Are All Yogurts Created Equal?
In New York City space means money, and at Manhattan grocery stores the yogurt sections are huge! In terms of retail shelf space, yogurt usually occupies a full refrigerated section as big as the combined space allotted for cheese, butter, sour cream, and eggs. By comparison, at our local grocery, pasta is given a single two by four foot shelf. In other words, at present yogurt is big business.
The Facts of Yogurt
Most historians agree that yogurt and other fermented milk products were discovered accidentally as a result of milk being stored by primitive methods in warm climates. Indeed, not much has changed; today yogurt is still created by fermenting milk.2,4 Bacteria starters or “cultures” are added to heated, pasteurized, homogenized milk, and the milk is then kept at a certain temperature to optimize the bacterial activity. The bacteria transform the lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, which acts as a thickener. The lactic acid also gives yogurt its tangy aftertaste and its relative acidity (Milk is usually non-acidic, having a pH of about 7). The yogurt is then cooled and flavored with fruit or sugar, and stabilizers or gelatin can be added for preservation.4
Yogurt is usually classified into the following groups4
Regular yogurt 3.0 % min. milk fat
Partially skimmed yogurt 0.5 – 2.9 % fat
Skimmed yogurt <0.5% fat
Typical composition of a commercial fruited yogurt4
Non-fat milk solids 11-18%
Yogurt is popular, but is it good for reflux?
Why is yogurt so popular? Lately, yogurt’s been lauded as the healthy, low-carb, high protein, calcium-rich solution to all our breakfast, dessert, and snacking needs.1-4 Not all yogurts are the same though. Literally, just look at the labels; there are yogurts for kids and babies, low-fats and organics, Greek-style or Icelandic, and ones extra loaded with probiotics. As a reflux sufferer, that’s a lot to sort through, so we’ve decided to test the pH of thirty varieties of yogurts and let you know how they measure up. Let the testing begin!
Materials & Methods (How We Did the Testing)
It would have been impossible for us to test every flavor and variety of yogurt because there are literally hundreds of them on the market. In a way, however, our sampling method provided a semi-random selection of the best-selling ones — we bought all of the brands and their variations on the shelves at two New York grocery stores, Fairway and Whole Foods.
All of the pH measurements were made using a Minilab ISFET pH meter (Model IQ128 with Silicon Chip Sensor, Pulse Instruments, Carlsbad CA). The pH meter was carefully cleaned between measurements; and it was noted that the device returned to neutral pH before making the next measurement.
Test Results: All Yogurts Are Not the Same
Some of the results were surprisingly similar. Fresh and homogenized milks are not acidic, pH usually 7.0 to 7.4. And it is expected that yogurt should be somewhat acidic because the fermentation process results in the formation of lactic acid. The surprising result in our acid-testing was that the pH values of the yogurts were relatively similar — the range was pH 4.2-4.9.
A big HOWEVER belongs here. While we recommend no foods and beverages below pH 4 on the reflux diet, there is still a big difference between pH 4.2 and 4.9. Remember the pH acidity scale is logarithmic, so that pH 4 is ten-times (10x) as acidic as pH 5. Furthermore, for many people with severe reflux, though the good-foods-for-reflux diet may be limited, for the first two weeks of the reflux diet, we recommend only eating foods that are pH 5 or above.
And before we reveal our top 10 yogurt recommendations for people with reflux, let us explain that there there are two other reflux considerations: Fruit and fat. Thankfully as it turns out, with a few exceptions, the yogurts containing fruit are no more acidic than those without fruit. In fact, the most acidic yogurt we tested was plain Frivan Acidophilus, made from unhomogenized milk; it was pH 4.2 and it also had one of the highest amounts of fat. Brown Cow brand actually adds cream to some of their yogurt varieties. When all of the factors are considered, we are recommending fat-free (or at least low-fat) yogurts with the highest (least acidic) pH levels.
Stonyfield organic plain yogurt is our top pick. If you wish to add fruit to this plain yogurt, consider using a banana (pH 5.6).
Reflux Diet Cookbook’s Top 10 Best Yogurts for People with Reflux
|Stonyfield||Plain Organic||Fat free||4.9||Pure organic yogurt (no fruit)|
|Dannon||Plain (“all natural”)||Fat free||4.8||Pure yogurt (no fruit)|
|Dannon||Light & Fit Blackberry||Fat free||4.8||Blackberry flavored (no fruit)|
|Stonyfield||Blueberry Organic||Fat free||4.8||Organic Blueberry Fruit on the Bottom|
|Stonyfield||Strawberry Organic||Lowfat||4.8||Organic Stawberry Fruit on the Bottom|
|La Yogurt||Probiotic Pina Colada||Lowfat||4.8||Pina Colada flavored (no fruit)|
|La Yogurt||Probiotic Strawberry||Lowfat||4.8||Strawberry flavored (no fruit)|
|Dannon||Cherry||Lowfat||4.9||Fruit on the Bottom (more fat than most lowfat)|
|Dannon||Lemon (“all natural”)||Lowfat||4.8||Lemon flavored (no fruit)|
|Fage||Greek Strained (“all natural”)||2% milk||4.9||Pure yogurt (no fruit)|
A Little Fly in the Ointment and Conclusion
For unexplained reasons, some people with reflux just cannot eat yogurt. Yogurt is an “idiosyncratic” food. What that means is that it causes reflux for some people but not others for no known reason. We estimate that as many as 10-20% of people with reflux can’t eat yogurt; and for his subgroup, yogurt actually causes reflux. You either are or are not one of those people.
In conclusion, fat-free (and low-fat) yogurt is a good, not great, food for many people with reflux; this is because its pH is less than 5 and because yogurt is “idiosyncratic,” bad for reflux for some people.
1. Health Benefits of Yogurt. Essortment Health. Retrieved 2-26-10.
2.The History of Yogurt. Dairy Goodness California. Retrieved 2-26-10.
3. Roberts, Robert Ph.D. Yogurt. Penn State University. Retrieved 2-26-10.
4. Yogurt History and Manufacturing Techniques. CIP Systems. Retrieved 2-26-10.