Digestive Health Research | The difference between probiotics and live cultures

Yoghurt and fermentation - The difference between probiotics and live cultures

Including probiotic yoghurt as part of a healthy routine offers additional benefits to your patients

How is yoghurt made?

Yoghurt is an ancient, traditional food that has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. The word “yoghurt” itself comes from Turkish, meaning “curdled” or “thickened milk”, which is what happens to milk during yoghurt production.

Yoghurt is made when a bacteria starter culture (most commonly lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) is added to pasteurised milk. Lactic acid is produced, which ferments and thickens the milk, creating the distinctive mouth-feel, acidity, taste and aroma of yoghurt. During the fermentation process, the lactose in milk is converted to lactic acid which ‘sets’ the yoghurt.

Are live bacteria in yoghurt different to probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when present in adequate amounts, deliver a health benefit. The International Probiotics Association (IPA) defines this more simply: “when consumed in sufficient quantities, these tiny single-celled organisms (mainly bacteria and yeasts) are good for your body and can help you stay healthy.”  Fermented products (such as yoghurt without probiotics) may be healthy and contain, as a result of fermentation, live microorganisms, however these are not necessarily probiotics.

Whilst all yoghurts (and other fermented foods) contain live bacteria, only some yoghurts also contain added probiotics. By law, a yoghurt with added probiotics must show the type and amount of probiotic on the food label.

Do all probiotics provide the same health benefits?

Probiotics are widely recognised for supporting a healthier gut environment, immune system
and digestive tract. The accumulated scientific evidence shows that the benefits of probiotics are measurable across many different outcomes, including gut health, diarrhea and antibiotic use (1). However, not all probiotics are the same, and they are described by their genus, species and unique strain designation. This description is vital, because whilst different probiotics may share common features, each strain of probiotic is unique and delivers a specific benefit. Scientists have spent decades conducting clinical research to understand which strains have the best impact on a wide array of medical conditions, as well as on healthy people. This research has led medical professionals to recommend specific probiotics for their positive impact on health.

For example, Activia yoghurt contains five specially selected bacterial strains, including the unique probiotic, Bifidus ActiRegularisTM, which has been proven to improve digestive comfort. There is strong research and clinical data to support the digestive health benefit. Whatever probiotic strain you choose to consume, make sure there is good scientific evidence underpinning all associated health claims, and that the probiotic has been proven to provide the benefit you are seeking.

Can I eat any yoghurt with probiotics to get a gut health benefit?

Because the health benefits of probiotics are unique to the specific strain, when choosing a yoghurt with added probiotics, it is important to look at the type of probiotic strain listed on the food label and speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individual advice.

How much probiotic should I eat to get a benefit?

The dose of probiotic required to achieve a health benefit depends on the strain and on the product that delivers the probiotic. For example, with Activia, the recommended daily dose is twice a day (2 x 125g). The International Probiotics Association guidelines indicate that “the sufficient amount is at least 109 live cells per daily portion to ensure an effect” (2).

What is the best way to consume probiotics?

Fermented food, like yogurt with added probiotics, is an ideal vehicle for delivering the benefits of probiotics. But remember, whilst all yoghurt is fermented, only a yoghurt with added probiotics will provide specific benefits such as supporting good gut health. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement, however enjoying a probiotic yoghurt provides benefits from additional nutrients such as calcium, potassium, vitamins and protein from milk. Probiotics must also survive the harsh digestive process in order to remain live in the gut and deliver their benefits. Yoghurt’s properties mean it can protect the probiotics it contains against stomach acids. Scientists conducted several studies over the course of two decades which measured the impact of daily consumption of Activia by groups of healthy adults. In each of the studies, the scientists concluded that the probiotic strains present in the yogurt survived the gastrointestinal tract.

How often should I eat probiotics?

Probiotics pass through the gut temporarily, so they must be eaten regularly to replenish the amount of good intestinal bacteria and exert their benefit. Yogurt with added probiotics is a common, affordable and easily-accessible food that can be consumed at any time. Adding a tub of Activia yoghurt to your morning breakfast or simply enjoying on its own as a snack is one of the simplest ways to ensure you are providing your body with a regular supply of probiotics.


1.       Joint FAO/WHO Working Group Report on Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food London, Ontario, Canada, April 30 and May 1, 2002

2.      European International Probiotics Association, 2017. https://ipaeurope.org/wp content/uploads/2020/02/IPAEurope_Brochure_V12017.pdf

2023 Danone Ltd. All Rights Reserved. *Activia helps improve digestive comfort when 250g is consumed daily for at least 4 weeks as part of a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.


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