Can Yogurt Really Make You Healthier?

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I like yogurt. But do probiotics--those "friendly" bacteria in yogurt and increasingly added to other foods--do anything for you beyond making yogurt taste good? I wrote about probiotics in What to Eat at some length. Tara Parker-Pope has a quick summary of the state of the research in today's New York Times.

The quick answer is mixed. It includes a lot of "maybe" or "probably," always a sign that whatever probiotics might do isn't going to be much. The answer is probably yes for infant diarrhea and, maybe, irritable bowel syndrome, and maybe or no for just about everything else.

If it were up to me, food packages would have no claims on them: none at all. Foods are not drugs.

In the absence of FDA action to regulate misleading health claims, lawyers have jumped into the breach. They have just won a large class-action settlement--$35 million--against Dannon for claiming that Activia yogurt promotes immunity. According to one news account, Dannon spent $100 million marketing the immunity-promoting effects of Activia ignoring the results of its own company-sponsored research which inconveniently showed few benefits. (Did they not pay enough for the research?).

Dannon is working hard to get an approved health claim from the European Standards Agency which annoyingly wants to see some science behind health claims before approving them. Dannon has now added a tomato extract to its yogurts with the idea that this substance, which appears to help deal with diarrhea, will strengthen its bid for a health claim.

Probiotics are another reason why the FDA needs to set better standards for health claims. If it were up to me, food packages would have no claims on them: none at all. Foods are not drugs.

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Image Courtesy of Marion Nestle

And here's another reason why.

Will Cocoa Krispies be the next target of those pesky lawyers?

FDA: get to work!









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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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