Why Some Israeli Yogurts Aren’t Really Yogurt

There was a surprise in store for me when I scrutinized the yogurt (יוֹגוּרט – yogurt) container.  What I discovered might surprise you, too.

In the United States in the late ’70s, Dannon yogurt featured commercials extolling the longevity of Soviet Georgians who ate plenty of yogurt. The takeaway, of course, was that if you eat yogurt you will be enhancing your longevity. These commercials helped to propel the growth of the yogurt industry in the USA.

Whether or not eating yogurt regularly is the main reason that these people were purported to live long and healthy lives, yogurt, a fermented food, is supposed to be rich in probiotics; probiotics are important components of healthy gut flora and critical for both physical and mental health. Several European countries include yogurt or beneficial microbes in their dietary guidelines. In fact “…”yoghurt” was defined in 1925 and specifies a typical milk fermented with Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus.”[1] Most people I know also associate yogurt with probiotics and consume yogurt with that intention or expectation.

When I went food shopping after we first made aliyah, I noticed that there was yogurt and there was bio (pronounced beeyo by Israelis) yogurt. I had never seen yogurt labeled as bio yogurt in the States. Not considering that there might be a real difference between the two that would actually matter to me, I never checked it out. And while we preferred the goat and sheep yogurt sold in the Organic Market near us (which happened to be bio), since even the yogurts sold in the health food store were not organic, we also bought other plain, unflavored sheep yogurt (יוגורט כבשים – yogurt cvasim), goat yogurt (יוגורט עיזים – yogurt eezeem), and cow yogurt (generally just labeled as yogurt).

This all ended the other day, however. I was looking at the ingredients (רכיבים – richivim) on the container of yogurt we had in the house and I realized, that aside from milk, there were no other ingredients listed. Having noticed on occasion the inclusion of probiotics in the ingredients of other yogurts, I called the company to inquire. And that’s how I learned that (at least in Israel) if it’s not bio yogurt and lists probiotics as an ingredient, it has no probiotics in it! In other words, if it’s not bio yogurt, then by definition, it is not yogurt.

While the websites of some commercial brands of yogurt sold in Israel don’t say which probiotics are contained in their bio yogurts, the website for Halav Haaretz, the brand of sheep and goat bio yogurts that we buy in the health food (and other) stores, lists as their probiotics the two strains of bacteria, Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus, which are included in the definition of yogurt above.

Yogurt containers showing ingredients

Note the difference in ingredients:  the blue container only lists sheep milk (חלב כבשים) while the green and white container lists both sheep milk and probiotic bacteria (חיידקי יוגורט). 

I’m done with the fake yogurts – are you?

[1] Probiotics in dietary guidelines and clinical recommendations outside the European Union 

Related Articles:
Are Your Gut Microflora Doing the Happy Dance?

Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and Streptococcus Thermophilus Yogurt Benefits

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Are Your Gut Microflora Doing the Happy Dance?

cartoon of bacteria

Did you know that inside your intestinal walls is a humongous community of microflora that largely determines your health? It’s true. While we think that the food we eat is just for us, we are really feeding a whole little world inside our guts that impacts our physical and mental health!

I was recently watching several of the online Microbiome Medicine Summit presentations where a number of different medical and holistic practitioners discussed the gut microbiome over a series of days. While I knew that the bacteria that reside in our gut are critical to our health and mental well being I was surprised to learn that in addition to bacteria, there are lesser populations of fungi, viruses, and protozoa residing in our intestinal tract which also play important roles in promoting good health. Together these form the gut microbiota and their genes form the gut microbiome. It’s not just our genes that inform our health and well-being but, perhaps more importantly, the genes of the 10-100 trillion microbiota that reside in our intestinal tract.

I also learned that while the human genome is about 99% identical among individuals, 95% of gut microbiota varies depending on the individual’s geographic location. Through further research I discovered that, in general, there is also an 80-90% variation in the gut microbiota among individuals, [1] and that while the composition of the gut microbiota is largely influenced by diet, these microbes are interdependent, influencing the predominance and/or activity of others and, collectively, our health.[2]

Understanding the role of our microbiome, which is almost like another body organ, and keeping it in good shape are, therefore, very important keys to health and longevity. Although researchers are beginning to study other microbiota in depth, currently, it is the bacteria with which we are most familiar and have the most information.

Bacteria can be either helpful or harmful. Depending on a variety of factors, we may colonize more or less of different types. Beneficial bacteria prevent detrimental bacteria from proliferating; are instrumental in the breakdown/digestion of our foods and turning their components into products our body can use; produce numerous vitamins, amino acids, and other active substances; support our immune system; and have a major impact on our moods and mental health. You might be surprised to learn that almost 90% of the “feel good” brain neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut and that bacteria are critical to sufficient production.[3]

Beneficial bacteria are introduced to a baby’s system as it travels down the birth canal and in the breast milk it drinks (there are bacteria in both) in order to populate his/her gut with balanced, healthy flora that should ideally last a lifetime. (Some formula manufacturers have begun adding probiotics to their formulas.)

Unfortunately, a number of different factors negatively affect gut flora, causing detrimental bacteria to proliferate or a reduction in the number and diversity of bacteria, resulting in improper or incomplete breakdown of foods, autoimmunity, inflammation, cancer, and unwanted psychological and behavioral symptoms.

Many of us take probiotics during and after a course of antibiotics thinking that this will put back what the antibiotics have destroyed. However, studies such as the following have shown that antibiotics do long-term harm to our systems and sometimes these changes are permanent.

Antibiotics are mainly used to combat pathogenic bacterial species that reside within or have invaded a host, however the current generation of antibiotics are broad spectrum and target broad swaths of the normal microbiota as well. Thus, antibiotics significantly affect the host’s innate gut microbiota. Three to four days after treatment with the broad-spectrum antibiotic ciprofloxacin the gut microbiota experience a decrease in taxonomic richness, diversity, and evenness. The large magnitude of changes in the gut microbiota demonstrated significant interpersonal variability. While the gut microbiota began to resemble its pre-treatment state a week after treatment, differences between individuals were seen with regards to how closely the post-treatment community resembled the pre-treatment community, and some taxa failed to return to the community. Indeed, the reestablishment of some species can be affected for up to four years following antibiotic treatment.[4]

Image of Gut and Psychology Syndrome Book CoverDr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), discusses the role that not only antibiotics, but other drugs, poor diet, disease, stress, and other factors play in negatively affecting gut bacteria. And she points out that these negative influences on the gut microbiome have a far greater affect than most of us have ever imagined:

Every one of us carries a unique mixture of microbes in the gut. Under the influence of drugs and other factors… this gut flora will be changed in a unique way in every one of us, predisposing us to different health problems… This damage gets passed from generation to generation as a newborn child gets its gut flora from the mother. And as the damage is passed through generations, it gets deeper and deeper.[5]

So what are we to do if we want to maintain (or regain) our health and that of our children and pass down a better heritage to future generations? While individuals with specific digestive issues such as SIBO and IBS may have disease specific requirements and others may need a diet such as Campbell-McBride’s GAPS diet, most of us can make some (relatively) simple adjustments to our diets to get on the right track.

One of the easiest ways of populating your intestinal tract with beneficial bacteria (and as Weston Price Homemade picklesdiscovered has been an important part of the diet of most indigenous and traditional populations and cultures) is by eating fermented foods. Foods fermented by natural yeasts and bacteria in the air produce a multitude of beneficial bacteria, and increase the food’s nutritional profile. Since they are partially pre-digested through the fermentation process they are also easier for you to digest. These foods include not only the yogurt, cucumber pickles, and sauerkraut with which we are most familiar, but other pickled vegetables like beets, carrots, and garlic, beverages like kefir and kombucha, and sourdough breads. (Commercial sauerkraut and pickles, unless kept in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, are most likely pickled in vinegar and heated, so they are not fermented foods.)

Another way of improving your microbiome is by taking a good quality probiotics containing a large variety of beneficial bacteria. Another presenter at the summit enumerated some of the important bacteria to look for in quality probiotics, noting the different influences on health for some of them:

  • Bacillus coagulans – reduces abdominal bloating and gas
  • Saccharomyces boulardii – reduces inflammation, elevated TNF Alpha, and Interleukin 6
  • Acidophilus rueteri
  • Biffidobacterium lactis – alleviates constipation and diarrhea
  • Lactobacillus Roselle 52 – breaks down hard-to-digest fibers
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus Casei Roselle 215 – makes enzyme that helps breakdown lactose

The following bacteria can be instrumental in alleviating depression, anxiety, and brain fog

  • Lactobacillus helveticus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum ps128
  • Biffidobacterium infantis
  • Biffidobacterium longum

In addition to positive lifestyle changes such as reducing stress and getting adequate sleep, the best ways to support intestinal (and overall) health is by eating a varied diet of good-quality nutrient-dense foods. In addition to eating fermented foods, there were many other dietary principles that the populations that Price examined adhered to that were important to maintaining a well functioning digestive system, overall good health, and a cheerful disposition. Thanks to Price’s research, we can incorporate these principles into our diets as well. Read about them here.

For sources of probiotic/fermented foods and natural and organic products in Israel click here.


[1] Defining the Human Microbiome
[2] Archaea and Fungi of the Human Gut Microbiome: Correlations with Diet and Bacterial Residents
[3] Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut
[4] Defining the Human Microbiome
[5] Gut and Psychology Syndrome, pg. 38

Other Resources:

Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome
What is the Gut Microbiota? What is the Human Microbiome?
Are Probiotics in Your Baby Formula?
The Best Probiotics for Mood: Psychobiotics May Enhance the Gut-Brain Connection
5 Simple Steps to Cure IBS Without Drugs
SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth


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Why you want grass-fed butter and where to find it in Israel

Cow in field

Photo: courtesy of Pixabay

One of the important foods that people often search for is butter (חֶמאָה – chem’ah) from pastured cows because it is a rich source of  Vitamins A, D, and K2, as well as many other nutrients. The color of the butter ranges from pale to deep yellow depending on the season, the soil, and the percentage and type of feed that the animals may receive in addition to grass. (A deeper color is indicative of greater amounts of carotenoid pigments from increased amounts of Vitamin A.) Butter from cows grazing on fast growing spring and fall grass is the most nutritious. In fact, Weston Price noted a reduced incidence of heart attacks among people who eat butter made from cows feeding on spring and fall grass.

In 1930, Dr. Weston Price published an interesting paper in the Journal of the American Dental Society. For years, Dr. Price had been analyzing the amounts of vitamin A and vitamin D in butterfat. He noted that these nutrients were most plentiful in the spring and fall, when cows had access to rapidly growing green grass. During the dry winter and summer months, levels of these vitamins in butterfat declined or disappeared completely.

Dr. Price also tabulated the number of deaths from heart attacks in local hospitals. When he plotted these two variables against time on the same graph he found that deaths from heart disease were inversely proportional to the vitamin content in the butter. In other words, when nutrient levels were high, deaths from heart disease were low; and when nutrient levels were low, deaths from heart disease were high. He found this pattern in many different localities, even in areas in the far north where there was only one vitamin peak, in midsummer, due to the short growing season.[1]

Further evidence of the benefits of consuming dairy from pasture raised cows comes from a study done in Costa Rica, where cows are grazed. Here, too, researchers found a lower incidence of heart attacks in people who drank milk from cows that were pastured.

Earlier experiments have shown that cows on a diet of fresh grass produce milk with five times as much of an unsaturated fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than do cows fed processed grains. Studies in animals have suggested that CLAs can protect the heart, and help in weight loss.

Hannia Campos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and her colleagues found, in a study of 4,000 people, that people with the highest concentrations of CLAs — the top fifth among all participants — had a 36 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to those with the lowest concentrations.

Those findings held true even once the researchers took into account heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking.

The new findings suggest that CLA offers heart-healthy benefits that could more than offset the harms of saturated fat in milk, Campos said. [2]

“Because pasture grazing leads to higher CLA in milk, and it is the natural feed for cattle, it seems like more emphasis should be given to this type of feeding,” she told Reuters Health by email. [3]

In addition to the above, butter contains a number of other health promoting constituents such as: lecithin which helps in the proper assimilation of fats; selenium, Vitamin E, and cholesterol which are antioxidants; short and medium chain fatty acids which have anti-tumor and other beneficial properties; iodine which is important for the thyroid; glycospingolipids, a particular type of fatty acid which protects against gastrointestinal infections; and other critical nutrients. [4]

In Israel, despite its dairy industry being considered one of the best and most sophisticated in the world, with cows specifically bred to produce copious amounts of milk, domestic butter is white. This is because Israeli dairy cows are never pastured (beef cattle are).

“While dairy cows elsewhere in the world are able to graze in natural pastures, Israeli cows cannot be left out due to the small size of the country and climate. They are fed with locally grown irrigated forage supplemented by imported grain.” [5]

Tnuva butter

The grazing cattle depicted on this Tnuva butter wrapper must belong to a dairy in another country!

Joshuah Miron who heads the Ruminant Sciences Department and oversees the health and welfare of Israel’s Volcani Center’s herd of 230 dairy cows, says that:

… Israel can grow only 30 percent of the cow’s diet. The rest has to come from somewhere. If the rest is imported, then the price of milk would be very high. Grain costs $340 per ton. Just to feed them, we couldn’t support our cows.

The Volcani Center came up with a nutritious and earth-friendly solution: using some 630,000 tons of wet vegetarian byproducts from the olive oil and food production industries to feed its dairy cows. Otherwise, these byproducts would be treated as waste and taken to the desert and buried… [6]

And according to this recent article, Tnuva (the major dairy company in Israel) has begun giving some cattle feed containing flax which they say improves the animals’ health, as well as their milk’s nutritional profile which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. It is sold under the brand name Chalav Hameshek.

In any case, it is apparent that the nutrition they receive is not the same as that of their pastured counterparts.

Butter sculpture of boy, cow, and calf

Postcard of John K. Daniels’s butter sculpture of a boy, cow, and calf, Iowa State Fair, 1904. Image: Wikimedia commons

European and other countries (except the US) primarily pasture their dairy cattle, as is evident by the yellow color of the butter. Countries with more temperate climates tend to keep their cattle out to pasture most of the year, while other countries bring their cattle indoors during the winter months. Other circumstances might also mitigate grazing cattle. One company, whose yellow butter is sold in Israel, explained that their butter is produced with milk from several farms including some that are too far from pasture land and are not able to graze their cattle. However, if the ingredient list does not include coloring and the butter is yellow, you can be sure that it has a healthier nutritional profile than white butter.

Fortunately, Israeli consumers interested in purchasing yellow butter from pastured cows can find what they are looking for. The dairy case in many Israeli supermarkets contains both domestic and imported butters, and consumers can find naturally yellow Makabi and Beurre De Normandie from Makabi (chalav Yisrael), Lurpak, Elle & Vire, President, Chemah Hollandit, Chemah (Willi Foods),  and other butters (of varying shades, kosher supervision, and prices) that are imported from France, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and Holland. [7] 

To find the stores near you that carry yellow butter call: President 03-681-4006, Makabi (cholov Yisrael) 02-583-8368, Lurpak  08-932-1000, Champion 052-249-8865, Elle & Vire 1-800-504-050, Shufersal Hollandit, and Willi Food (cholov Yisrael) 08-932-1017.

American consumers might be interested in these surveys of the best butters available in the States: 30 Great Butters and Butter Tasting.

Sometimes making purchasing decisions based on price is inconsequential and we can feel comfortable buying the less expensive product. Since the domestic butters tend to be less expensive than the imported ones, it may be tempting to purchase the cheaper item in this instance, too. However, as we now know, this is not the case with butter.

For a more detailed discussion of imported European butters in Israel go here. Local (in Israel) contact information for some of the companies selling imported butters can be found here.


[1] What causes heart disease?
[2] For information on the benefits of saturated fats see here.
[3] Is milk from grass-fed cows more heart-healthy?
[4] Why butter is better
[5] The inside story of Israel’s dairy industry
[6] Record making milkers
[7] Champion butter from Ireland, which has been a favorite in many Israeli households that consider it to be superior to the other imported butters, is currently unavailable.

Related articles:

Eating a Weston Price diet in Israel – is it possible?

Related links:

How yellow my butter
Weston Price Trifold butter brochure

How to make butter (and cultured butter!)
Is all butter created equal?
Where to find grass-fed butter (in the US)



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Kitchen Sink Salad

Kitchen Sink

Well, okay… Everything but the kitchen sink.

In the run-up before Pesach, or any time you might have little bits of food left over that you don’t want to throw out, turn them into a salad. (This also works for those times (like erev Pesach) when you can’t cook/prepare a whole meal but have the basic ingredients available.)

My basic salad starts off with cucumbers and peppers, which I generally make sure to have on hand, and then I incorporate other veggies I have in the fridge. Today that will be no longer frozen green beens, diced beets, some red onion (maybe I will put the rest in soil since it started sprouting), mushrooms, raw cabbage, homemade sauerkraut, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

I also have cooked kasha and rice and lentils that I need to finish up, so some of that may go in as well.

Sometimes I add a fruit, if it will go with the rest of the ingredients. Usually that will be an apple; if I have a very ripe pear that might find its way in also.

Fresh and/or dried herbs add extra flavor and health benefits to salads, but since most of mine have already been put away for Pesach, I will skip them.

Cheese, canned tuna, canned salmon, hard eggs, or chicken (without cheese of course 😉), are good additions to the salad in order to turn it into a more complete meal.

If you have some bread you want to use up and your stove or oven has not been kashered for Pesach yet, you can make croutons for the salad. Dice the bread, cover the pieces in a mixture of olive oil and herbs/spices, lay them on a baking tray or put them in a frying pan and heat them up.

Have some techina? Throw it on top with olive oil for a healthy dressing.

What do you have to use up that you can throw into a salad? Creativity welcome – as long as it’s not the kitchen sink!

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Don’t Get Stuck in the Oil Aisle


olive oil and tomatoes
There are some different salad and cooking oils appearing on the grocery shelves before Pesach, ones that aren’t usually sold during the rest of the year (or at least not in abundance). They are available, primarily, for the benefit of Ashkenazi consumers whose custom is not to eat kitniyot  during Pesach (even though they are not chametz) since most regularly purchased vegetable and seed oils fall into the kitniyot category. Kosher for Pesach bottles of cottonseed (zar’ay cutna – זרעי כותנה), grape seed (zar’ay anavim  – שמן זרעי ענבים), walnut (egoz melech – אגוז מלך), and palm (dekel – דֶקֶל) oils are available to bridge the oil gap. There is no need, however, to get stuck in the oil aisle considering them and wondering which ones are the healthiest to buy. Here is the information you need to know to make an informed (and quick) decision:

Characteristics of Healthy Oils

  • Our bodies can recognize them as food and properly utilize them.
  • They confer health benefits.
  • They contain a combination of saturated (ravu’ee –  רָווּי), polyunsaturated (rav bilti ravu’ee – רב בלתי רווי), and/or monounsaturated (chad bilti ravu’ee – חד בלתי רווי) fats in the correct proportions that our bodies need.
  • They have been traditionally used by many cultures for centuries and are easily obtained. This means that the average person can produce these oils without the need for fancy machinery and toxic chemicals.
  • They are cold-pressed (k’visa kara – כבישה קרה) or expeller-pressed

Learn more about choosing healthy oils here.

Which oils are healthy?

Generally, oils falling into the healthy category for Pesach, are olive (zayit – זַיִת), coconut (kokus – קוֹקוּס), and palm oils. Walnut oil may fit the bill if cold pressed or expeller pressed and should not be used for cooking.

coconut palm

Coconut palm with coconuts

Olive oil, as we know, has been used since ancient times. To learn about its beneficial properties and how to choose quality olive oils, click here.

Tropical oils, known for their medium chain triglycerides, have many healthy properties as well. Populations living in warmer clients have used coconut and palm oils, in various forms, as a health-providing dietary staple. (Refined coconut and palm oil are acceptable.)

Virgin coconut and palm oils are both semi-solid in temperatures of up to 23.9° C (75° F).  Tropical oils are sometimes “fractionated” which means that the most saturated of the fatty acids is removed. That’s why you will sometimes see tropical oils that are liquid during cold weather – as is the case with much of the palm oil available for sale in Israel on Pesach. Some of the palm oil sold is a combination of fractionated and non-fractionated oil so that you will see white solids floated in the bottle. This is a good thing and not a cause for concern. Learn more about coconut oil here and palm oil here.

Find a list of companies selling healthy oils which are kosher for Pesach here.

For a more comprehensive listing of which oils are good to use and which to avoid year round click here.

Characteristics of unhealthy oils

  • They are manufactured oils that are not found in nature and our bodies cannot use since they have structures that do not conform to our biochemistry.
  • They have only come onto the market and into the food supply recently (within the last hundred+ years or so), that cannot be obtained without high heat, fancy equipment and a long processing that include toxic ingredients. They are generally polyunsaturated and unstable, becoming oxidized and rancid during the processing.
  • They lead to an imbalance of the fatty acids that our bodies need to function properly.
  • They are physically harmful.

Which oils are unhealthy?

Most of the vegetable and seed oils that we find on the supermarket shelves these days can be classified as unhealthy, including canola (canola – שמן קנולה), corn (teeras – תִירָס), and soy (soya – סויה) oils. For Pesach we should also steer clear of the cottonseed, grape seed, and refined walnut oils which have a greater amount of shelf space this time of year.

The oils which should be avoided at all costs are those that have been hydrogenated (shuman mukshe – שמן מוקשה) and contain trans-fats (shuman trans – שומן טראנס). They have been unnaturally saturated and while they can make their way into the cell walls, they are foreign substances that don’t belong there and destroy the integrity of the cell walls. They can be compared to a key which you can put into a lock but since it’s not the right key, you cannot turn it to open or close the lock and may even have a hard time removing it.

While we do need some polyunsaturated oil in our diet, most of the polyunsaturated oils sold are omega 6s, with which we have become overloaded, and we are very deficient in omega 3s. Our bodies need omega 6s and omega 3s in the right olive oil poured on cucumbersproportions to function properly.

Polyunsaturated oils are unstable, and if they have not been expeller or cold pressed, will oxidize and turn rancid during chemical processing.

Many of these oils also have their own associated health risks.

To learn more about which oils to avoid year round click here.

Which oils are the real bargains?

The bottom line is that manufactured and chemically processed oils are very detrimental to our health in a variety of ways while traditional food oils, properly extracted, have an important role in nourishing the body and providing many health and medicinal benefits.

In the end, those few shekels we save on the cheap oils are really no savings at all since we are ultimately paying for them, sooner or later, with our health. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

Related articles:

Fats and their relationship to cell membrane  function
The Hidden Cause of Infertility–Cottonseed Poisons–And What You Can Do About It
Effects of gossypol and cottonseed products on reproduction of mammals
Dr. Mark Hyman: Why Vegetable Oils Should Not Be Part of Your Diet

Related Products (click on image):

Image of Brain Building Nutrition Book Cover

Cover Image of Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Image of The Coconut Oil Miracle Book Cover

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