Published 9th November 2022

The different types of yogurt and their probiotics

Probiotics are living microbes that benefit your health. Eating yogurt can increase the number of probiotics in your diet, but some are better for this than others. 

People make yogurt by adding bacteria to milk and leaving it to ferment until the bacteria grow and produce lactic acid. This gives the yogurt its characteristic flavor. 

The beneficial microbes in yogurt can help support your gut and overall health

Eating yogurt, especially types with more protein, can also help you feel fuller for longer. 

Read on to learn about the probiotics in kefir and different kinds of yogurt.

At ZOE, we believe that picking the best foods for your body is one of the best ways you can improve your overall health. 

With the ZOE at-home test, we can analyze your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut microbiome. 

With this information, we can give you nutrition advice that’s personalized — tailored to your body and long-term health and weight goals.

To get started, take our free quiz.

How to tell if a yogurt has probiotics

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all yogurt manufacturers to use probiotic bacteria called Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. These ferment milk and turn it into yogurt. 

But that doesn’t mean that the yogurt you’re buying at the store is teeming with these beneficial little bugs — some manufacturing processes kill them off.

According to the FDA, a product with something like “contains live and active cultures” on its label must have had at least 100 million living bacteria or colony forming units per gram when it was made. 

There must also be “a reasonable expectation” that at least 10 million bacteria are still alive at the end of the product’s shelf life.

More specifically, yogurts that have a “live active cultures” (LAC) seal contained at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacturing. But other products may also have live probiotics — this seal isn’t mandatory. 

And some manufacturers add other probiotic bacteria to their products. You may spot names like Bifidobacterium and other strains of Lactobacillus on labeling.

As you’ve probably gathered, reading labels is key, regardless of the type of yogurt you like. Check for:

  • the words “live and active cultures” on the label

  • a LAC seal

  • the names of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, and Bifidobacterium

And avoid yogurt that has been heat-treated, as this kills the good bacteria. Also avoid products with the phrase “does not contain live and active cultures” on their labels. 

Below, find eight of the best yogurts and other fermented dairy products, based on their probiotics.

1. Kefir 

Dairy kefir is made from fermented milk, like yogurt is. But kefir is typically less thick and more tangy. 

Kefir contains more probiotics than any yogurt. With up to 61 different strains of microbes, it can be an excellent source of probiotics.

People use specific clusters of microbes called kefir grains to ferment the milk. 

Interestingly, these microbes can exist together without any other food source. When added to milk, they feed on it and multiply, changing the flavor and adding nutrients. This is what gives kefir its tangy taste.

The probiotic strains can include Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Streptococcus, and Leuconostoc, but other cultures may be present, depending on the product. 

Kefir may offer a host of benefits beyond good gut health. These include improving blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar control. 

2. Regular yogurt

To make regular yogurt, manufacturers add Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus to warm pasteurized milk and let it ferment for a number of hours.

The probiotic bacteria multiply and will stay alive in the yogurt unless it’s heat-treated. 

When considering your options, look for labels that say “live and active cultures.” They may also list the names of bacterial strains.

The healthiest regular yogurt is also unsweetened or plain and doesn’t contain any additives. Try adding fruit or a little honey if you prefer a sweeter taste.

3. Greek yogurt

Greek yogurt is thicker and more tart than regular yogurt. This is because of an extra step in the manufacturing process.

To make Greek yogurt, manufacturers strain regular yogurt, removing the liquid whey. This gives a thicker, creamier texture. 

Compared with regular yogurt, Greek yogurt has more protein and a little less sugar. This allows it to keep you feeling fuller for longer, as the fat and protein help slow down your blood sugar response. 

The internet is full of popular science articles claiming that Greek yogurt has fewer probiotics than regular yogurt because straining supposedly removes beneficial bacteria along with the whey. 

However, there are no scientific studies to support this claim. Instead, the opposite may be true — some preliminary evidence suggests that Greek yogurt actually has more probiotics

4. Icelandic yogurt

Skyr is a thick, creamy, fermented skim-milk cheese that looks and tastes like yogurt. It’s made with heirloom Icelandic bacterial cultures.

It takes about four times as much milk to make skyr, compared with regular yogurt, resulting in a much thicker and creamier product that has a higher protein content. 

The probiotics in skyr are similar to those in regular and Greek yogurt. On the label, you might see Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium, and Lactobacillus acidophilus.

5. French yogurt

French yogurt is pot-set. This means that after fermentation, it’s set in small pots. By contrast, regular yogurt is usually fermented in big vats and poured into pots later.

French yogurt is more firm than regular yogurt, but the probiotics are the generally the same: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Some brands may add other bacterial strains, too.

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6. Australian yogurt

Australian yogurt is made with whole milk and is unstrained. 

It’s also fermented more slowly and for longer than regular yogurt, and some manufacturers add cream for an even thicker texture. 

Australian yogurt has to contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, just like regular yogurt. And some products contain other probiotic bacteria. 

For example, a typical type of Australian yogurt contains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus paracasei

7. Lactose-free yogurt

Lactose-free yogurt isn’t the same as dairy-free yogurt.

Lactose is a sugar that can be hard to digest. But many people with a mild-to-moderate lactose intolerance are still able to eat yogurt made with regular milk. 

To make a dairy-based lactose-free yogurt, manufacturers add the enzyme lactase to break down lactose into simple sugars that are easier to digest. Bacteria feed on these sugars during the fermentation process.

Lactose-free yogurts, like regular yogurts, contain Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus as starter cultures, and they can also contain other probiotic bacteria.

And some lactose-free yogurts also contain ingredients to make their textures more like those of regular yogurts.

8. Dairy-free yogurt

Manufacturers make dairy-free yogurts from various plant-based milks, such as almond, coconut, soy, oat, or cashew milk. 

They then use the same bacterial starter cultures to ferment the plant milk, and they add other ingredients to give the milk a yogurt-like texture.

However, some dairy-free yogurts are heat-treated, which kills the live bacteria.

If you want a product with probiotics, check the label to make sure the yogurt contains live and active cultures.

Summary

Many kinds of yogurt contain probiotics. But kefir, a different fermented dairy product, stands out — it has at least twice as many active cultures as most yogurts.

Kefir is less thick than yogurt. If you’re looking for a classic yogurt texture, there are plenty of options: Regular, Greek, Icelandic, French, Australian, lactose-free, and dairy-free yogurts can all be sources of probiotics.

Their manufacturing processes are slightly different, but they all go through fermentation that involves probiotics. 

Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference. But whatever you choose, check the label to make sure your yogurt contains live cultures. 

And if you’re interested in feeling fuller for longer, opt for a yogurt with more protein.

At ZOE, we know that the best foods are different for everyone. 

With the ZOE at-home test, we can analyze your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs living in your gut microbiome. 

With this information, we can give you personalized nutrition advice tailored to your body.

To get started, take our free quiz.

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