“Do not be angry with me if I tell you the truth.”

“Variety is the soul of pleasure.” -Aphra Behn

The Great Yogurt (and Kefir) Conspiracy

If you're a health conscious person, you've probably seen the hype over probiotic supplements. However, some of the literature from the probiotic supplement manufacturers has become a little overzealous. These manufacturers are forgetting their roots, in that yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods serve as the basis for their entire industry. We asked ourselves, is it fair for a probiotic supplement manufacturer or reseller to produce literature against yogurt, kefir, and other fermented milk products in order to increase their market share? Here's what we found:

Claim 1. "Our product contains 15 billion bacteria at the time of manufacture. It would take ten tubs of yogurt and a dozen bottles of kefir to get the same amount of bacteria."

To answer this claim we went digging into the scientific literature. From several different references, we were able to determine an average concentration of yogurt. Homemade yogurt that is fermented for 24 hours, as recommended in the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, will have an average concentration of 3 billion cfu/mL of yogurt. What does this mean? Well, if you were to eat a small bowl (500 ml) of 24 hour fermented homemade yogurt, you would receive 1.5 trillion beneficial bacteria - 100 times more bacteria than a 15 billion capsule.

Furthermore, freshly made kefir can have an average microbial count as high as 10 billion cfu/ml. This includes a mixture of various bacteria and yeast strains. This means that a 500 ml glass of homemade kefir could contain as many as 5 trillion beneficial microorganisms or even more!

Claim 2. "Our probiotics have more bacteria than commercial yogurt and kefir."

We wrote to several yogurt manufacturers to see what the standards were. The National Yogurt Association has set the standard for commercial yogurt with live cultures as: “Refrigerated yogurt must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture, and at least 10 million cultures per gram at consumption (i.e. throughout shelf life).” In their response to our inquiry, Stonyfield Farm stated that their yogurt far exceeds this standard, “Stonyfield Farm yogurt consistently far exceeds the NYA minimum culture counts (hundreds of billions).” At a minimum, depending on shelf life, the manufacturer, and other factors, one would receive 5 billion bacteria in a small bowl of commercial yogurt. Because of the variability of commercial yogurts, shelf lives, and lactose contents, we recommend fermenting your own yogurt for 24 hours.

We were not able to find any information on commercial kefir at this time.

Claim 3. "Our X technology (enteric coated capsules, special matrix, etc.) allows the bacteria to survive the trip down your Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract. The bacteria in yogurt and kefir have no protection and will not survive."

Again, to answer this claim we checked the scientific literature. Do fermented milk products have any properties that might help the bacteria survive in your GI tract? The answer is yes. Fermented milk contains many substances that nourish and protect the lactobacillus species. A recent study demonstrated the ability of calcium phosphate to protect lactobacillus acidophilus from bile acids but had no effect on salmonella. Milk products also serve as excellent buffering agents and will help neutralize stomach acidity. A common recommendation from poison centers is to drink milk when confronted with a poison situation. Furthermore, the bacteria in yogurt are alive and well, not in a dormant cycle as the bacteria in probiotic supplements are, making them more fit to adapt to sudden changes in their local environment.

Claim 4. "Our probiotic supplements are more effective. Yogurt, kefir, and other fermented milk products are nothing more than fancy desserts."

All fermented milk products should be considered functional foods. Why? Because they are foods that functions as a health promoting substance. Probiotic supplements can only offer one thing: bacteria. Fermented milk offers so much more than just bacteria: minerals, vitamins, protein, amino acids, L-carnitine, fats, CLA, antimicrobial agents, and much more! A recent study demonstrated the ability of fermented milk to kill H. pylori infections when bacteria alone could not. Another study monitored two groups of people for allergy symptoms. The group that consumed yogurt on a daily basis suffered far less allergies than a control group. In addition, the complex microflora found in kefir have demonstrated a keen ability to stimulate our immune systems, ward of infections from bacteria such as salmonella, and in some cases, even fight cancer.


There is little doubt that probiotic bacteria and fermented foods offer benefits to our health. Making kefir and yogurt at home can be a nutritious, healthy, and fun hobby. Probiotic supplements also offer health benefits and can be very convenient, especially when traveling. However, to claim that probiotic supplements are somehow superior to what you can make yourself is unfounded. Fermented foods offer the same benefits as probiotic supplements and sometimes more.

Making a Case Against FOS and Inulin

Have you heard about Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) or Inulin yet? If not, you will. These are the latest and greatest refined chemicals that probiotic and yogurt manufacturers are adding to their products for "your health". It seems that only a few probiotic manufacturers are against using them, with Natren leading the charge. But we like to ask, why is this? Why would Natren be against using FOS in yogurt and probiotic supplements? What kind of financial gain is involved in not using the latest and greatest chemicals in your products? None that we could think of. So we decided to investigate this matter further.

1. What is FOS and Inulin?

Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin are types of fructo-polysaccharides, comprised of -(glucose-fructose)-  subunits. The only difference between FOS and inulin is polymer chain length. Inulin/FOS also goes by the name of Neosugar, Alant Starch, Atlanta Starch, Alantin, Dahlin, Helenin, and Diabetic Sugar. Inulin tastes sweet, cannot be digested by humans, and is soluble (unlike cellulose).

2. What does Inulin/FOS do?

Since Inulin/FOS is indigestible by our bodies, it gets transported to the large intestine where it feeds microbes and promotes fermentation. Inulin/FOS has been dubbed a "prebiotic", essentially serving as fertilizer for the bacteria in your colon. Certain lactobacillus species of bacteria have been shown to preferentially ferment Inulin/FOS. For this reason, it is being promoted as a supplement to feed the good bacteria in our guts.

3. Inulin/FOS feeds only good bacteria, right?

Wrong. Manufacturers claim that Inulin/FOS specifically feeds only good bacteria. The reality of the situation is much different. If you examine the scientific literature about Inulin/FOS, you will find that this is untrue. The best example is concerning Klebsiella. Recent studies have shown that Inulin/FOS encourages the growth of Klebsiella, a bacterium implicated in Ankylosing Spondylitis and increased intestinal permeability. Inulin/FOS may indeed promote the growth of lactobacillus bacteria, but what other potentially harmful bacteria are we feeding as well?  Furthermore, we have not even addressed the issue of yeast. Many different species of yeast are able to utilize Inulin/FOS for energy.

Historically, microbes have demonstrated the innate ability to adapt to almost any condition and fuel source. If bacteria can adapt to break down industrial solvents in our soil and use them for energy, it would be irresponible to think that they will not adapt to utilize Inulin/FOS, a high energy carbohydrate. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria and several yeast strains living in our GI tracts. Studies have only looked at the effects of Inulin/FOS on a handful of these microbes.

4. Why is Inulin/FOS being added to probiotic supplements and yogurt?

A key principle in today's marketplace is product differentiation. If a manufacturer can sell many different kinds of "specialty" products, that are in essence the same thing, it can make a larger profit. Think about it for a moment. We no longer have plain old toothpaste, instead we have such items as tartar control, sensitive, baking soda, peroxide, whitening, gum care, and many others. Adding a new claim to an old product adds to consumer excitement: "Brand X yogurt - now with Inulin/FOS for your health" & "We now offer lactobacillus capsules with Inulin/FOS." These new claims will help fight market stagnation and lead to greater profits for the manufacturer. But will FOS lead to greater health for the consumer?

5. Is Inulin/FOS found naturally anywhere?

Yes. It is found naturally in asparagus, garlic, Jerusalem Artichokes, chicory root, and others.

6. Since Inulin/FOS is found in natural foods it must be okay, right?

Wrong. Sucrose (table sugar) is naturally found in beets, sugar cane, oranges, and other plants. Humans have perverted this naturally occurring substance into a refined chemical. Sucrose is arguably one of the most unhealthy food additives in human history. We should learn from our experiences with sucrose and apply them to Inulin/FOS. Instead of adding refined, super concentrated Inulin/FOS to your food, eat the foods that naturally contain Inulin/FOS.

The body is genetically adapted to certain foods and if we continue to mess with our food chain then our health will suffer the consequences. Of the nutritional fibers, cellulose was the most likely to be included in a traditional hunter-gatherer diet. Cellulose is an insoluble fiber that is slowly fermented by the microbial population in the human colon. Inulin/FOS is a soluble fiber that is quickly and easily fermented. The difference between cellulose (a food we are adapted to) and Inulin/FOS (a food we are not adapted to) is like the difference between a slow burning ember and a raging fire. Who likes playing with fire?

7. Is it possible to be allergic to Inulin/FOS?

Yes. In one documented case, inulin caused an anaphylactic reaction. As the use of Inulin/FOS as an additive in the food industry increases, reports of allergic responses will probably increase. "Inulin may be the culprit behind more food allergies than is currently recognized."

8. What are the recognized side effects of ingesting Inulin/FOS?

Assuming one is not allergic to Inulin/FOS, the typical side effects will vary depending on one’s level of tolerance. The list of known side effects include: flatulence, bloating,  cramps, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. As Inluin/FOS permeates our food supply, the list of side effects is expected to grow.

Conclusion -

In theory, a food additive that could specifically feed good bacteria might prove useful for intestinal health. Given the nature of the microbes and their ability to quickly adapt to various carbohydrate foods sources, it  seems highly unlikely that such a chemical will be developed. Inlulin/FOS has been touted as such a molecule, but seems to fail the test as you examine it further.  Even if Inluin/FOS did display specifity for beneficial bacteria, do we know enough about the complex microbial ecology of the human GI tract to deem a species of bacteria better than the others? The GI tract is much like a rain forest with a very complex web of life. What would happen to a rain forest if, in our arrogance, we decided to spread a chemical that fertilized one specific type of tree? Would the overgrowth of one species be beneficial? Our GI tracts have adapted to house a variety of microbes and to disrupt this balance might be detrimental to our health. With these concerns, we recommend staying far away from any product with Inulin/FOS.


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The Healing Crow is a nonprofit corporation. Information published by The Healing Crow is intended to expand the knowledge of the reader about health issues. It is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or replace medical care. Our mission is to educate the public about chronic illnesses and corresponding non-drug related treatments. We encourage others to critically examine all avenues of information pertaining to health including: naturopaths, chiropractors, physicians, medical and scientific papers, and others; in order to make an informed decision. We believe a patient has the right to question a health source without taking any medical advice on faith. The best patient is an informed one. Before instituting a major change in diet or nutrition please consult a worthy expert in nutrition or a doctor. Although we believe our information to be as accurate as possible, discrepancies may arise. If you have a personal story and would like to include your testimonial on our site, please email us at the link above.


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