Will probiotic-enriched yogurt aid digestion?

Dear Alice,

I've been eating the yogurt Activia and have felt less stomach grumblings since. I switched to just a low-fat yogurt for cost reasons and have had the grumblings come back. Is Activia really better for digestion or is this all in my head?

Dear Reader,

Activia, the probiotic-fortified yogurt from Dannon, has been highly marketed as a snack option to promote easier digestion. However, as more and more food products hit the market with claims that they can improve your gut health, it can get very confusing as to which one is the best choice for your diet. Probiotics are said to have plenty of benefits for the body such as prevention of bad bacteria growth and reduction of gastrointestinal discomfort such as cramps and bloating. That being said, it is hard to say whether any one brand of yogurt with probiotics is better than others. 

Probiotics are microbes that are made up of live bacteria or yeast that already live in your body. These bacteria work against harmful bacteria in your body to make sure that you don’t develop infections. Probiotics may also be helpful in treating diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, urinary tract infections, and eczema. Though you often hear of probiotics in the digestive tract, they also exist in the mouth, skin, urinary tract, vagina, and the lungs. While everyone naturally has probiotics as part of their “microbiome” (the collection of all of the microbes in and on your body), some people choose to take probiotic supplements to increase the amount of good bacteria in their systems. For bacteria to be considered a probiotic, it must be able to be safely consumed, provide some benefit to your well-being, and survive in the stomach. In addition to supplements, there are plenty of foods and drinks that have high levels of probiotics: fermented products such as pickles, kombucha, yogurt, tempeh, and kefir, just to name a few. 

Yogurt in particular is notable for its many health benefits. Most yogurt products provide you with plenty of protein, magnesium, vitamin B12, fatty acids, and calcium that your body needs to function. Though some yogurts have fun toppings such as crushed cookies or candies, the best choices to promote gut health are typically those that are high in protein and low in sugar. True yogurts, according to the Food & Drug Administration, must contain both S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus: two types of bacteria included in the fermentation process. Any yogurt that has at least 100 million cultures of these probiotics will have a seal from the National Yogurt Association (NYA). That being said, some yogurts may not explicitly name these bacteria or have “live and active cultures” on their labels. Others have also been heat treated and no longer have any cultures, so it’s a good idea to check for the NYA seal to make sure that the yogurt you buy actually has probiotics.  

So, how does Activia compare to other yogurts you find on the shelves? The main difference is that Activia contains Bifidus regularis: a probiotic trademarked by Dannon that the company claims cannot be found in any other yogurts. Furthermore, according to Dannon, Bifidus regularis has a much better survival rate than other probiotics and can effectively improve digestion by moving food waste all the way to the colon. Current consumer lab reports have confirmed that Dannon is correct about the strength of Bifidus regularis when it comes to stomach acid, as three million of the three billion probiotics in a four-ounce serving of Activia yogurt survived to reach the large intestine.

Another factor that sets Activia apart from other yogurts is its price. Even among Dannon’s brands of yogurt, Activia costs more per ounce. While Bifidus regularis is only found in Activia, there are other yogurts fortified with probiotics that may provide the same types of digestive benefits. Some of these yogurts are available at lower price points than Activia, so it may be a helpful to shop around and see which brands can meet your gastrointestinal needs without breaking the bank.

You also don’t need to rely solely on yogurts to get your probiotic fix! As previously mentioned, there are many other foods and drinks that you can incorporate into your meals that may solve your stomach grumblings. Kimchi, miso soup, sourdough bread, buttermilk, and sauerkraut are all excellent additions to your diet to ensure that you get a healthy amount of probiotics throughout the day. If you enjoy eating Activia and it seems like it's working best in treating your symptoms, then it may be worth it to spend the extra money. However, know that there are a variety of options out there that could provide the same type of relief. It just may take some experimentation to discover which is the most affordable and the most delicious!

Eat up,

Last updated Dec 23, 2022
Originally published May 30, 2008

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