Yogurt is a tasty, healthy snack for people of all ages, and the popular dairy product may have added benefits as you get older — particularly for your gut. Maintaining gut health is increasingly important as we age, as an imbalance in gut bacteria can be linked to chronic illnesses (like inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer), impacting the quality or longevity of life.

Some yogurt varieties contain active bacteria called probiotics that help with digestion and enhance gut health. Let’s take a look at how age affects gut health — and the benefits of adding yogurt to your diet.

Understanding gut bacteria

Trillions of bacteria form a community — a microbiome — inside your gut and other parts of the human body. The unseen host of microorganisms that live within your intestinal tract help metabolize nutrients in food, protect against infections, stimulate the immune system and more. It’s important to remember that the kinds of bacteria in your gut microbiome change over time. Genetic factors, lifestyle choices and eating habits can affect or upset the microbial balance. Age-related issues like decreased mobility, fatigue, weakness and dental problems can alter the kinds of foods you eat, which can limit the variety of good bacteria in your gut. Eating certain types of yogurt is one way to help regulate gut bacteria diversity and improve gut health.

Nutrients and probiotics in yogurt

Yogurt is made by fermenting pasteurized milk with different live bacteria cultures. It’s a dairy product but has less lactose than milk. Lactose-intolerant people might find it easier to digest. A single yogurt serving provides lots of healthy nutrients for older adults, including calcium that protects teeth and bones and protein to maintain muscle mass. Other important vitamins and minerals include potassium, magnesium, vitamins B6 and B12 and riboflavin.

Many yogurts also contain added probiotics. Probiotics boost immune health, help your body metabolize nutrients in food and medicine, and curb age-related digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea and gas. UCLA researchers also found that a group of women who regularly ate yogurt with probiotics experienced changes in brain function.

Look for the Live & Active Cultures (LAC) seal

Some yogurts are heat-treated after they’re fermented — unfortunately, this process destroys the finished product’s beneficial active cultures. The International Dairy Foods Association created a special seal to mark which yogurts contain live and active cultures. The Live & Active Cultures (LAC) seal appears on yogurt containers for products that contain “significant amounts of live and active cultures.” Look for the LAC seal to ensure that the yogurt you’re buying has these important benefits.

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Which yogurt is for you?

Yogurt comes in several different types. You might try a few varieties before deciding which one is best for you. Regular-fat yogurt uses whole milk, low-fat is made from 2% milk, and nonfat is typically made from skim or 0% milk.

If you can’t tolerate dairy or don’t consume animal products, nondairy yogurt alternatives have grown in popularity, and many of them contain probiotics. They’re made from soy, almonds, coconut, oats and other dairy-free ingredients.

Greek yogurt is strained during production to remove extra liquid, making it thicker and creamier than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt has become popular due to its protein content and because it can serve as a substitute for a lot of other foods — like sour cream, buttermilk and cottage cheese. While higher in protein, Greek yogurt might contain less calcium.

Another way to make sure your gut is happy is to drink kefir, a liquid, drinkable form of yogurt that contains probiotics.

Avoid excess sugar and additives

Try to avoid yogurt that contains too much sugar, artificial sweeteners or other unhealthy additives. Ingesting too much sugar can elevate blood pressure and cause systemic inflammation, negatively impacting gut bacteria. For healthier options, look for yogurt with less than 15 grams of sugar and avoid excess additives and artificial sweeteners.

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