3 May 2016—Updated with an offical response from Yakult at the bottom of the article.
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Yakult, Align, Probio 7, Bio-Kult, Activia... The chilled section at any supermarket is littered with these probiotic drinks. Many people down their morning shot of 'good bacteria' after hearing about the benefits of extra probiotics in the diet.
Don't get me wrong, probiotics are great. There are numerous health benefits of consuming probiotics. Mark Sisson covers this topic in great detail with his article on fermented foods. Your gut health is closely linked to your overall health, so feeding your gut with good bacteria in the form of probiotics makes perfect sense.
Personally, I aim to eat a wide variety of low-sugar, unprocessed, probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut. (Make sure it's raw unpasteurized sauerkraut.) You can see my best natural sources of probiotics in THIS guide. I love Superkraut (from Peace, Love & Vegetables), kombucha, kimchi & kefir. When I can't consume unprocessed, low-sugar, fermented foods or beverages, I will take a quality probiotic supplement such as Thorne Floramend or Now Foods Gr8-Dophilus.
I am also aware that a lot of people don't eat or drink many unprocessed fermented foods or beverages, which again is why I recommend supplementing with a quality probiotic supplement.
However, I commonly hear 'Oh I don't need that as I take a probiotic drink (i.e. Yakult) every day'. I cringe when I hear this. Why? Well, I have 11 reasons why you should avoid probiotic drinks!
If you look at the ingredient label of the food industry's most popular probiotic drink, you will see that it contains 11.4g of sugar per 65ml serve/serving (this is 17.5g per 100ml). Their 'Yakult Light' version contains 7.1g of sugar per 65ml serve (10.9g per 100ml).
|Sugar per 65ml serve||11.4g||7.1g|
|Sugar per 100ml||17.5g||10.9g|
Data from Yakult.com.au
The first ingredient is water. (It turns out they even use reverse osmosis filtered water—nice start.) Second, on the list is sugar (sucrose). If we look at the nutrition label, we can see that the standard Yakult probiotic drink has 10.2 grams of sucrose (that's standard cane sugar) per serving! That is 2.5 teaspoons of pure sugar that you are downing first thing in the morning!
The 17.5 grams per 100ml is HIGHER than that of Coca-Cola!
If you think you're safe as you only use the light version of Yakult, think again. It's only 30% less sugar. You're still receiving 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and artificial sweetener per serving!
The third ingredient on the list is skim milk powder. Skim milk powder is a horrible food source partly because all the nutritious fat has been 'skimmed off'. (See my blog post 9 Reasons Why Your Doctor Is Wrong About Fat where I talk about dietary fat phobia.) Also, because the heat treatment that the milk receives to turn it into powder form. This turns healthy nutritious food into an inflammation health bomb. Chris Kresser covers this in detail with his article 'Still think low fat dairy is the healthy choice?'
The third ingredient in the popular probiotic drink Yakult is dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar, and in Yakult's case, it is derived from tapioca. Not quite as bad as the standard sucrose sugar (due to the lack of fructose molecules). However, it is still a simple carbohydrate. As if we didn't have enough sugar from the second ingredient, we now have some more!
Nota bene: I should point out that some of the sugar is used in the fermentation process to grow the bacteria used in Yakult's probiotic drinks.
The Yakult website does a great job of explaining the manufacturing process when making their popular probiotic drink. You can read all about this HERE. Yakult uses an 'Ultra Heat Treatment' as explained by this statement:
"Skim milk powder, sucrose and dextrose are blended with filtered water to produce a batch of milk, then sterilised using Ultra Heat Treatment (UHT) at 120 degrees. The high temperature used for sterilisation also produces Yakult’s natural colour as milk proteins and sugars undergo a caramelisation reaction."
They say this like it's a good thing?! High-temperature treatment of milk destroys milk proteins and can lead to autoimmune issues. The Food Renegade looks at the harmful effects of UHT in this blog post - Just Say No To UHT Milk.
The damaging effects of UHT can be summed up with this quote:
According to Lee Dexter, microbiologist and owner of White Egret Farm goat dairy in Austin, Texas, ultra-pasteurization is an extremely harmful process to inflict on the fragile components of milk. Dexter explains that milk proteins are complex, three-dimensional molecules, like tinker toys. They are broken down and digested when special enzymes fit into the parts that stick out. Rapid heat treatments like pasteurization, and especially ultra-pasteurization, actually flatten the molecules so the enzymes cannot do their work. If such proteins pass into the bloodstream (a frequent occurrence in those suffering from “leaky gut,” a condition that can be brought on by drinking processed commercial milk), the body perceives them as foreign proteins and mounts an immune response. That means a chronically overstressed immune system and much less energy available for growth and repair.
After the fermentation process is complete when making Yakult probiotic drinks, the next step is "a smoothing process known as homogenisation". (source - http://www.yakult.com.au/resources/documents/Yakult_2ndKitMadeFreshForYou.pdf)
Though not as bad as high-heat treatment, homogenisation still destroys milk molecules. Milk companies use homogenisation to ensure a consistent texture. They literally blend the milk and cream from the cow's milk to produce a standard, consistent product.
You can see some pretty cool photos looking at the difference of homogenised milk and unhomogenised milk at the Weston A Price website. However, we're not concerned about how Yakult drinks look, instead we're worried about the impact that this homogenisation process has on the milk and on our body.
This is a great quote from the Weston A Price website:
"We have observed that pasteurization, ultra-pasteurization, and homogenization impact the colloidal structure of milk, altering its organizational integrity. ... Homogenization affects the integrity of the fat globules, rendering them smaller and more uniform, and thus, alters raw milk’s colloidal ultrastructure, too."
Yakult Light uses 30% less sugar than regular Yakult. However, there are still 1.5 teaspoons in that tiny shot glass size serve. Though this, apparently, doesn't leave a sweet enough product. How do I know this? Well, because the 'Yakult Light' drink includes an artificial sweetener. Specifically, sweetener 995, also known as sucralose. Now, artificial sweeteners are a controversial topic. Some people believe they are linked to all sorts of illnesses including cancer, whereas others think they are safe. Personally, I avoid them where possible.
My concern, however, (and this is a common theme with all of these points) is why not avoid it altogether? Why risk potential dangers from an artificial chemical, when you can eat real food and achieve the same benefit? Or even use a supplement and avoid the sugar and the chemicals?
According to Yakult's website:
Yakult’s unique-shaped plastic bottles are produced on-site from triple food grade polystyrene pellets using injection blow-moulding machines. Pellets are melted and injected under pressure onto ‘core’ rods.
We are starting to realise that plastic is not necessarily the best form of packaging when it comes to health. Plastics have been shown to leech into food products and disrupt our endocrine system, impact our hormonal and reproductive systems and have even been linked to cancer and neurological damage. (source—Harmful Plastics). As per reason six, why even put yourself through the risk? Eat unprocessed food from safe containers or pop a tablet instead.
Looking back at the ingredient list we see 'flavours'. Is this really required? We have enough sugar in there to make it palatable to even the fussiest eater. And it's meant to be a health drink, not a competitor to Coca-Cola (though it is sweet enough to compete rather well I must say!) I know taste is important for a product's success, but my concerns are:
1) What actually is this 'flavouring' ingredient? I'm pretty sure they're not squeezing organic lemon juice into each bottle.
2) It brings me to the question again—why get your probiotics in drink format with all the sugar, processed milk and added 'flavours'? Why not just take a tablet and receive the most benefits?
Sometimes popping a pill is the better option!
Woolworths sells a five-pack of Yakult for $3.95. This works out to be 79 cents per serve. If you're taking one daily that's $5.53 per week. If you're a family of 5, that's $27.65 per week for a sweeter-than-Coca-Cola probiotic drink.
Now, I admit that this is a lot cheaper than some top-of-the-range probiotic supplements, like Thorne FloraMend. However, these highly processed, sugar-laden probiotic drinks are still a lot more expensive than making your own probiotic-rich fermented foods.
Probiotic drinks such as Yakult require constant cold temperature storage. A lot of the top-quality probiotic supplements on the market such as Thorne Floramend are heat-stable and do not require refrigeration. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I personally consume my probiotics in the form of unprocessed fermented foods and drinks. However, occasionally I don't have any in the pantry—or perhaps I'm away traveling for a few days. This is where the supplement form comes in handy. It's heat-stable, so I can throw the container in my suitcase and know that my gut will be well looked after no matter where I am.
Here's my final point. Although probiotics are very important for optimal gut health, and there are some studies showing the effectiveness of Yakult's patented L. casei Shirota strain, it may not be the 'wonder strain' that it's made out to be.
This taken from Suppversity
Probiotic supplements don't cure everything - although many ads may give just this impression. In a recently published study, Swiss researchers were not able to show any beneficial effects of the patented L. casei Shirota strain on the increased gut permeability of 28 patients with metabolic syndrome (Leber. 2012). In the course of the three months study period, it rather exasperated the already elevated C-reactive protein levels, due to liposaccharide leakage through the leaky gut into the system and I bet the only reason that the conclusion states that the dosage may have been too low instead of "this is initial evidence that the use of L. casei Shirota is not useful if not counter-indicated in to treat gut permeability in patients with MetS", was the financial support by Yakult Europe the patent holder of L. casei Shirota ;-)
And this article from The Perfect Health Diet looks at other common probiotic drink strains:
Probiotic Supplements Are Inadequate For Serious Gut Issues
Most supermarket probiotics contain Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species. These species are specialized for digesting milk; they populate the guts of infants as they start breastfeeding, and are used by the dairy industry to ferment cheeses and yogurt.
These supplements are very effective at fighting acute diarrhea from most food-borne infections. A fistful of probiotic capsules taken every hour will usually quickly supplant the pathogens and end diarrhea.
However, against more severe bowel diseases caused by chronic infections and featuring damaged intestinal mucosa, these species are usually not helpful. One issue is that they provide only a tiny part of a healthful adult microbiome.
After communication with Yakult Australia, they pointed out that the study listed (Leber 2012) on the SuppVersity website was not conclusive evidence that the strain of bacteria (used in Yakult's products) was ineffective. They also claimed that their strain was well-researched and proven to improve health conditions.
The Leber study in question concluded:
Gut permeability of MetS patients was increased significantly compared with healthy controls. L. casei Shirota administration in the MetS patients did not have any influence on any parameter tested possibly due to too-short study duration or underdosing of L. casei Shirota.
A quick search on PubMed dug up this study that found the LcS strain to be ineffective at changing health markers:
But those are two fairly basic studies.
To be completely fair to Yakult, I looked for more studies on the effectiveness of the LcS strain. Within minutes I had numerous papers that found the LcS strain to have positive health effects. Some of these papers are listed below:
I don't want to turn this article into a literature review. I simply included point number 11 regarding effectiveness to show that the LcS strain used by Yakult may not be for everyone. This article isn't intended to be an investigation on what are the best probiotic strains. But instead, it's showcasing how simply eating naturally unprocessed fermented foods is a better alternative to drinking highly processed probiotics.
In a nutshell, probiotics are good and we should be ingesting them. Drinking our probiotics in sugar-laden, ultra-processed drinks encased in plastic is, perhaps, not the best method. Instead, eating unprocessed, low-sugar fermented foods are a much healthier and cheaper option.
Unsure what foods to eat? CLICK HERE to download my FREE top probiotic guide.
Failing that, a supplement should be considered. A quality supplement with a broad range of probiotic strains which doesn't require refrigeration and that comes in an acid-resistant capsule such as Thorne Floramend would be the next best option.
Do you drink daily probiotic drinks? And after reading this, will you continue to buy them? I'd love to know your thoughts after reading this blog.
I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Yakult Australia in regards to this article. After some back and forth communication—including me pressing them for explanations on their ingredient and manufacturing decisions—Yakult Australia decided to send me (and my readers, like you) an official statement in response to the questions I sent them and the statements made within this article.
Their full statement is listed below, but before we get to that I wanted to say I was impressed with Yakult's response and can understand that they are aiming to appeal to the mass market—not extreme health nuts like myself! Anyway, please see the full response by Yakult Australia below:
Official Response by Yakult Australia
A small amount is required for fermentation, to allow the strain to grow and multiply. Sugar is later added for taste; the lactic acid produced by the LcS strain would otherwise make the product taste sour. Historically, Yakult was introduced in Japan when infectious diseases and malnutrition were common, to encourage wide spread appeal, it was made with a palatable flavour. This flavour profile has remained consistent since the introduction of Yakult over 80 years ago. Yakult LIGHT was introduced in 2004, to help meet consumer expectations for a reduced sugar product. We are commitment to continual product development in line with consumer feedback and ongoing product research. It is important to consider the purpose and size of Yakult when making a product comparison, a serve of Yakult is 65ml/bottle, in comparison to soft drinks at 375ml/can or a 250ml/cup. It would appear simplistic to criticise sugar alone, when a balanced moderate calorie diet across the day is more vital to health. A bottle of Yakult contains the same amount of calories as a small apple.
Skim Milk Powder
The sole purpose of the milk used in Yakult is to provide a solution to encourage the growth and viability of the live beneficial bacteria, while providing an excellent medium to deliver the probiotic to the human gut. In the context of probiotic capsules, you wouldn’t expect the nutritional benefits of vegetables while consuming a probiotic encapsulated in a vegetable capsule, the same way you wouldn’t expect to get the benefit of milk from drinking Yakult.
Ultra Heat Treatment (UHT)
Technically speaking Yakult does not use conventional ‘UHT’ processes of heating milk to over 135⁰C, as described in your source ‘Weston A Price Foundation’ and by Dairy Australia’s definition. We heat the initial milk solution to 120⁰C for a few seconds; this temperature eliminates the risk of harmful microbial growth, and is also a critical control point in our HACCP safety principles.
Homogenisation is a necessary requirement for Yakult; otherwise the product would be thick and lumpy (a consistency similar to cottage cheese) and generally not palatable for consumers. Milk used in Yakult provides a nutritious medium for the beneficial bacteria, and virtually all milk available for human consumption in Australia goes through a homogenisation process.
Sucralose is added in Yakult LIGHT to ensure a consistent flavour profile between Yakult Original and Yakult LIGHT, as there is 30% less sugar in the Yakult LIGHT product. While the quantities used in Yakult Light are safe for human consumption and permitted for use under the Food Standards Code, we understand consumer’s personal decisions about the type of foods and ingredients that they choose to consume or avoid. In line with consumer feedback and product research, we are actively looking at the use of other sweeteners for future product application.
Generally Yakult flavours can be described as a blend of vanilla and citrus oils. We are only able to disclose general terms regarding the flavour, as you would appreciate; the precise flavour recipe is “commercial in confidence”.
What is your reaction to this response by Yakult? Please post your feedback and thoughts in the comments section below.
Here is my reaction:
Alex's Official Response to Yakult Australia's Response
Sugar: Fair enough, for your product to sell it needs to taste great. And it's a valid point regarding serving size, but there is still 11.4g of sugar in one serve! That is nearly 3 teaspoons of sugar! I believe many Yakult drinkers would be surprised to hear that there was added sugar in their Yakult. (In fact, a quick skim through the comments section below supports this belief.) And many people wouldn't knowingly down 3 teaspoons of sugar every morning in the name of 'health'.
Skim Milk Powder: I think Yakult Australia has missed the point. Sure skim milk powder is lower in nutrients when compared to full-fat milk, but my concern (as discussed in point 2 above) is about the harmful effects of skim milk powder. Some of these effects can be mitigated by using full-fat powder, or even better, full-fat milk.
UHT: I understand that this is often used for legal reasons (food safety). Though I personally believe if food is from a quality source and has been stored and prepared well, it should be safe. But rules are rules so I can understand Yakult's point here. (Though it is another reason why simply eating unprocessed fermented foods could be a healthier and cheaper option.)
Homogenisation: Again, it's appealing to the masses and manufacturing efficiencies ($$$). I understand. My thoughts are simple—homogenisation can destroy food molecules and make them inferior from a health point of view. It goes back to what I said before—simply eat unprocessed naturally fermented foods and avoid UHT, homogenisation, etc. Oh, and what's wrong with cottage cheese?!
Sucralose: Fair enough that they say it is 'safe for human consumption and permitted for use under the Food Standards Code'. Also, I must give credit to Yakult for seeking out potential alternatives to their use of sucralose (though actions are a lot more powerful than words). And they still didn't state why they use an artificial sweetener AND added sugar.
Flavouring: The recipe is a secret, but 'generally' they use a blend of vanilla & citrus oils. (Why 'generally'? Sometimes do they mix things up and experiment with other ingredients?) It's anyone's guess as to what these exactly are....
So there we have it. The great Yakult debate! Please chime in with your thoughts and reactions below. I would love to hear them!
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