04/11/2012 12:05 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

Is Your Yogurt the Best It Can Be?

Five Ways To Make Yogurt Better For You

When you think about it, true yogurt is just milk and bugs. And, really, that's all it should be... the proliferation of probiotic strains of bacteria that grew in a warm bath of milk. But today yogurt has turned into more of a dessert than the health food it was designed to be. Most are laced with anti-nutrient additives such as high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, refined sugar, corn syrup, sucralose, and/or aspartame to make it sweet; gelatin or cornstarch to make it thick when bacteria isn't allowed to multiply en masse; and artificial coloring to make it appealing to the eye. If you find a yogurt that has ingredients as simple as milk and probiotic cultures, it's a rare, but more healthful treat. (Pectin is a natural substance, and is fine.)

Although to start, milk itself is not the milk of the past, at the time yogurt was developed. Back then, there was nothing but raw milk, and so raw milk was the substrate for making yogurt. But living on such a populated earth, we are stuck with the pasteurization and homogenization of products that really degrade milk and make it just another "processed food." There may be raw milk yogurts out there, but they are very hard to find, and I'm sure most consumers are turned off by the word raw, anyway, let alone the fact that most states have unfortunately banned raw milk to begin with.

So here are some tips on making a common yogurt of today more healthful than it actually is:

1. Avoid all commercial yogurts except the "plain" variety

Read the label for ingredients; it should list milk and active cultures, and that's about it. Maybe some pectin. The addition of fruit in these commercial yogurts does not make it healthier because the fruit is also pasteurized and void of natural enzymes. By simply adding fresh fruit to yogurt yourself, the beneficial enzymes remain intact, plus you add more vitamins and minerals. When manufacturers add sugars to yogurt they actually defeat the most important feature of yogurt, and that is increasing the good bacteria in the intestinal tract for better health. Sugar contributes to the growth of candida or fungus bacteria (considered bad bacteria), and these will eventually overtake the good bacteria in number.

2. Buy goat yogurt

Actually, goat milk is consumed three times more than cow milk throughout the world. It is found to be more nutritious than cow milk (the American standard) in many ways. The fat molecules in goat milk are much smaller and therefore much easier to digest. The structure of goat milk is closer to human milk, and easily accepted by the human body, especially babies. And some research has indicated that goat milk has "more beneficial properties to health than cow milk," one is that it has a higher bioavailability of iron and minerals that aid in preventing iron deficiency and softening of the bones.

3. Add whey powder

Greek yogurt is "Greek yogurt" because it has the whey removed (water) in order to make it a thicker product. Whey is such a nutritious natural substance that eating Greek yogurt, in my opinion, does not make sense. By adding a tablespoon of whey powder to your bowl of yogurt, you would be doing your body good by giving it added protein, essential amino acids, and some immune enhancing components. Whey is taken out of cheese as well to make it hard, thus considered a by-product, and that is how it was discovered. Whey is also the liquid floating in your cottage cheese. But to remove it from yogurt does not make sense, just like removing it from cottage cheese.

4. Add or supplement with taurine and carnitine powder

Cow milk has very low quantities of the amino acid taurine, and carnitine is so beneficial to the human body that it is even one important additive to baby formula. These two amino acids are considered "conditionally essential" to the human body because not everyone can synthesize them properly within the body, or do not adequately obtain them through dietary sources. Both taurine and carnitine are good for muscles, heart, and brain health and function. The powder of these two beneficial amino acids can be directly added to the yogurt.

5. Add a broad-spectrum probiotic

Many yogurts on the market include one or two strains of probiotic, and yet there are so many more that can cover many aspects of health. Acidophilus is the mainstay of yogurt products. A good list of helpful strains that could be included are thermophilus, bulgaricus, casei, rhamnonus, bifidum, and even more. A good probiotic capsule should contain at least five or six different strains. So if you have a powerful, broad-spectrum probiotic on hand in your refrigerator that you take daily, just open the capsule and stir the cultures into the yogurt.

For more by Linda Larrowe Bergersen, click here.

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