Know Your Yogurt
The connection between intestinal health and general physical and mental health has become firmly established. Gastrointestinal problems have been linked to arthritis, skin problems, poor immune function, mental imbalances, and other conditions. Faulty diet, poor digestion, prescription drugs, environmental poisons, and a stressful lifestyle all contribute to the accumulation of toxins in the digestive tract. If these toxins cannot be eliminated, a process of autointoxication begins whereby such poisons are reabsorbed into the bloodstream. It is then only a question of time before disease sets in.
The Edgar Cayce readings place great importance on maintaining intestinal health and a clean colon, suggesting that "...everyone--everybody--should take an internal bath occasionally..." (440-2), referring to colonic irrigation. In addition, the readings recommend yogurt as an aid in detoxifying and nourishing the intestinal tract: "Also we would add yogurt in the diet as an active cleanser through the colon and intestinal system. This would be most beneficial, not only purifying the alimentary canal but adding the vital forces necessary to enable those portions of the system to function in the nearer normal manner." (1542-1)
Yogurt and other cutured dairy products, such as buttermilk, quark, and kefir, are a good source of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which help maintain healthy microflora in the intestinal tract. Regular ingestion of LAB has been shown to improve immune function and promote the synthesis of nutrients, notably the B vitamins. In addition, LAB are known to lower serum cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
LAB, which convert the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, are of particular benefit to those who suffer from lactose intolerance due to a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. Many lactose-intolerant people find that when they take LAB-fermented milk products such as yogurt, symptoms of gastric distress normally associated with milk intake are eliminated or significantly reduced.
Can a common food such as yogurt truly bestow such amazing health benefits? Indeed, but all yogurt products are not alike. What makes a major difference in their quality is whether or not they contain live and active LAB cultures. In the U.S., F.D.A. regulations require that all yogurts be made with active culture. However, some yogurt manufacturers use heat treatment in order to extend shelf life. Heat treatment kills LAB, and yogurt thus treated does not contain active culture. In Canada, heat treatment of yogurt is against the law.
When purchasing yogurt, it is important to read the label carefully. If the label says "made with active culture," the yogurt may have undergone heat treatment and the culture with which it is made may no longer be active. Be sure that the label reads "contains active culture," or that it shows the Live & Active Cultures seal of The National Yogurt Association, which guarantees that the yogurt contains at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. The number of cultures remains stable for about two to three weeks, and then gradually declines. You can do a simple test to check if your yogurt still contains active culture by adding a little of the yogurt to fresh milk. If the milk starts to curdle, the culture is still actve. Be sure, however, not to consume yogurt or other dairy products after their expiration date.
Yogurts that are stirred and mixed with fruit may also contain a thickening agent such as cornstarch for improved texture. "Set" yogurts, in which the fruit sits at the bottom, generally do not contain such additives.
A lack of understanding concerning the importance of natural fats, such as dairy fats, in a healthy diet has contributed to a consumer preference for low-fat and non-fat yogurt. Unless a person has a problem digesting fats, I do not recommend them. The fat in milk assists in the absorption and assimilation of nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin A. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are not whole foods. Many non-fat yogurts also contain artificial sweeteners and other toxic additives. Ideally, keep yogurt simple so that you can benefit from all its natural goodness.
It is best to buy organic yogurt, available in health food stores and some supermarkets. You can also make your own yogurt, using a store-bought starter culture. It is especially easy when you use a yogurt maker, and it is the best way to ensure that your yogurt is fresh and contains live and active LAB cultures.
Cayce reading 5210-1 effectively summarizes the reasons why yogurt is a valuable addition to the diet: "Then, for the strengthening of the body, for the gradual building up of the vitality, use yogurt."
This article first appeared in the September/October, 2002, issue of Venture Inward and has been used by permission of the author.
Simone Gabbay, a registered nutritional consultant in Toronto, Canada, is the author of Nourishing the Body Temple and Visionary Medicine. She maintains a website at