Not Enough Bacteria 

CHARLESTON, S.C., November 13 — A study presented at the Southeas Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society suggests that some yogurts may not be as healthy as they claim to be. Salam Ibrahim of North Caroline A&T State University conducted research on yogurts claiming health benefits and found that almost 25% did not contain the healthy bacteria cultures they advertise.

 The health benefits of yogurt have long been touted. It prevents intestinal infection, improves digestion and reinforces immune function – reason enough to consume plenty! Many of the intestinal and immune benefits from yogurt are due to active bacteria within the yogurt called bifidobacteria. Since the health benefits of bifidobacteria were discovered, there has been an effort by food manufacturers to incorporate more of these bacteria into dairy products such as yogurt.

  “Many food manufactures, particularly yogurt manufacturers, put the name bifidobacteria or bifius on their labels to attract this growing consumer base,” Ibrahim asserts. “Consumers usually pay a higher price for products containing these healthy bacteria, and they hope to get some health benefits associated with them.”

 Distinct from the bacteria that may make you sick, this “good bacteria” is essential to proper digestion. Good bacteria live in your intestines and help break down foods and attack and kill harmful pathogens before they can make you sick. In addition to normal yogurt cultures, bifidobacteria have been shown to help protect the body against infections such as GI tract infections and, some researchers claim, even cancer.

Consumers know that eating yogurt with bifidobacteria helps replenish the good bacteria and keep your body’s nature defenses working in topform. In order for yogurt to assist in intestinal health, though, it must contain viable cells of the bifidobacteria when you eat it.

Ibrihim’s goal was to screen commercial yogurt products claiming to contain viable cultures of bifidobacteria and test how many actually contain the healthy bacteria.

 Ibrahim and his group bought 58 different products off of grocery stores shelves that claimed to include bifidobacteria. However, when he tested them under normal household conditions only 75.9% contained viable cultures and “only a few provided health benefits.” Almost a quarter of the yogurts didn’t contain any viable bifidobacteria at all. “During processing the number of active and alive cells tends to decline,” Ibrahim revealed.   

 “We want to make consumers aware of this issue and demand products that live up to the health claims,” Ibrahim says. “In addition, this research could help industry develop new technology to ensure consumers receive high quality products.”