Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: How Much Yogurt Is Needed to Get Benefits of Bacteria?

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: My doctor told me to eat yogurt to get more healthy bacteria, but I'm lactose intolerant. How much yogurt does it take to get the benefits?


Dear Reader: When most people think of bacteria they think of things like raw chicken or spoiled milk. They also might think of a recent time they were sick and needed an antibiotic. In other words, most people associate "bacteria" with "bad."

Actually, certain types of bacteria are helpful to our bodies and to our society. They enrich our soil, make our wine, and help to keep us healthy by making vitamins and digesting our food.

Normally in our gut there are proteins called enzymes - and also some bacteria - that help us with digestion. When we use an antibiotic, it often will kill more than just the harmful bacteria. This can cause the balance of our GI system to be affected. Any efforts you can make to encourage healthy bacterial growth can help prevent this.

One type of "good bacteria" is found in yogurt. If you look on a yogurt carton, often it will say, "contains live active cultures." This means there are live bacteria in your yogurt. Don’t panic - it's good for you.

Initially, people thought it was only helpful to take in healthy bacteria if you were on an antibiotic or if you were in a country where you could ingest contaminated water. However, more evidence is showing that healthy bacteria - also called probiotics - have multiple health benefits. In fact, a recent review of scientific articles shows that people who take probiotic supplements are less vulnerable to upper respiratory illnesses, including sinusitis and the common cold.

How much is enough? Usually, we recommend one serving of yogurt in order to get your "daily dose" of healthy bacteria. However, this can be difficult for people with lactose intolerance.

According to the National Dairy Council (nationaldairycouncil.org), Greek yogurt contains less lactose than regular yogurt. Typically, a one-cup serving (six to eight ounces) packs 16 to 22 grams of protein, which is a great way to get lean, healthy protein. This will help you stay full longer.

In America, many of us eat mostly bread products and sugars for breakfast. So adding Greek yogurt to your breakfast will provide healthy bacteria, hunger-curbing protein, and may make your breakfast a bit more interesting than your usual oatmeal, cereal or toast.

For those who are lactose intolerant, I recommend trying one or two spoonfuls of Greek yogurt to see if it irritates your stomach. If so, you should steer toward the lactobacillus acidophillus or other "probiotic" capsules. These are sold in many grocery stores and pharmacies, and also can be prescribed by your physician.

If you are lactose allergic - meaning you get hives or throat swelling - then do not try any yogurt. Stick to the capsules.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 10/30/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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