I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, about their long-awaited and much-needed Yogurt Report. The interview took place at the recent Heirloom Seed Festival in Santa Rosa, CA, where we both had the honor of speaking.
The idea for the Yogurt Report was seeded about two years ago. I was out of town and a friend requested yogurt, so I went out looking for some in a local grocery store.
To my dismay, I couldn’t find a single healthy yogurt. They were all junk food disguised as “health food.” Previous to this experience, I was unaware of how truly degenerated most commercial yogurts had become.
I believe this is really a strong case of deception, so I turned to The Cornucopia Institute. It required two years of investigation.
If you’re eating yogurt to help optimize your gut flora, you need to review this report. Chances are you’re currently eating yogurt that has more similarities with candy than anything else…
Have You Been Deceived?
Most commercial yogurts are chockfull of artificial colors, flavors, additives, and sugar, typically as fructose (high fructose corn syrup), which actually nourishes disease-causing bacteria, yeast, and fungi in your gut. Since your gut has limited real estate, this smothers your beneficial bacteria and gets you sick.
Sugar also promotes insulin resistance, which is a driving factor of most chronic disease. Virtually all commercially available yogurts use pasteurized milk (heated at high temperature) even before it is reheated to make the yogurt itself, and this has its own drawbacks.
The top-rated yogurts are generally VAT pasteurized at relatively low temperatures, and are made from raw milk rather than previously pasteurized milk. While not as advantageous as making yogurt from raw milk in your own home, it’s certainly better than most commercial yogurt.
The report also took a look at the food industry’s labeling campaign, Live and Active Cultures, which is supposed to help consumers select products with high levels of healthy probiotics.
To assess probiotic content, Cornucopia tested yogurt purchased directly from grocery stores instead of following the industry’s practice of testing levels at the factory. As it turns out, many of the brands bearing the Live and Active Cultures label contain LOWER levels of probiotics than the top-rated organic brands in Cornucopia’s report and scorecard that are not part of the Live and Active campaign.
The report also includes a comparative cost analysis of commercial yogurt brands. The good news is that many organic yogurts are actually less expensive, on a price-per-ounce basis, than conventional, heavily-processed yogurts.
Cornucopia Files Complaint; Requests FDA Investigation
As noted in their press release announcing the release of the report:
“Based on its industry investigation, The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to investigate whether or not certain yogurts on the market, manufactured by such companies as Yoplait, Dannon, and many store brands including Walmart’s Great Value, violate the legal standard of identity for products labeled as yogurt.
The Cornucopia Institute requests that the legal definition of ‘yogurt’ be enforced for product labeling, just as it is for products labeled ‘cheese.’
‘The reason that Kraft has to call Velveeta® ‘processed cheese-food’ is that some of the ingredients used, like vegetable oil, cannot legally be in a product marketed as ‘cheese’,’ Kastel added.
Cornucopia alleges that some of the ingredients that manufactures are using in yogurt, like milk protein concentrate (MPC), typically imported from countries like India, do not meet yogurt’s current legal standard of identity.”
Why You Need Probiotics
Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria, mostly in your gut, which is more than 10 times the number of cells you have in your entire body. It’s now quite clear that the type and quantity of micro-organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases.
A healthy microbiome is not only important for optimal digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, these bacteria also help your body produce vitamins, absorb minerals, aid in the elimination of toxins, and are responsible for a good part of your immune system and mental health, including your ability to resist anxiety, stress, and depression.
As shown in earlier research, certain microorganisms are particularly efficient at binding to certain toxins and/or chemicals, including pesticides. Here, they found that L. rhamnosus had a preference for binding (and eliminating) mercury and arsenic.
According to the authors: “Probiotic food produced locally represents a nutritious and affordable means for people in some developing countries to counter exposures to toxic metals.” Probiotics also have dozens of other beneficial pharmacological actions, including:
Radio- and chemo protective
Brain Health Is Strongly Tied to Gut Health
While many think of their brain as the organ in charge of their mental health, your gut may actually play a far more significant role. Mounting research indicates that problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression. For example:
- One proof-of-concept study conducted by researchers at UCLA found that yogurt containing several strains of probiotics thought to have a beneficial impact on intestinal health also had a beneficial impact on participants’ brain function; decreasing activity in brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation such as anxiety.
- The Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility7 reported the probiotic known as Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain.
- Other research found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels—an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes—in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior.
Previous studies have confirmed that what you eat can quickly alter the composition of your gut flora. Specifically, eating a high-vegetable, fiber-based diet produces a profoundly different composition of microbiota than a more typical Western diet high in carbs and processed fats.
This is part and parcel of the problem with most commercially available yogurts—they’re widely promoted as healthy because they contain (added) probiotics, but then they’re so loaded with ingredients that will counteract all the good that they’re basically useless… The negative effects of the sugar far outweigh any marginal benefits of the minimal beneficial bacteria they have. Remember, the most important step in building healthy gut flora is avoiding sugar as that will cause disease-causing microbes to crowd out your beneficial flora.
Surprisingly, Mark Kastel notes that some of the organic brands of yogurt actually contained some of the highest amounts of sugar! It’s important to realize that some yogurt can contain as much sugar as candy or cookies, which most responsible parents would not feed their children for breakfast. Artificial flavors are also commonly used.
You Can Easily and Inexpensively Make Your Own Yogurt
Your absolute best bet, when it comes to yogurt, is to make your own using a starter culture and raw grass-fed milk. Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows not only contains beneficial bacteria that prime your immune system and can help reduce allergies, it’s also an outstanding source of vitamins (especially vitamin A), zinc, enzymes, and healthy fats. Raw organic milk is not associated with any of the health problems of pasteurized milk such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin rashes, diarrhea, and cramps.
To find a local source of raw grass-fed milk, see RealMilk.com.
While delicious as is, you could add a natural sweetener to it. Mark suggests whole food sweeteners such as raw organic honey or maple syrup, for example. You can also add flavor without sweetening it up by adding some vanilla extract, or a squirt of lime or lemon juice. Whole berries or fruits are another obvious alternative. Just be mindful not to overdo it, especially if you’re insulin or leptin resistant—and about 80 percent of Americans are.
Nourish Your Microbiome with Organic Yogurt for Optimal Health
Cultured foods like yogurt are good sources of natural, healthy bacteria, provided they’re traditionally fermented and unpasteurized. One of the best and least expensive ways to get healthy bacteria through your diet is to obtain raw milk and convert it to yogurt or kefir. It’s really easy to make at home. All you need is some starter granules in a quart of raw milk, which you leave at room temperature overnight.
By the time you wake up in the morning you will likely have kefir. If it hasn’t obtained the consistency of yogurt, you might want to set it out a bit longer and then store it in the fridge.
A quart of kefir has far more active bacteria than you’d obtain from a probiotic supplement, and it’s very economical as you can reuse the kefir from the original quart of milk about 10 times before you need to start a new culture pack. Just one starter package of kefir granules can convert about 50 gallons of milk to kefir! Cultured foods should be a regular part of your diet, and if you eat enough of them you will keep your digestive tract well supplied with good bacteria. There may still be times when a probiotic supplement is necessary, but for day-to-day gut health maintenance, yogurt and other traditionally cultured or fermented foods are truly ideal choices.