When considering gut health, probiotics should be a top priority in your diet. These healthy bacteria help to maintain equilibrium and regularity in your digestive tract, and may even play important roles in your immune system and fighting inflammation in your body. While there are many different ways to consume probiotics, yogurt is one of the most convenient and tasty ways to get a daily dose of these gut-friendly microorganisms.
We’ll take a look at the different yogurts you can buy to determine which best for a healthy gut.
Different types of yogurt
They may all start with a cow’s milk base, but the different processes of making yogurt result in different benefits.
Compared to other types of yogurt, regular yogurt most notably has a less tangy flavor and a much thinner texture than other yogurt varieties. This is the traditional yogurt many of us grew up with, and while regular yogurt contains less protein than Greek and Icelandic varieties, it typically contains a higher number of probiotics, making it a good choice for gut health.
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This thicker form of yogurt exploded in popularity over the last decade, and for good reason. Greek yogurt goes through a straining process that removes much of the liquid, thus creating a thicker, more creamy texture. This process makes the protein more concentrated in the yogurt; however, while the liquid is being removed, so are some of the nutrients, including probiotics.
Icelandic yogurt goes through a similar process as Greek yogurt, although it goes through additional straining to create an even denser product that is also less tart. Because of the additional straining, it is likely that even more probiotics are removed from this form of yogurt. So, while creamy, delicious, and high in protein, Icelandic yogurt may not be the best option for those looking to use yogurt to maximize probiotic intake for gut health.
The #1 best yogurt for gut health is… kefir
Kefir often gets thrown into the yogurt category, and you will often find it near yogurt in the grocery store; however, it is considered to be a “liquid milk beverage”. Regular yogurt and kefir are both fermented dairy products and actually have a similar nutrient profile. While calories, protein, and calcium remain similar, kefir often contains more probiotics than yogurt. Some data even suggests kefir, which can average 61 different strains of probiotic bacteria, contains as much as three times the number of probiotics in regular yogurt.
READ MORE: 6 Reasons to Start Drinking Kefir
Which is the best?
Probiotics are the most important ingredient to look at when considering how yogurt can best maintain a healthy gut. This fact makes kefir the best yogurt option to help maintain a healthy gut. However, for traditionalists who may not consider kefir to be part of the yogurt family, the next best option would be regular yogurt as it has the next highest number of probiotics. If you do want to eat regular yogurt for gut health, make sure you’re looking for a brand that has the lowest amount of added sugar—aim for less than 10 grams per cup.
Greek and Icelandic yogurts are still great options as they do provide some probiotics along with a hearty dose of protein.
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Surefire Ways to Protect Your Gut, Say Dietitians
Gut health has become an increasingly hot topic in recent years—and with good reason. Over the last few decades, emerging research has discovered links between gut health and the immune system, mood and mental health, and has suggested it may play a role in autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, and even cancer. In other words, you might be able to prevent—and resolve—a number of physical and mental issues by simply taking care of your microbiome.
According to Katie Krejci, MS, RD, LD, IFNCP, 70% of your body’s lymphocytes—white blood cells that play a key role in immune function—are in your gut. Not only that, but 75% of the feel-good neurotransmitters—like serotonin and dopamine—are also produced there.
“While the science of the microbiome is still in its infancy, studies suggest that it is one of the most important regulators of overall health with a potential effect on digestion, weight, skin, allergies, hormones, and more,” says Mia Syn, RD, MS.
What you eat has a significant impact on gut health. While certain foods can help support a healthy, balanced microbiome, others can promote an imbalance that has been linked to gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other chronic conditions and diseases like obesity, asthma, colitis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
With all that in mind, experts strongly advise heeding the following tips for protecting your gut. Then, be sure to read The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.
Next time you go grocery shopping, make it a point to fill your cart with a range of veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. According to Cassie Madsen, Ms, RD, The American Gut Project has found that those who eat 30 or more plant foods per week have more diversity of gut bacteria than those who eat fewer than 10 plants per week. But that’s not all.
“Plants are high in fiber,” says Amy Adams, RD, LDN. “Fiber feeds our gut and increases our good microbes. If the microbes are fed well, they will multiply, which strengthens our gut health. When fiber is fermented, it produces short-chain fatty acids, which help to thicken the mucus walls in our gastrointestinal tract, creating a barrier and halting bad bacteria from migrating. And different plants provide different nutrients, prebiotics, and polyphenols, which leads to a more diverse gut.”
“Consuming probiotics is one of the best things you can do to re-balance your gut,” says Krejci. “Probiotics have potent antimicrobial activity, they improve how the intestinal wall’s function and they have a positive impact on the gut immune cells.”
Krejci’s favorite way to get probiotics is through a variety of foods rich in this friendly bacteria, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. She advises consuming these several times per day and from a variety of sources for maximum benefits. But if you aren’t getting enough probiotics through your diet alone, Syn recommends seeking out a high-quality probiotic supplement, like TruBiotics.
“I like this one because it’s comprised of the two most clinically studied types of good bacteria—Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus,” she explains. “Additionally, the strains used have one of the best survivability rates in the gastrointestinal track among all probiotic strains.”
In addition to probiotics, experts say you should prioritize prebiotics as well. These indigestible fibers feed the good bacteria in your gut so they can flourish.
“The microbiome ferments the prebiotics into short-chain fatty acids,” says Krejci. “Short-chain fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory effects and strengthen the intestinal barrier to keep pathogens from getting into the bloodstream.”
According to Krejci and Syn, the best food sources of prebiotics are artichokes, green bananas, avocado, garlic, onions, leeks, and root vegetables.
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Adams points out that ultra-processed foods like cereals with added sugar, cookies, and chips usually contain little to no fiber—especially when made with refined flours rather than whole grains.
“Fiber helps to bulk up our stool and relieve constipation,” she continues. “Having regular bowel movements reduces the time that waste hangs around in your colon. Chronically constipated individuals are found to have higher levels of methane-producing bacteria in their intestines. Methane not only slows down your gastrointestinal tract even more, but it can also migrate from the colon to the small intestine, and cause a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which, in severe cases can lead to malabsorption and micronutrient deficiencies.”
In case you needed further incentive to ditch the packaged, preservative-laden snacks—a 2021 study published in the journal Gut found that people who consumed a diet high in processed foods, fast food, and sugar had greater levels of destructive bacteria that produce toxins harmful to the gut.
Experts advise thinking twice before pouring that second glass of wine—the more alcohol you drink, the more damage you’re likely doing to your gut.
“Research suggests that chronic alcohol consumption can induce gut inflammation and negatively alter intestinal microbiota composition and function,” says Syn.
Susan Kelly, RDN with Pacific Analytics, adds that the consistent gut inflammation caused by alcohol can also lead to heartburn, bacterial infections, and even ulcers.
Particularly if you’re trying to lose weight, it may be tempting to opt for artificial sweeteners—but before you do so, consider this: a slew of studies have shown that these zero-calorie alternatives can wreak some major havoc on your gut. Specifically, a 2019 review published in the journal Advanced Nutrition revealed that sucralose and stevia can negatively impact bacteria in the gut.
In fact, some research has suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners can lead to glucose intolerance. What’s worse, a 2021 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found artificial sweeteners can make normal and healthy gut bacteria become pathogenic.
“These sweeteners create an imbalance in your microbiome, which increases the risk of metabolic diseases—including diabetes and heart disease,” says Kelly.
11 Secrets Oatmeal Companies Don't Want You to Know
Oatmeal is properly recognized as a healthy food. It boasts many admirable nutritional qualities, such as being rich in needed vitamins and minerals including vitamins B1 and B5, manganese, copper, iron, and more, according to HealthLine. It’s rich in protein and fiber and low in fat. It’s nutrient-dense for its per-serving calorie count. Oatmeal is delicious, too, especially when it’s paired with fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, and other healthy additions.
The problem with oatmeal is that often the stuff you buy is laden with not-so-healthy additions, primarily sweeteners. In order to ensure all those health benefits just mentioned are not offset by unwanted ingredients, you have to be discerning and selective when it comes to the oatmeal you eat. And even then it’s actually not a good idea for most people to eat oatmeal every day.
Here are 11 secrets oatmeal companies would rather you not know about these globally-popular hulled grains. Plus, don’t miss these 22 Meals to Melt Belly Fat in 2022.
Most mainstream brands of flavored instant oatmeal, such as those from the heavy-hitter in the category, Quaker Oats, are so sugary they just shouldn’t be eaten. You’ll often find between 10 and 12 grams of sugar per a serving size well under 200 calories. This means you’ll be eating nearly a quarter of the total sugars experts recommend in a portion that provides less than a 10th of your average daily needed calories.
Your best bet is to make unflavored oatmeal and to add your own fresh fruit and light sweetener of choice.
Starches, glucose, and fiber, all of which are naturally occurring in oats (and some of which may be in even higher concentrations in more highly processed oatmeals) are all on the menu for gut bacteria. And when the bacteria in your system consumes these substances, one byproduct can be gas that leaves you in discomfort or outright pain, and can make your body look and feel swollen.
Oatmeal might seem like the ultimate shelf-stable food, and provided you store it properly, it can remain safe and tasty for a number of years. But according to My Recipes, store-bought oatmeal can and will turn rancid, and often in a matter of a year, if you leave it in its original packaging. That’s because oatmeal is often packed in paper baggies and/or cardboard packaging, both of which allow humidity, bacteria, and yeast to denigrate the quality of the food.
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You know how foods that are technically free of a given ingredient often still list that they were processed in a facility that may have caused exposure to said food? Often that’s just an abundance of caution for legal protection, but in the case of oatmeal and gluten, the issue is often real. According to HealthLine: “Oats are often contaminated with gluten because they may be processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, and barley.”
To be clear, a high-quality, low-sugar oatmeal eaten in proper portion sizes is a perfectly fine occasional food choice for someone with diabetes. However, even a low-sugar oatmeal can cause a blood sugar spike if too large a portion is eaten, according to HealthLine. And because oatmeal can cause slow stomach emptying, it can affect the timing and way in which other nutrients are absorbed, which can also be an issue for diabetics.
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There are three common types of oatmeal you’ll find for sale: steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and quick/instant oats. All of these types of oats have the inedible hull removed and all have health benefits to a varying degree, but they are not created equal. Steel-cut oats are the least processed thus take the longest time to cook yet have the most nutritional value. Quick oats are steamed, crushed, and toasted, so they cook fast but have less fiber and rank higher on the glycemic index. Rolled oats are in the middle ground in terms of processing and health.
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You might think of a food that keeps you full for a long time as a good thing, but there can be too much of a good thing in the case of oatmeal. Because eating oatmeal can leave you without hunger for so long, your body may end up shedding muscle mass as it doesn’t have the needed nutrients to maintain muscle tissue, not to mention to grow more of it.
Glyphosate is a chemical compound commonly used to kill off weeds and grasses, according to the EPA. The herbicide is used in proximity to the production of food crops like soybeans, corn, fruits, and, as you likely surmised, oats. Thus the stuff occasionally turns up in oatmeal. Choose a certified organic brand whenever you can to help avoid this compound.
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Many parents choose oatmeal as a healthy breakfast choice for their kids, and if the right brand and product is served, it can be. On the other hand, many oatmeal products are high in sugars, as noted, and they can even be high in other unwanted things, like saturated fat. One serving of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Dinosaur Eggs, for example, has 11% of the daily recommended limit for these fats, and in a food genuinely considered low fat.
According to Prevention.com, eating oatmeal can lead to weight gain in several insidious ways. First and foremost, unless you are using pre-packaged oatmeal or you are carefully measuring out a portion, you may be eating too much of the stuff and getting many more calories than you need. Second, the blandness of many types of oatmeal can cause you to add to many other ingredients–and unhealthy ones like syrup or sugar at that. And finally, as noted earlier, because oatmeal can leave you feeling too full for too long, it may throw off a regulated eating schedule, which is a surefire way to cause weight gain issues.
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