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The ‘Milky’ Way To Probiotics

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Yoghurt-The Common Probiotic Food

Yoghurt-The Common Probiotic Food.

Sometime back we focused on probiotics and viewed beyond dairy products. Dairy products are so compatible with probiotics that they show up as the natural vehicle for reintroducing friendly microflora in to the human gut. And considering how commonly dairy products are used, how frequently they fare in the day-to-day menu, would it not be worthwhile to know what among them are rich in probiotics? Here’s an enumeration and brief description about dairy products that are good probiotics:

  • Yoghurt: Curd and all curd-based raithas without the addition of hot tempering (the heat of the tempering may destroy some microbes and reduce their number) are rich sources of friendly bacteria. Raithas made of curd and onion slices/cucumber gratings/white radish gratings/diced plantain pith/boondhi are quite popular in India. Curd rice is a favourite of Indians. Probiotic yoghurt is available in a few Aavin outlets in Tamil Nadu. Yoghurt starter cultures naturally contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These help in the digestion of lactose and exhibit immune-enhancing properties. In addition to these, Lactobacillus acidophilus and/or Bifidobacterium bifidum are added in most of the commercial versions.  
  • Frozen yoghurt: A dessert made with yoghurt using a technique called Flash Freezing. This procedure that is not slow and long like the usual freezing, sends the bacteria into a dormant phase when frozen. The microbes revert to their active phase when they reach the human gut. For a quick tidbit on whether frozen yoghurt is as nutritious as regular yoghurt, refer this article in Tufts Journal.
  • Lassi: A sweetened, chilled drink which is a blend of yoghurt, water and sugar that is served with a topping of clotted cream. At times mango pulp is added to the blend as a variation. 
  • Shrikhand: A Maharashtrian dessert that is easy to learn for the beginners. Shrikhand is yoghurt from which whey has been strained away, sugar and finely chopped nuts added. The semisolid sweet is sometimes relished as an accompaniment for pooris. The market-sold ones are pasteurized to extend shelf-life and do not bestow upon us probiotics (neither do they claim to). But the home-made ones (usually prepared in small quantities) with zero heat treatment and preservatives may offer us a good deal of the friendly bacteria. Watch the recipe at Manjula’s Kitchen.  
  • Piyush: A Mumbai-based drink that is sort of nutmeg flavoured lassi with a dash of lime juice. Get the recipe via enjoyindianfood or do it the Tarla Dalal way. 
  • Chaas: While Piyush is a sweet drink, Chaas is a spicy drink or masala buttermilk. It is prepared using diluted yoghurt, a combination of herbs paste, spices and salt.  Learn the recipe of Mint Chaas from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
  • Probiotic Ice-creams: AMUL, India offers a line of probiotic ice-creams. ‘AMUL Sugar Free Probiotic Frozen Dessert’ caters to diabetics whereas ‘AMUL Prolife Probiotic Wellness Ice-cream’ is directed towards general wellness. These ice-creams are available in flavours like vanilla with chocolate sauce, chocolate, strawberry, figs and litchi. These products promise to improve immunity, digestion, prevent gut infection and manage traveler’s diarrhea. An Indian study published in Acta Odontologica Scandinavica, states that consumption of probiotic ice-creams can reduce the level of caries-associated Streptococcus mutans in saliva.
  • Acidophilus Milk: Tangy flavoured drink produced by Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation of milk. It is usually prepared using low-fat milk and so is thinner than curd and of drinkable consistency. It aids bowel function and prevents yeast infections.
  • Yakult: A Japanese probiotic drink obtained by fermenting skimmed milk by a special strain of Lactobacillus casei Shirota. It is sold in 65 ml bottles in India and claims to contain about 6.5 billion live Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain per bottle. Check it’s commercial

Probiotics do not stop with dairy drinks and desserts. In the USA, they are also added to some cream cheese spread, cottage cheese and sour cream.

The good news is that there are quite a lot of probiotic-rich dairy products that enable us to easily take The ‘Milky’ Way To Probiotics. The bad news is that some among them come with heaps of sugar and fat. So, stick to the simple buttermilk, yoghurt or cultured milk for your daily dose of probiotics; reserve the sweetened drinks and desserts for ‘once in a while’ or special occasions.

Frozen yoghurt topped with fruits.

Frozen Yoghurt Topped With Fruits.

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Probiotics – A View Beyond Dairy Products

Probiotics-A View Beyond Dairy Products

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Kimchi (Pic clicked at Mainland China, T.Nagar)

Kimchi

Probiotics are live friendly microorganisms that maintain the balance of gut flora when consumed in adequate quantities. They confer upon us a bounty of health benefits like aiding digestion (especially in case of lactose intolerance), boosting immunity, preventing/treating vaginal as well as urinary tract infections and eczema in children. But probiotics are specific in action viz., their effect may vary between species or even between different preparations of the same species. Their intake is often advised along with a strong dose of antibiotics. The latter destroy the beneficial microbes in the gut along with pathogens and hence the prescription to restore the good microbes. 

Ask anybody to name a probiotic food and pat comes the answer, “yoghurt”. If a few choose to differ in their reply, they trail away only as far as “buttermilk”, “probiotic milk” or “probiotic ice creams”. On hearing dairy products for an answer so many times, it is easy to perceive that those are the ones that are commonly available and people are informed about. So, are there any probiotics beyond dairy products? Oh yes, there are quite a lot. Most of the fermented foods are rich in probiotics. A few of them from around the world are as follows:

  • Miso: This is a popular Japanese seasoning made from fermented rice, barley, rye and/or soyabeans (the main ingredient in the most common type of miso), salt and the fungus Aspergillus oryzae (colloquially known as Koji fungus). A small quantity of this is usually added to hot water to prepare a probiotic-rich Miso soup.
  • Tempeh: This is an Indonesian tofu–like soy cake. This is prepared by processing whole soyabeans and fermenting it by Rhizopus oligosporus starter. Though soy tempeh is the most common, there are other varieties made from coconut, peanuts, food grains and some pulses.
  • Sauerkraut: This is fermented cabbage that is rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus.
  • Kimchi: This is a Korean side dish that is a close cousin of sauerkraut. In addition to fermented cabbage, it also contains other vegetables like radish and cucumber. It is highly spicy. Central American Cortido and French Choucroute are also other forms of fermented cabbages rich in probiotics.
  • Brine cured olives: These contain high levels of Lactobacilli. It should however be borne in mind that addition of preservative sodium benzoate or pasteurization done to extend shelf-life in commercially sold sauerkraut, kimchi and brine cured olives, will destroy the probiotics.
  • Kambucha tea: This is an effervescent fermented tea prepared from SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). SCOBY is also referred to as mushroom or mother of vinegar. SCOBY usually contains Acetobacter bacteria and one or more yeasts.

A consumer should look for tags like “live”, “raw”, “cultured” and “live and active cultures” while purchasing them from shops; other pertinent info that would be helpful are details regarding the strain of microbe in the food, its shelf-life, viability and appropriate storage methods.  Probiotics are not only found in foods but are also sold as capsules and powders. But, I loathe the idea of swallowing pills for meals. It is always a fulfilling experience to relish food and simultaneously derive the goodness from it, rather than replacing it with tablets. Of course, the pills have a purpose…they are for people with erratic eating habits, invalids who are in an emergency situation to get the benefits by popping pills. Leave the pills to them and get your probiotics, also from the array of natural foods besides milk products.

Can Probiotics Be Stress-busters?

A recent study considered a breakthrough in probiotics research suggested that probiotics could reduce anxiety and depression in mice. A summary of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is as follows:

John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland and his team fed a strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 to a group of healthy mice (Experimental Group or EG) and a bacteria-free broth to another (Control Group or CG) for 6 weeks. L.rhamnosus is a species found in some yoghurts and the dose was roughly the same amount claimed to be in a pot of Actimel yoghurt. The mice were subjected to a series of stress tests. In negotiating a maze, the EG exhibited less anxiety compared to CG by venturing out into open spaces more often. In the forced swim test also, the EG performed better than the CG by fighting it out rather than giving up. The researchers found that:

  1. Post swim test, the level of stress hormone corticosterone in the blood of EG was just half of that in the CG.
  2. The brain receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA in EG were redistributed in a pattern common in non-depressed animals.
  3. These probiotics produced effects in EG tantamount to anti-depressant drugs.
  4. These effects were manifested as long as the vagus nerve – the main link between the gut and brain remained intact. Once it was snipped off, there was no difference between the 2 groups.

The researchers concluded that this particular strain of probiotics definitely impacted the chemistry of mice brain in a positive way; they alleviated stress and anxiety in mice. Whether the results can be extrapolated to human beings remains to be seen. Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles is skeptical about the findings translating easily from mice to people.  He says, “Personally, I think human emotional behavior is much more complex, so I don’t think you’ll ever find these kinds of dramatic responses.” Mark Lyte, a microbial endocrinologist at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene says, “It MAY, in really big capitals, prove to be an adjunct to therapy, but there are a number of steps that need to be done.” So, if at all this is proved true in human trials as well, then probiotics may emerge as the most sought after foods in today’s stress driven world.

Related Topics:

Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You

Mind-altering bugs

Friendly bacteria cheer up anxious mice

The ‘Milky’ Way To Probiotics

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