What Are Active Yogurt Cultures?

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Eating live active yogurt cultures can lower your risk of colon cancer.
Eating live active yogurt cultures can lower your risk of colon cancer. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Many yogurt brands list live active yogurt cultures on the label, but many people aren't sure exactly what this label means. In fact, it is those live active cultures that make yogurt such a healthy food. In essence, choosing a yogurt brand with live active cultures ensures that you will get the full range of health benefits that yogurt can provide.

Yogurt

Yogurt is created by culturing dairy products with specific species of bacteria. The two main types of bacteria that must be present in yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. In addition to these two types of bacteria, other bacterial cultures can also be present, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidus. Live active cultures, also known as probiotics, are the living bacteria found in yogurt.

Live Active Cultures

According to the National Yogurt Association, yogurt can only carry the seal labeling it as a "live and active culture" if it contains 100 million cultures per gram when it is manufactured. Frozen yogurt with this designation must have at least 10 million cultures per gram. Some yogurt is heat-treated to kill the bacteria, and these cannot be considered as having live active cultures. Many products made using yogurt, such as yogurt-covered raisins, do not contain live active cultures.

Benefits

Live active cultures of bacteria in yogurt break down lactose, making yogurt accessible to lactose-intolerant individuals. The live colonies of bacteria also colonize the intestinal tract of people who eat the yogurt, helping boost the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is especially important for people taking antibiotics because antibiotics can destroy the naturally occurring helpful gut bacteria. Individuals who eat yogurt with live active cultures also experience protection from gastrointestinal diseases, yeast infections and high cholesterol. The live bacteria in yogurt can also boost the availability of some nutrients, making them more easily digested and absorbed by the body. Yogurt containing the bacterial species L. acidophilus might also provide protection against carcinogens and boost immunity.

Considerations

When choosing a yogurt, the best option is always plain yogurt with live and active cultures. Try to avoid fillers, sugars and flavorings that add calories and decrease the nutritional value of the yogurt. Do not buy heat-treated yogurt, since it doesn't contain any of the beneficial bacteria that give yogurt its healthful properties. Also look for yogurt with 35 to 40 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium.

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