Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yogurt Not Required to Have Beneficial Bacteria

In another move that forces consumers to work harder to get healthy food, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed that food companies can continue to call a product "yogurt" even though it doesn't contain any live cultures of beneficial bacteria.

You can't make yogurt without adding active, live cultures to milk or cream, but you can then kill them off with heat in further processing.

It's the cultures that give yogurt its tart taste and creamy texture. Credible research has found that the bacteria benefit the human gut, helping people who have constipation, diarrhea, lactose intolerance, or other more serious conditions like colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. They also restore the good bacteria in your gut that get killed, along with the ones that are making you sick, when you take antibiotics.

The cultures also help cure vaginal yeast infections.

In its published response to a petition asking that yogurt, by definition, mean a product with live cultures, the FDA acknowledged that most people think of yogurt as a health food. But the bureaucrats went on to say they weren't convinced that consumers really understood about the connection to live cultures.

So, as before, they propose leaving the burden on shoppers to read each label to be sure they're getting live cultures.

Food companies will continue to be able to call their product yogurt even though the bacteria have been killed off in the making of the final product.

The National Yogurt Association--whose members include companies like Dannon--is attempting to make the shopping search easier with a special live culture logo.

But if you haven't read yogurt labels recently, take a few minutes to do so next time you buy some. Despite the healthy connotations, a lot of flavored yogurt is full of sugar--anywhere from 4 to 6 teaspoons per container, corn starch thickeners, coloring, etc.

Furthermore, the proposed new standard of identity for yogurt would remove the requirement that artifically sweetened yogurt declare that fact on the main label, saying for example, "Low-fat Yogurt Sweetened with Aspartame." Again, to find out what sweetener was used, you'll have to read the ingredients label.

The period for comments to the FDA technically ended at the end of March, but the FDA has been fiddling around with the yogurt standard for years and years. So, send them a comment anyway, either by fax at 301–827–6870, or via an Internet comment portal. If you use the portal, enter Docket No. FDA–2000–P–0126.

Here's a tip to save you money while eating the healthiest commerical yogurt possible: Buy plain yogurt with active cultures and add fruit, honey and other goodies yourself. You can also easily make your own and save even more.

But thanks again, FDA. We've got nothing better to do than stand in the supermarket aisles reading labels.

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