How did we survive all these years without functional yogurt products? If it weren’t for Yoplait and Dannon enhancing our digestive facilities, I bet we’d never get anything done in the bathroom. I, for one, can’t recall the last time I had a satisfying bowel movement without concurrently sucking on an extra large Purple Gogurt as I sat astride the toilet .
Yoplait and Dannon are responsible for injecting more culture into our lives than Warhol, The Smithsonian, The New Yorker, and ancient Athens combined. I love the way those two superpowers ultra-pasteurize their yogurt so as to rid it of any naturally-occurring, unpredictable, rogue probiotic cultures (unfettered bacterial growth? – no thanks) before supplanting them with nice, orderly probiotic cultures (and not too much of them, thanks). Mother nature? Natural selection? Ha! As if natural foods could improve my immunity and digestive health better than multi-national corporations. You think sauerkraut has your best interests in mind?
There are downsides to the addiction, though. And it is an addiction. Make no mistake about that. The cravings can hit me hard, fast, and without warning. My blood sugar drops, my knees weaken. Visions of Danimals  dance about my tormented psyche, laughing and pointing and beckoning. Normally, I rush to the nearest grocer, head straight to the healthy dairy section, and thrust my probing tongue through the foil seal and into the soothing bath of HFCS, whipped skim froth, carrageenan, and single-file probiotic formations. Normally, all is well, but I’m not always within range of a Dannon/Yoplait distributor. Like last week.
I was driving through LA, just south of Hollywood, when I got the cravings. It wasn’t pretty, and my options were extremely limited. Check cashing places and carnicerias abounded, but there were no grocery stores. I needed my Activia, and I needed it immediately. My wild eyes betrayed my intent; even the fidgeting methamphetamine enthusiast (with whom I sensed a strange sort of community) gave a wide berth. Next thing I knew, I was across the street, apparently having successfully navigated traffic. A Greek market lay before me, a small, unassuming ethnic grocer full of olive oils, labna and mediocre red wine. I entered, approached the counter, and inquired as to their yogurt selection. Greeks are supposed to make yogurt, right? (In the Yoplait online forums, the “Upcoming Product rumors” thread made mention of a “non-fat, Greek-style yogurt coming soon,” so I knew there was some precedent.) They did, and the clerk produced a small nondescript tub of white yogurt, which I immediately purchased. Don’t worry – I made sure to ask if it was low-fat. The clerk, a stout man with an impressive white mustache, just laughed off my silly question. What was I thinking? No one makes full-fat (ugh, the thought just makes me sick) yogurt, I told myself. He was right to laugh at me.
So I popped the top and grabbed a spoon. It smelled pretty sour, and it didn’t even smell like vanilla (but what other flavor could white yogurt be?), but I was desperate. I was about to take a massive spoonful of the stuff when, luckily, the clerk chimed in once again.
“Best yogurt in all of Los Angeles! It’s made from raw sheep and cow milk in Greece, then shipped directly to us! You will like!” I just looked at his bristly ‘stache.
Raw milk? This stuff wasn’t ultra-pasteurized. It was probably teeming with barbarian hordes of probiotic cultures. Ferocious little milky versions of Gauls, Thracians, Ostro-goths, and Visi-goths running rampant over the pristine splendor of Rome, with Yoplait Caesar’s mighty praetorian guard nowhere to be found. I was at an impasse. I needed yogurt in my body, but I didn’t want to face the uncertainty of consuming rogue probiotic cultures. What was I to do?!
Then I remembered my recent pharmacy pick-up: antibiotics. (I’d gone in for a nasty cold; the doctor really didn’t want to write the prescription, citing some nonsense about the cold being a virus and therefore unaffected by antibiotics, but I just slipped him my favorite malpractice lawyer’s card, and he got the idea). I figured antibiotics could counteract the nasty probiotics in the dangerous Greek yogurt, so I tossed a handful of pills down on the counter, crushed them with my Purell aerosol canister, and immediately insufflated the powder. Once I could feel the tell-tale signs of antibiotic powder penetrating my nasal membrane and reaching my blood stream, I tossed down the yogurt. I distinctively heard several dozen death knells signifying the probiotic cultures’ complete assimilation into my body. Sure, it may not technically be assimilation if they’re dead, but this ain’t no melting pot.
This definitely wasn’t vanilla. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they forgot to add the flavoring. But, I’ve gotta say – it was the best damn non-fat yogurt I’ve ever had. It was so rich, so creamy, and so filling. I’ve never had a full-fat item in my life – I avoid direct eye-contact with cartons of whole milk and I’ll spend as long as it takes to whip enough air into skim milk to get it to stand up on its own and solidify into cream (1:1:1 ratio of skim milk to powdered sugar to cornstarch) – but if they taste as good as this yogurt did, I think I understand why people are willing to risk obesity, heart disease, and diabetes just for a shot of half-and-half in the morning coffee…
In case it isn’t abundantly clear to my regular readers (or if you’re new here and your worried about my sanity) I’m just having a little fun with this article. Functional yogurt fans may not be quite that crazy, but you wouldn’t know it by the sales figures of these probiotic-enhanced brands of sugar slurry. They’re billed as the healthiest, simplest choice for people on the go, growing children, women interested in slimming down, and folks with digestive troubles. The kids love it because it’s got funny cartoons on the carton and it’s loaded with sugar. Hell, everyone loves the sugar. And because it’s “healthy,” low-fat, and “packed with probiotics,” people don’t feel bad slurping down all the sugar.
It’s nonsense, people. Probiotics  are indeed healthy and helpful members of any digestive system, and consuming them in supplement or fermented food form is a good move with many potential benefits, but wasting your money on fortified processed food (food should never require “fortification”) and its obscene packaging and advertising campaign is silly. Those probiotic-enchanced sugary yogurts are stripped of their natural bacteria via pasteurization. Even the “natural” full-fat yogurts, however delicious they are and whatever other benefits they confer, are usually pasteurized with probiotic cultures added afterward. There’s nothing magical about Yoplait or Dannon.
Regular yogurt has probiotics, too. The clinical doses of probiotics – the amounts that have shown promise in trials – are far higher than anything you’ll get in a tiny 80 calorie container of Key Lime Yoplait yogurt. I’m talking at least 20 billion cfu (colony forming units). If you want the real benefits of probiotics, make fermented foods a regular part of your daily diet. Eat sauerkraut , kimchee, full-fat Greek yogurt (Fage is a good one, or look for a local Greek market), or kefir  (if you tolerate dairy ). Naturally fermented foods  will have good levels of bacteria. You may not get a label listing all the strains, but you’ll know that they’re the same probiotics people have been consuming for thousands of years. Obtaining probiotics this way is generally safe, but if you want a bit more precision, a good supplement will have a label listing the specific strains (and in greater numbers). I regularly use this method for a number of reasons: for its convenience, because I don’t generally do dairy, and to ensure I’m getting precise amounts of certain strains in my system. As my upcoming Primal Flora  supplement (30 billion cfu) nears release, I’ll discuss this more at length. Whatever you do, just don’t rely on sugar-filled functional yogurt products to get your probiotics.
What about you guys? Any ridiculous yogurt hyperbole sightings in the wild? Share in the comments section.