

 

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Unpasteurised Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut – pickled cabbage in a jar. The pickling process produces the live probiotics. To get the benefit from Saurkraut, it is important to buy it unpasteurised as the heating process kills the probiotics. Unpasteurised jars can be found in the fridge in health food shops. If it is in a jar on the supermarket shelf it is likely to be pasteurised. Some people eat it straight from the jar, or add to salads, stew or soup. I’ve been told by a client that it is easy to make, so here’s a recipe (it’s one of the next things on my list to try!)

 

Probiotic supplements – there are a vast array of probiotic supplements available and it can be confusing to know which one to choose. Here is a good article as guidance on the specific strains of bacteria to look for for different health issues. Most people have heard of Yakult or Actimel which can be bought in most supermarkets. I usually recommend more potent forms such as Unknown-2Symprove, Biokult and VSL 3 (click on pictures for more info).41cytGYzHHL._AA160_images-3