Can live microorganisms be tasty? Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines and in yogurts and supplements, can ease digestive woes and may lower cholesterol and strengthen immune systems. In separate taste tests, our trained panelists tried 11 yogurts (four of them Greek-style, generally thicker and higher in protein) and three smoothies. All were strawberry except for strawberry-banana Chobani. At an outside lab, we measured the levels of three types of probiotic bacteria in those products and in four probiotic supplements. To ensure that the probiotics are made available to the body, we also tested the pills for disintegration.
All of the yogurts contained very high levels of living, good-for-you bacteria, measured in colony forming units (CFUs). More research is needed before recommended levels are established, but some research suggests 1 billion CFUs as a daily minimum for good health. The tested foods averaged 90 billion to 500 billion CFUs per serving. Levels in the supplements ranged from an average of 0.7 billion to 20 billion CFUs per capsule (you take one a day). Culturelle and Phillips' had higher levels than the other two. All of the supplements disintegrated except for the Acidophilus Pearls product, which didn't do as well in our tests.
Greek yogurts Fage Total 2% and Chobani Low-Fat were excellent; the other yogurts and smoothies were very good or good. In general, the Greek yogurts were much creamier than the regular ones and had more real fruit flavor. "Fat free" generally means you'll shave off a gram or two of fat, but those products usually tasted worse than others. Of the four rated Stonyfield yogurts, the two fat-free products were mediocre, with little dairy flavor.
Yogurt is a good source of calcium and protein. (The Greek yogurts have 10 to 14 grams of protein per serving compared with 3 to 10 grams in the other yogurts and smoothies.) It's also fairly low in calories and fat. The tested yogurts and smoothies have zero to 3 grams of fat per serving. See the Ratings for serving sizes, which vary, and watch out for sugars, which range from 13 to 26 grams.
Check taste comments and cost. The regular yogurts and smoothies cost 66 cents to $1 per serving; the Greek yogurts, $1.15 to $2.10. Supplements are convenient for people who don't like yogurt, but at 53 cents to $1.07 per pill, they're not cheap. Align Digestive Care has fewer beneficial bacteria than the others and costs far more. Not everyone should take probiotics. Ask your doctor what product might work best for you.
In order of probiotic levels.