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Active Bacterial Cultures in Yogurt: Which Brands Have the Highest Levels?

written by: Teresa Martin • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 5/3/2011

There are so many brands of yogurt, but which yogurt has the highest level of active cultures? Find out about the good bacteria that can be found in some brands of yogurt on the market. Choose the ones containing the most cultures and improve your digestive health.

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    What is Yogurt?

    Yogurt is made from either whole or low fat milk. It is pasteurized to kill unwanted bacteria and then live culture is added. All yogurts should be made with live, active cultures according to regulations set forth by the FDA. Some yogurt is heat treated, which then kills or diminishes the digestive benefits of eating yogurt. The addition of known cultures, which are composed of the types of bacteria that are "good" bacteria, causes a fermentation to take place in the milk, acidifying it. The good bacteria grow over a period of time, resulting in live, active yogurt. Acidification of the milk and transformation into yogurt changes the composition enough that even those with lacto-intolerance can usually eat yogurt.

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    Brands of Yogurt With the Most Live Culture

    According to the National Yogurt Association (NYA) for yogurt to be considered as containing live and active cultures, there must be 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt at the time of manufacture. These live, active cultures must contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. In addition, yogurt can contain other varieties of Lactobacillus. Yogurt that meets the criteria for live, active cultures under the NYA guidelines has the live and active culture seal on their container.

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    Stonyfield Organic Yogurt

    Stonyfield Organic Yogurt contains 6 active cultures. These are Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus, which are found in all active yogurts. In addition, Stonyfield contains L. acidophilus, L. bifidus, L. casei and L.rhamnosus.

    Stonyfield also makes Greek style yogurt. The organic variety contains 5 cultures and the non-organic variety of Greek yogurt contains 3 cultures.

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    Brown Cow Organic Yogurt

    Brown Cow Organic Yogurt contains four live active cultures. This brand contains Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which are found in all varieties of yogurt. In addition, there are two other bacterial cultures, L. acidophilus and L. bifidus. Brown Cow Organic Yogurt is heated slowly to pasteurize it. Milk is from cows with no artificial hormone treatment and is also certified Kosher.

    Brown Cow has no artificial ingredients or preservatives added and uses fresh wholesome ingredients in all of their varieties.

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    Dannon Activia Yogurt

    Dannon's Activia Yogurt contains 3 live cultures. In addition to the standard two cultures, Activia contains L. bifidus. Dannon Activia also contains added sugar and fructose.

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    Things to Consider When Purchasing Yogurt

    Yogurt made from organic milk that has no artificial ingredients, refined sugar or preservatives and contains the NYA seal of live and active cultures are the best choices. Yogurt that is heated slowly tends to have more live culture as rapidly heating can kill bacteria. Check which yogurt has the highest level of active cultures by looking for the number of varieties of bacteria. This will give an indication of how many live cultures are present in the yogurt and provide the greatest number of "good" bacteria per gram.