EAT SMART: The Truth About Fro-Yo’s Probiotics

Live, active cultures really can give your body a boost, but are fro-yo’s claims a fraud?

Probiotics have been shown to do everything from boosting your immune system to easing persistent tummy troubles, and Yogorino, Phileo, Palm Tree Market, Sweet Ending, and Marathon Grill all market their fro-yos with live, active cultures. They also tout the National Yogurt Association’s Live & Active Cultures (LAC) seal of approval (except for Italian Yogorino, which carries the European seal). But according to the U.S. Probiotics Organization, the LAC seal doesn’t mean you’re truly getting a probiotic boost in your fro-yo.

[sidebar]“Every yogurt sold in the U.S. is created with ‘starter bacteria,’” says probiotics expert Robert Roberts, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science at Penn State University. As long as yogurt isn’t heated after fermentation, it should contain friendly S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus bacteria in high numbers, as is the situation with all LAC seal-approved yogurts. But these bacteria aren’t natural inhabitants of the human digestive tract and usually are killed by the stomach’s acidic conditions before making it the intestine, where probiotics do all of their good-for-you work.

Because of this, many manufacturers, including the before-mentioned Philly’s fro-yo spots, add additional probiotics to their yogurts, namely L. acidophilus, bifidobacteria, and L. casei, types that normally live in the digestive tract and have been shown to do all of those great-for-you things like improve digestion, ward off infections, and boost your immune system. However, these probiotics don’t fall under the LAC seal, so they may not be included in the count — and there may not be enough of them in your sweet treat to really do your body good, says Roberts. “Every probiotic does something different, and they need to be in high enough numbers and eaten regularly to truly work,” he says. However, even though starter bacteria doesn’t colonize the gut — i.e., stick around long enough to really do any long-term good — they are present in high enough numbers in U.S. fro-yo that carries the LAC seal (there must be at least 10 million viable lactic acid bacteria per gram) that they can help with lactose digestion.

Though we did ask each place for numbers, almost all of the Philly fro-yo joints we spoke to weren’t able to give us hard stats on how much of each type of live cultures their frozen treats contained. However, here’s a look at which live, active cultures they’re adding to their swirled sensations.

Yogorino*
Bifidobacterium, L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. rhamnosus, L. salivarius, L. thermophilus

* We couldn’t find out how many of each type of bacteria Yogorino contains, but 100 grams (7/8 of a cup) has 350 million live bacterium, which is more than 1/3 of the amount that the EMEA (the European Union equivalent of the FDA) recommends you take in daily.

Sook Hee’s Produce
L.bulgaricus, S.thermophilus, L.acidophilus, L.lactis

Palm Tree Market

S.thermophilus, L.bulgaricus, L.lactis, L.acidophilus

Phileo
S.thermophilus, L.bulgaricus, L.lactis, L.acidophilus

Sweet Ending
Though they carry the LAC seal, they weren’t able to tell us which live active cultures their yogurt contains.

Marathon Grill
S.thermophilus, L.bulgaricus, L.lactis, L.acidophilus

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