Malcolm McDowell Woods
Simply Health

Probiotics to the rescue

By - Dec 3rd, 2009 08:43 am
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Probiotics have performed a marketing miracle, and “contains probiotics” is the new buzz term for health driven consumers. Defined as “live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host,” probiotics are basically “friendly bacteria” that are naturally present in the digestive system and replace harmful bacteria. Probiotics show promise when it comes to easing constipation, reducing inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases, relieving diarrhea, treating eczema and more.

Yogurt. It's the easiest way to get your good bacteria.

Yogurt. It’s the easiest way to get your good bacteria.

The trend has spread quickly and now probiotics are present in hundreds of products including drinks, cereals, energy bars, ice cream, shakes, infant formula and pet foods — all with the promise of building an enhanced immune system and better digestive health. Familiar traditional foods we’ve enjoyed for years such as yogurt, kefir, cottage cheeses, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, kim chi, beer and wine have all been made with these live microorganisms.

So just how do probiotics work for you? Adult intestines play host to more than 500 different bacterial species. Most of these bacteria are not harmful and contribute to growth and development, but some can cause damage to the gut tissue, bringing infection and disease. It’s therefore important to keep the beneficial bacteria alive and strong. Frequently, our good bacteria are wiped out when we eat a poor diet, use antibiotics, or we are stressed. Sometimes, we ingest pathogens in our food, resulting in a weakened immune systems and intestinal distress. And that’s where the good guys come in.

The best way to keep a balance of the healthy versus unhealthy bacteria is to consume the good guys in food. Dairy products may provide a desirable “probiotic delivery vehicle” for several reasons — consumption of probiotics with food (including milk, yogurt and other dairy products) buffers stomach acid and can increase the chance that the bacteria will survive into the intestine, where they work their magic.

Yogurt is easy and for many people, it’s the most convenient way to eat your bacteria! The problem is there are so many brands and types to choose from. Here are a few tips you to help you decide:

Live Cultures
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) states that yogurt has to contain active live cultures, specifically these two: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, seen on labels as L bularicus and S thermophilus. Some varieties contain more. Look for “active live cultures” on the package.

Calcium
Look for at least 20 percent of daily calcium — that’s 200 mg — and yes, more is better!

Sugar
Even plain yogurts contain sugar because milk naturally provides 12g per cup (that’s three teaspoons). Yogurts with fruit added to them will contain more sugar. Instead of buying yogurts with fruit added, buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit or a bit of honey. If you don’t like plain, try vanilla because there is no extra sugar added — just vanilla to add flavor.

Protein
Look for at least six grams of protein; any less indicates it has been changed with sugar, gelatin or cornstarch. Greek yogurts will have more!

Organic or conventional?
Organic is best, especially for kids! You’ll avoid all artificial sweeteners, added hormones and artificial colors.

Can yogurt really boost your health?

For now, no bacterial strain has proven to be the all-purpose boost. But, while more research needs to be done, there is evidence that some strains of probiotics can help boost the immune system and promote a healthy digestive tract.

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