Yogurt and fermented milks: why they are good and how to choose them

Fermented milk and yogurt like them more and more: Assolatte data (World yogurt market report 2000-2025) show that since the beginning of this millennium they represent all over the world one of the most successful food categories and their consumption will continue to grow steadily in the future as well.

The reasons? «Not only the repeated confirmations on many health properties of these foods, but also the variety of the offer, which allows you to enjoy them at any time of the day. Also, they are more digestible than milk, because the enzymes they contain transform part of the lactose (often poorly tolerated) into lactic acid ", explains the doctor Roberta Madonna, nutrition biologist in Santa Maria Capua Vetere (Caserta).

Let's get to know them better with the advice of our experts.


They are obtained thanks to the milk fermentation operated by probiotic microorganisms, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, of the same type as the "good ones" that lodge in the colon. These superferments are able to survive the passage through the stomach and stomach acids reach the intestine, and then multiply.

"But one thing must be clarified immediately," warns the food technologist Giorgio Donegani. «The label cannot give information on the positive action of the different bacterial strains indicated among the ingredients (for example "strengthens the defenses" or "rebalances the intestinal microbiota") unless the product has passed the rigorous review of EFSA". It is in fact this European Food Safety Authority that, after having analyzed one large amount of studies referring to a specific fermented milk, can give the ok to advertise one or more of its beneficial effects.

Faced with the difficulties and costs necessary for the development of documentation capable of satisfying EFSA's restrictive criteria, most companies have decided to circumvent the obstacle adding some vitamins to the enzymes (B6, D and C) from the note, proven and recognized action on the immune system, whose cells are concentrated for 70-80% in the intestine (hence the link between balanced bacterial flora and health). "A in my opinion, a questionable choice, because thus the effectiveness of a product seems to depend not by the presence of a superferment (as it really should be), but from that of one or more vitamins only because of these there are several scientific studies available free of charge which demonstrate its effectiveness ".

Because they are good

The properties of fermented milks are truly extraordinary.

«In addition to the richness in nutrients, that is proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins contained in the starting raw material, these products contain families of probiotic bacteria which rebalance the so-called intestinal microbiota: they feed the proliferation of healthy strains and keep pathogenic ones at bay », says Doctor Madonna.

"The positive effects are manifold: increased resistance to infections, because a large part of our immune system (as already mentioned) resides in the intestine, correct metabolism of all the nutrients introduced by eating, production of short-chain fatty acids, which contribute to the proper functioning of muscles, heart and brain, degradation of toxic and waste substances and even prevention of some types of cancer. Not enough: a healthy microbiota it also affects the nervous system, thanks to the tight two-way colon-brain communication system. Among the many studies in this regard, an authoritative research from the University of Illinois, published in the scientific journal Gut Microbes, has in fact found that in the intestines of people affected by neurocognitive developmental alterations, such as autism, are colonies of pathogenic bacteria prevail, such as those of the ruminococcus type. Finally, it was seen that one healthy intestinal flora it also serves to keep the body weight within the normal range ».

How to choose them

«Give preference to products that indicate the number of microorganisms present»Advises the food technologist Giorgio Donegani. «As for the other 'ingredients', you prefer the fermented milks they contain little sugar: it is a nutrient with which it is always better not to overdo it to prevent obesity and diabetes problems ».


«The name" yogurt "can only be applied if the fermentation is obtained with two particular microorganisms, streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus, which develop transforming the sugar in the milk, lactose, in lactic acid », explains Doctor Madonna.

«A gram of product contains by law at least 10 million of each of the two species, which must remain largely alive until the expiration date. What are these bacteria different from probiotic ones? Only to a small extent do they manage to overcome the gastrointestinal barrier alive and, therefore, to colonize the intestinal microbiota. Yet they have it anyway very interesting properties, which make yogurt a precious food ».

And certainly loved by the villagers who have one particular attention to your health: Assolatte-Crea data reveal that 22,7% of the population who eat it on a regular basis, i.e. with aaverage intake of 90,4 grams per day, have a healthier lifestyle than those who don't.

In particular, the highest consumption rates are recorded among those who they practice at least two hours a week of sporting activity, have a lower BMI, do not smoke, follow a low calorie diet and they carefully read food labels (list of ingredients and nutritional values) when shopping.

Because it is good

«Yogurt is an excellent source of highly assimilable nutrients and, in particular, proteins, minerals (including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc), vitamin B12, riboflavin and niacin ", explains the nutritionist.

Furthermore, provides tryptophan, an amino acid that has positive effects on the central nervous system as a precursor of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with an antidepressant action.

Thanks then to content of lactoferrin, a protein, promotes the absorption of iron at the duodenal level and at the same time removes it from the metabolism of pathogenic bacterial species, such as Escherichia coli, which multiply in the presence of this mineral.

In addition, the microorganisms it is rich in are capable of produce bacteriocins, or molecules with antibiotic action, which make yogurt an effective weapon for prevent infections and to inhibit the production of putrefactive substances in the intestine.

The enzymes, through the production of lactic acid, also intervene in mechanisms of modulation of the immune defenses and, as revealed by a study by the Boston University School of Medicine, they reduce the likely to suffer from hypertension, especially in women, as long as the consumption of yogurt is regular (i.e. at least 5 times a week).

How to choose it

«Since the presence of microorganisms gradually decreases over time, he always buys products far from the expiration date and don't wait too long to eat them », advises food technologist Giorgio Donegani. «Then make sure that the word "yogurt" appears on the label, because there are versions that are completely similar in appearance and consistency, which are however sterilized (with the result of killing the bacteria present) to prolong their life: in most cases are offered for sale as a "dessert"».

Also products containing probiotics cannot be defined as "yogurt", but for opposite reasons: they do not provide dead cultures, but super enzymes, different or in addition to those required by law (streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus). «If, among the various products on the market, you focus on these fortified ones, that is enriched with probiotics present in other fermented milks, you are assured of an even more effective and complete food, which can be defined in all respects as a nutraceutical ", says Dr. Roberta Madonna.

As for the other “ingredients” to check: «Check that they do not appear on the label dyes, unspecified flavors and preservatives (generally sorbic acid), all substances that make the product a little less natural ”, warns Dr. Giorgio Donegani. “Finally, take a look at the nutritional table. And prefer the "types" with less simple sugars, less fat and fewer calories. For the line and for health ».


A Korean study published in PloS One found that regular consumption of yogurt and other fermented milks is very effective for mouth health. All thanks to the ability of the enzymes to prevent inflammation of the gums and, therefore, dental problems.

The survey analyzed lifestyle, oral hygiene and eating habits of 6000 adults, finding a significant presence of periodontal disease in people who do not eat yogurt and fermented milks. Conversely, the incidence of oral cavity problems decreases as consumption increases.

The reason? Live microorganisms present in these foods they produce particular molecules, including reuterin, capable of inhibiting the growth of bacteria that cause periodontitis, a degenerative inflammatory disease that damages the supporting tissues of the teeth, coming to cause its fall.

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