Does non-dairy yogurt contain probiotics? If you eat a plant-based diet, dairy foods, like yogurt, aren’t on the menu. Yet, there are other reasons, you might avoid dairy-based yogurt.
Around 65% of the population is lactose intolerant and can’t digest the lactose in dairy products, although some people who are lactose intolerant can still tolerate small amounts of yogurt. That’s because yogurt may contain less lactose than other dairy products, like milk.
But, what if you avoid dairy entirely for ethical or health reasons?
At one time, you had to search long and hard to find non-dairy yogurt. However, thanks to a growing number of people who are lactose intolerance, allergic to milk, or who don’t consume dairy for ethical reasons, you can now find a dizzying array of non-dairy yogurt options.
You’re probably familiar with soy yogurt, but almond and coconut milk yogurt joined the line-up of alternative yogurt options in the past few years. Yes, you now have more non-dairy yogurt options than ever.
[pullquote]Yogurt is actually good for your skin as well. It contains lactic acid, a weak acid that helps remove dead skin cells & slightly lighten the skin.[/pullquote]
You might eat yogurt because you enjoy the taste OR because you like the health benefits. Fermented foods, including yogurt, typically contain gut-healthy bacteria known as probiotics. If you choose a non-dairy option, you might wonder whether you’re getting the health benefits that yogurt offers or whether non-dairy yogurt falls short in terms of probiotic activity.
Here’s the burning question. Does non-dairy yogurt contain probiotics too?
Non-Dairy Yogurt and Probiotics
As you probably know, yogurt is made by adding bacteria, typically Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, to milk. Beforehand, the milk is pasteurized to a temperature of 85 to 90 degrees Centigrade first to kill harmful bacteria as you don’t want to expose the milk to heat after you add the starter bacteria.
The bacteria you add to a medium to make yogurt is known as a starter culture and, once added, the starter bacteria ferment the lactose in dairy milk and produce lactic acid. Lactic helps thicken the milk and give it the characteristic tart flavor of yogurt.
You can also add a starter culture to a plant-based milk, like soy, almond, or coconut, to make non-dairy yogurt. As long as fermentation takes place, the finished yogurt should contain bacteria. So, the short answer is “yes,” non-dairy yogurt can theoretically have the same probiotic content as dairy yogurt.
[pullquote]Yogurt can serve as a base for a variety of marinades, salad dressings, & sauces. Better for you than buying storebought ones. Remember, if you eat it though, you destroy the probiotics.[/pullquote]
Yet, not all commercial yogurt you buy is necessarily a GOOD source of probiotics. If the yogurt is exposed to heat or further processed after fermentation, it can kill the gut-friendly bacteria. It also must be stored at a lower enough temperature to keep the bacteria alive.
In addition, one study showed that when starter bacteria are added to soy milk to make soy yogurt, the bacteria grow more slowly than bacteria placed in dairy milk. In the case of soy yogurt, bacteria in the starter culture don’t ferment lactose, as soy milk is free of lactose. Instead, they ferment natural sugars in soy yogurt, mainly stachyose and raffinose.
So, it’s entirely possible that soy and other non-dairy forms of yogurt contain a lower concentration of probiotic bacteria.
How Do You Know Whether a Yogurt Contains Active Cultures?
When you buy yogurt of any kind, you’d like to know that you’re getting active bacterial cultures. The National Yogurt Association makes life a little easier with their Live and Active Cultures seal program. To bear this seal, a yogurt, dairy or non-dairy, must have at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt at the time the yogurt was made.
Keep in mind that some yogurt manufacturers add probiotic bacteria after fermentation and there’s no guarantee that the species they add have documented health benefits.
It’s not an ironclad guarantee because the yogurt may have been stored improperly in transit and some of the bacteria destroyed. However, this seal on a carton of yogurt gives you some reassurance you’re getting active bacteria. However, not all yogurt manufacturers necessarily participate in the program, so not seeing the seal doesn’t necessarily mean a yogurt is probiotic deficient.
[pullquote]68% of women eat yogurt versus only 43% of men. (Endlessfacts.com[/pullquote]
The standards are different for frozen yogurt. A frozen yogurt can carry the Live and Active Cultures seal if it contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time it was made. So, you’re likely getting fewer probiotics when you buy frozen yogurt.
How about yogurt-covered candies, like yogurt-covered raisins (Gotta admit, I have a weakness for those)? They’re devoid of probiotics since they’re heat treated. Sorry to break the news. ☹ Plus, they’re high in sugar.
One study of concern that casts doubts on the probiotic benefits of commercial yogurt was carried out by researchers at the University of Toronto. They found that the quantity of probiotics in most commercially available yogurt is not high enough to have health benefits.
In fact, they discovered that some commercial yogurts contained up to 25 times fewer probiotic bacteria than the amount needed for health benefits. For some of the yogurts they tested, you would need to consume 2 to 25 servings to get benefits. That’s a bit daunting!
Make Your Own Probiotic-Rich Yogurt?
You might have a better shot at getting enough probiotic bacteria if you can make your own non-dairy yogurt. At least you know when you make your own, it wasn’t exposed to heat after fermentation and you can store it appropriately. I have done this many times using soy or almond milk.
For the most part, I was pleased with the results. But, if you like a super-thick yogurt, you might be disappointed. Homemade yogurt tends to be thinner, although the taste is superior to what you buy at the grocery store.
There are ways to make homemade yogurt thicker. Letting it set a bit longer will thicken it up or you can strain it to give it more body and texture. When I make it now, I use an inexpensive digital yogurt maker with glass jars. You can buy a starter culture online.
What I like most about making my own is I can avoid the added sugar. Sometimes, I add a bit of Stevia or monk fruit if I want it sweeter. You can also flavor it in any way you like. I’ve used vanilla extract and pureed berries with good results. You can also flavor homemade yogurt with herbs for a savory-type yogurt. I haven’t tried this approach yet.
Don’t forget that yogurt isn’t the only fermented food that helps keep your gut in balance. Fermented vegetables, including fresh sauerkraut, have prebiotics, a type of fiber that feed the bacteria and helps them flourish.
Does Non-Dairy Yogurt Contain Probiotics: The Bottom Line
Yes, non-dairy yogurt contains probiotics just like dairy yogurt. However, any type of yogurt will lose its probiotic benefits if it’s exposed to heat after fermentation and if it isn’t stored at a cool enough temperature. With the University of Toronto study suggesting that some commercial yogurts don’t have high enough concentrations of active probiotic bacteria, I wouldn’t depend on yogurt, dairy or non-dairy, to be your only source of probiotics.
AboutYogurt.com. “Live and Active Culture (LAC) Yogurt FAQ’s”
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Lactose Intolerance”
Czech J. Food Sci., 33, 2015 (4): 313–319.
Nigerian Food Journal. Volume 31, Issue 2, 2013, Pages 91-97.
CTV News. ‘Most Probiotic Yogurts Don’t Contain Enough “Good” Bacteria for Additional Benefits: Study”