The short answer: No.
Commercial yogurt is a product of convenience and short-cuts that provides little to no health benefits. But it shouldn’t be that way—and you have the ability to make your own yogurt that, if done properly, yields genuine life-changing benefits. No, this is not about the benefits of homemade yogurt. This is about obtaining life-changing benefits by picking and choosing microbial species with specific health benefits, species largely lost by modern humans. It is about cultivating huge numbers of bacteria in the hundreds of billions per half-cup serving for larger health effects.
Visit the dairy refrigerator section of most supermarkets, and you will see the astounding variety of yogurts available: non-fat, low-fat, full-fat, sweetened, unsweetened, squeezable tubes, Greek, crumbled cookies or gummies on top, etc. What you will not see is any product that yields the kinds of extravagant benefits that are possible—if it were done right.
There are several factors you should be aware of with commercial yogurt:
- Commercial yogurt making is typically a 4-hour long process. After all, commercial production relies on speed of manufacture. If this were about shoes, would you make more money if it required 30 minutes to manufacture a new pair or if it required 3 days? Obviously, it is in the interests of food manufacturers to hasten the process in order to maximize profits. Most microbes double every 2-3 hours. My favorite microbe, for instance, Lactobacillus reuteri, doubles every 3 hours: 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, and so on. After 4 hours in commercial yogurt fermentation, you’ve got almost nothing for microbial counts. Granted, the species used in commercial yogurt manufacturing double every 1 hour, but 4 hours remains a very short time with limited doublings. For this reason, most commercial yogurts contain trivial numbers of probiotic bacteria.
- Commercial yogurt making uses Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus––These are the species that the FDA requires to be present in order to label something “yogurt.” Other microbes can be added and some manufacturers do so. But, of all the microbial species and strains we can choose from to ferment, these species are among the least interesting—nobody consumes commercial yogurt and experiences dramatic improvements in health. Why not choose microbes that yield specific health effects when consumed in high numbers: L. reuteri for deeper sleep, restoration of youthful libido, smoother skin with less wrinkles. L casei Shirota for a big boost to your immune response that reduces likelihood of viral respiratory infections by 50% and reduces feelings of stress. B infantis for healthier children less likely to have asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and have higher IQs. (This is what I advocate in my new Super Gut book complete with how to source various microbes and the fermentation conditions to use.)
- Commercial yogurt making requires the addition of thickening agents—You will commonly see xanthan gum, gellan gum, carrageenan and other ingredients on the product label, added to thicken the end-product. if done properly, fermentation should thicken the end-product without need for thickeners. The brief fermentation times used commercially means that they have to artificially thicken the yogurt.
- Commercial yogurt making mostly uses non- or low-fat milk—We can’t blame the yogurt or dairy industry for accommodating to consumer demand for low-fat products even if it was wrong all along. Of all components in dairy that are potentially problematic (e.g., whey protein, hormones, casein beta A1), milk fat is the least problematic, actually non-problematic. So, given the nonsense that passes for dietary guidelines in this country, the healthiest component of dairy is removed. This is yet another reason why they add thickening agents: to compensate for the watery nature of non- and low-fat dairy.
- Commercial yogurts contain undesirable ingredients—High-fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, sucrose, dextrose, artificial colors, food starch, cornstarch, preservatives are among the ingredients commonly added. Not only do such additives added to tart up your yogurt add to weight gain and high blood sugars, some of them are disruptive to your intestinal microbiome, especially preservatives.
Compare the thin yogurt you buy commercially containing thickeners with some of our yogurt made with 18% fat dairy (half-and-half) and put through extended fermentation with added prebiotic fibers, yielding around 250-262 billion counts of microbes per 1/2-cup serving:
Yes, the “yogurts” we make are thick enough to stand erect on a plate, are filled with health microbial species of your choosing at hundreds of billions of bacterial counts, and yield specific health benefits that you may have thought were unachievable.