While you’ll probably recognize some of these foods, others are newer offerings from manufacturers who are jumping onto the probiotics bandwagon on a grander scale and in increasing numbers. As was the case last year, the line between food and supplement can become blurred, especially in the case of nutrition bars and meal replacement shakes. If you’re planning to add probiotic foods to your diet or already enjoy them, I urge you to seek out local and regional small-scale manufacturers, a few of which are listed below. Some of the national mass-marketers in the game taint the goodness of probiotics by adding ingredients many of us are trying to avoid—like high fructose corn syrup.
In reviewing foods containing probiotics, refrigerated yogurt is still at the top of the list for familiarity among American consumers. Probiotic yogurts from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and soy are available.
Dannon continues to sell its Activia and DanActive, along with Danimals. Danimals is a yogurt snack geared toward kids, available in two forms: cups and drinkable. Currently, the drinkable form contains a trademarked culture called Lactobacillus GG, which is, according to the manufacturer, “the most extensively researched culture in kids, with proven health benefits.” Dannon claims that their drinkable Danimals is the only snack to contain it (the cup form will have this bacterium later this year). If any further proof is needed that there’s still a great deal of debate over probiotics, The New York Times reports that a class-action lawsuit was filed against Dannon in January of this year. The suit challenges Dannon’s claims that the benefits of its trademarked cultures have been “clinically” and “scientifically” proven, and alleges that Dannon undertook a massive campaign of false advertising to convince consumers to pay significantly more for Activia, Activia Lite and DanActive. Dannon stands by its products and its claims for them; there’s been no resolution of this suit to date.
Other yogurt manufacturers are beginning to understand the potential for probiotic appeal to consumers. Yoplait, owned by General Mills, is introducing Yo-Plus, a yogurt that “naturally regulates digestive health,” or so says the manufacturer. Yo-Plus contains OptiBalance, a “unique blend” of both prebiotics and probiotics, “to help your digestive system keep the balance nature intended.” Yoplait maintains that the probiotics and prebiotics “work together to help crowd out unfriendly bacteria in your system.” Also new for Yoplait is the synbiotic Fiber One, a yogurt with live active cultures and inulin (in the form of chicory root extract). Other products offered under the Fiber One brand include prebiotic-containing Chewy Snack Bars in three flavors, all of which contain oats. Incidentally, in all of these bars, inulin (chicory root extract) is the first ingredient. The bars weigh in at only 1.4 ounces each, but all contain a whopping 9 grams of fiber. Unfortunately, General Mills has chosen to use high fructose corn syrup in all varieties of both the yogurt and snack bars.
Stonyfield Farm continues to manufacture an ever-increasing array of yogurts with its own blend of probiotics. The most significant changes to the company’s offerings over the past year (for the purposes of this article) are the removal of inulin from most of the products (though it’s still in the fat-free 6-ounce cups with fruit on the bottom). In addition, the culture L. reuteri is no longer used; it has been replaced with L. rhamnosus, which, according to company research, boosts the immune system and promotes digestive health.
More recent entries into the refrigerated yogurt realm include The Greek Gods and ChobaniGreek Yogurt. Both manufacturers produce thick, Greek-style yogurt (it is triple strained to remove excess water). The Greek Gods makes a nonfat Plain variety and a reduced-fat Vanilla (really Vanilla, Cinnamon and Orange); their other flavors (Fig, Honey, Pomegranate and another Plain) are full-fat yogurts (read our review of The Greek Gods yogurt).
Most of Chobani’s products are nonfat, although they do make an Original Plain that is full-fat, as well as a Plain Lowfat. Chobani devotes much of a page on its website to live, active cultures and the NYA’s Live & Active Cultures seal, which it apparently qualifies for—yet the seal is not displayed on its cartons.
Large-scale yogurt manufacturers aren’t the only ones interested in probiotics, of course. A host of smaller manufacturers, whose yogurts tend to be sold or distributed locally or regionally (and are sometimes available via mail order), provide any number of delightful options in this area. While most of these products are made from cow’s milk, some are made from the milk of sheep or goats, which may be preferable for some consumers.
Liberté, the Canadian dairy products manufacturer, has introduced a product called Goat Fresh Cheese in a yogurt-style carton, which is very close to goat’s milk yogurt and nothing like a fresh, soft, spreadable goat cheese (it looks, tastes and smells just like goat yogurt—read our review for the slight differences, and why the company can’t call the product yogurt). It contains probiotic cultures in addition to microbial (non-animal-source) enzymes. This combination gives a the product a milder, less tart taste. The company tells me it will soon be adding inulin to this formulation.
Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, a California producers of goat’s milk yogurt, is an exception to my local/regional statement above. Although it is a smaller manufacturer, it has distribution across the U.S. (Read our review of Redwood Hill yogurt.)
Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in New York State makes a delicious sheep’s milk yogurt, and its website has a long list of the benefits of eating this product, including a few related to probiotics. You can order their yogurt by the case.
Painted Pepper Farm of Maine offers farmstead yogurt from the certified organic milk of Nigerian dairy goats. This microcreamery produces its yogurt only in glass containers. As the yogurt must incubate for 7 or 8 hours at roughly 110°F in its final container, Painted Pepper Farm is concerned about plastic leaching into foods, in terms of both safety and flavor. Flavors include Coffee Cream, Honey Ginger and Maple Cream, and they will mail-order.
If you like cow’s milk but prefer that the cows be grass-fed, Trader’s Point Creamery of Indiana makes wonderful, drinkable, organic yogurt in quart glass bottles (the Vanilla is a real treat).
Hawthorne Valley Farm produces organic, lush, very creamy Plain and Maple Vanilla yogurts in New York State (the farm itself is certified biodynamic).
Not into dairy products? There are soy yogurts aplenty from which you can choose.
Whole Soy & Co. of San Francisco has ten flavors of yogurt; all include four probiotic cultures.
Turtle Mountain, under the brand name So Delicious, offers synbiotic yogurts in five flavors, including the tasty-sounding Cinnamon Bun. All contain chicory root extract (a form of inulin), as well as the company’s proprietary blend of probiotics, a mix of no fewer than six cultures.