How to choose the right yoghurt to support gut health

Woman eating yogurt sitting in kitchen at home
Experts often praise yoghurt as being good for gut health, but how do you choose the right type? (Getty Images)

One of the first foods that usually comes to mind whenever gut health is mentioned is yoghurt, and for good reason. Not only is it delicious, but the popular dairy product is also packed with all kinds of good bacteria that can help you improve and maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Our gut microbiome comprises trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that work together to help digest food, destroy harmful bacteria and communicate with other systems within the body.

As a fermented dairy product, yoghurt contains plenty of good stuff, including protein, calcium, vitamins, and live cultures, which are also known as probiotics. Probiotics are known to encourage healthy gut microbiota, leading to better gut health and function.

When milk undergoes the fermentation process to become yoghurt, lactose is converted into lactic acid, which is said to make food more digestible and nutritious. It can also help provide a regular supply of beneficial bacterium to the digestive system.

Liz Cooper, technical advisor at live bacteria supplement brand Bio-Kult, explains to Yahoo UK that this is important because of the gut’s role in keeping our overall health in tip-top shape.

"Integral to the health of our gastrointestinal tract are the huge number of microbes that reside there, and whilst bacteria from fermented foods like yoghurt do not stay in the gut, they are able to exert their beneficial effects whilst moving through it," she says.

"For example, competing with pathogens, strengthening the gut lining and interacting with the immune system, making the environment more hospitable for our resident gut bacteria to thrive."

How do I choose the best yoghurt for my health?

When it comes to picking a yoghurt that will give you maximum benefit, it’s best to stick to the traditional stuff.

Natural or Greek yogurt

Both natural and Greek yoghurt contain live bacteria. The main difference between the two is that Greek yoghurt has been strained to remove whey, making it thicker and higher in protein, but lower in calcium. Greek yoghurt also has less lactose, which could make it easier for someone who is lactose intolerant to digest it.


Kefir is a soured yoghurt that originates from the Caucasus Mountains, some time before 3000 BC, Cooper explains. It is made using milk and kefir grains, and is said to be a "complex symbiosis of more than 20 to 30 microorganisms, mainly lactic acid and yeasts".


Natural skyr glass
Skyr, an Icelandic yoghurt, is thicker and creamier than natural or Greek yogurt. (Getty Images)

Skyr is a traditional Icelandic yoghurt that is super thick and creamy. It is made by heating skim milk and adding dairy cultures that thicken it before straining, making it more concentrated, with more protein content and less fat.

Plant milk yoghurts

A good option for people who are lactose intolerant or vegan are yoghurts made from plant milks, which are widely available. However, Cooper warns that these may contain additional ingredients like thickeners, stabilisers and flavourings to make them taste more like traditional yoghurt, so make sure to choose products with as few ingredients as possible.

Are there yoghurts I should avoid?

Not all yoghurts are created equal. Recently, there has been more public awareness around ultra-processed foods and many types of yoghurt fall into this category, particularly fruit yoghurts that contain sweeteners, preservatives, stabilisers or colourings.

Cooper urges consumers to take a closer look at the ingredients labels on yoghurt products before buying them. "Many of them contain high sugar extras like chocolate or fruit compotes. Like any ultra-processed food, yoghurts like this can be far removed from traditional yoghurt and, as well as not containing much or any live beneficial bacteria, can actually be unhealthy and detrimental to gut health."

Be aware of the ingredients in fruity or low-fat yogurts, experts say. (Getty Images)
Be aware of the ingredients in fruity or low-fat yoghurts, experts say. (Getty Images)

She adds that low-fat yoghurts also fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, as they can contain additives to make them more palatable.

"They’re also often less nutritious with lower amounts of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, and with reduced protein and fat, they can often leave you feeling like you need to eat more, which defeats the object of choosing a product that’s marketed for weight loss!"

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