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    Archive for the ‘prebiotics’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Fructooligosaccharides

    lucuma-powderI’m in need of your expertise after a trip to a health food store around my house.

    Some of the products I was looking at [stated] they were [a source of fructooligosaccharides].

    What is that, and why is that worth mentioning on the packaging?  I’m a little skeptical, but wanted to check with you first.

    — Robin Vulpfer
    (Location withheld)

    Fructooligosaccharides (hereby referred to as FOS, for my keyboard’s sake) are a type of indigestible carbohydrate.

    More specifically, they are short-chain molecules of fructose that are intrinsically found in certain fruits and vegetables.

    Their indigestible status means two things:

    1. Like all other indigestible components/ingredients, they do not contribute calories
    2. Unlike some other indigestible components/ingredients, they are prebiotic

    Prebiotic is a term that basically means “food for probiotic bacteria”.

    The better fed the healthy bacteria in our colon, the better off we are, for it is those bacteria that are implicated in immune health and improved digestive function.

    A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides a good amount of FOS.

    That said, I have seen FOS mentioned in containers of powdered mesquite, yacon (a root vegetable native to the Andes), and lucuma (a Peruvian fruit) at my local health food store.

    Its fine with me.  Those are whole plant foods (as opposed to, say, a 400-calorie cookie sweetened with FOS), and I think it’s worth mentioning the presence of FOS since not all fruits and vegetables offer it.

    I personally love mesquite, yacon, and lucuma, and always like to add a few teaspoons of each to any smoothie I make.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Blue Cheese

    danish_blue_cheeseA friend mentioned that the bacteria used to make blue cheeses has similar beneficial properties to the bacteria in yogurt.

    Could you clarify?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Like other fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, and tempeh), aged blue cheeses — including roquefort and gorgonzola — contain health-promoting live and active cultures (AKA “bacteria”) commonly known as probiotics.

    Blue cheeses contain significant amounts of Penicillium bacteria.  In the case of roquefort cheese, or instance, the specific bacteria is Penicillium roqueforti.

    Research on the specific health benefits of these strands is limited (largely because these cheeses are not consumed in the same quantities as yogurt).  However, it has been established that these are indeed probiotics that survive the digestive process (meaning they have some effect).

    As with anything else, probiotic foods are only effective if they are eaten on a consistent basis.

    Remember, too, that probiotics appear to work best in diets that are also high in prebiotics (leafy greens, whole grains, beans, and legumes are the best sources).

    More evidence that eating real, whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to go.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Probiotic Cereal

    I loved your video about deceptive food advertising!

    So what do you think of Kashi’s “Vive” cereal?

    There is a banner on the box claiming it’s probiotic and helps with “digestive wellness.”

    Is that true? If it is, how does it make it better than other cereals?

    — Joanne Castro
    Santa Fe, NM

    Let’s first begin by talking about probiotics.

    That’s the name given to beneficial bacteria living in our colons that help keep harmful bacteria from multiplying and starting problems (FYI: prebiotics are compounds in food that help feed probiotics.)

    We harbor anywhere from 370 – 450 different stands of probiotic bacteria in our colon.

    Although we produce and house them, it is believed poor nutrition can significantly reduce their numbers.

    Antibiotics, meanwhile, kill all bacteria — including probiotics.

    The most famous probiotic, of course, is Lactobacillus acidophilus, the probiotic contained in many yogurts.

    Allow me to digress a little and say the following: heat treatment can destroy Lactobacillus Acidophilus.

    So, the closest way to ensure you are getting beneficial bacteria is via a “Live and Active Cultures” statement (although this does not guarantee said cultures are starter bacteria.)

    What many people don’t realize is that all fermented foods — not just yogurt — contain probiotics, including tempeh (fermented soy), blue cheese, sauerkraut, and wine.

    The largest body of research on probiotics has focused on the therapeutic effect they have on diarrhea developed as a result of taking antibiotics.

    Other than that, a lot of the health-promoting properties attributed to probiotics in food are yet to be discovered, or at least confirmed by science.

    Although I can understand the link between probiotics and immune health (mainly since beneficial bacteria are a good defense against harmful varieties,) claims by some supplement companies of helping lower cancer risk are, as of now, completely baseless.

    One main problem with probiotic food research is that many strands are destroyed by stomach acids before they even reach the large intestine.

    So, how they perform in a laboratory setting does not necessarily reflect what takes place in our bodies.

    Additionally, only a handful of probiotic strands have been closely studied.

    It is also worth pointing out that in order for probiotics to have any sort of impact — assuming the strand in Vive does — they need to be consumed on a daily basis. So, a bowl of Vive three times a week isn’t really going to do much for you.

    In any case, the particular probiotic present in Vive is strain LA14 of Lacto acidophilus.

    Kashi’s official statement is that this cereal contains 109 colony forming units of said probiotic per serving of Vive.

    Sounds great. But, although this strand survives the digestive process, there have not been any studies examining specific health benefits.

    While it certainly won’t do you any harm, no one really knows what exactly you are supposed to gain from eating Vive regularly (“aids with digestive wellness” is too broad a statement for me.)

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    You Ask, I Answer: Western Alternative Bagel

    [What do you think of] the Western Alternative Bagel?

    — Anonymous (via the blog)

    To those of you who have never heard of it, the Western alternative bagel is developed by California-based chain Western Bagel.

    Each two-ounce bagel clocks in at 110 calories and contais 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.

    Here’s the mystery, though. Look at the ingredient list: Enriched unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, wheat gluten, corn starch, inulin, oat fiber. May contain 2% or less of: calcium sulfate, enzymes, l-cysteine, salt, yeast, calcium propionate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial flavor, sucralose.

    Whole wheat flour is nowhere to be found.

    Sure, oat fiber is present, but towards the end. Certainly not in a sufficient quantity to result in seven grams of fiber.

    So…how do they do it?

    Allow me to introduce you to inulin.

    Also known as chicory root, it is a natural fiber (and prebiotic!) found in asparagus, onions, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.

    Some of you may have heard the term ‘prebiotic’ before but are not sure what it means.

    In essence, when we consume inulin, the bacteria in our digestive system digests it and forms fructooligosaccharides, which in turn increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our colon.

    The higher our beneficial bacteria count, the healthier our intestinal tract.

    Food manufacturers love inulin, since it can replaces fat, whole wheat flour, and sugar while still giving baked goods a soft texture and and pleasant mouthfeel.

    From a health standpoint, it contains the same benefits as other fibers — longer-lasting satiety, regularity, and increased stool bulk.

    Additionally, it does not raise blood-glucose levels, so it is deemed safe for diabetics.

    In The Netherlands, inulin has been given an official stamp of approval. Products containing this fiber can legally be advertised as “promoting well-balanced intestinal [intestinal] flora composition.”

    It gets better! A 2006 Brazilian study published in renowned journal Nutrition Research found that inulin helps increase calcium and magnesium absorption.

    Any drawbacks? Two I can think of.

    First, consuming large amounts of inulin (especially if you are not accustomed to it) can result in flatulence and mild stomach pains.

    Additionally, although inulin has its nutritional advantages, it is missing most of the goodness found in whole grains.

    A bagel made with refined grains and inulin is definitely a better option than a fiberless one made solely with white flour.

    However, whole grains are more than just fiber. They are an exclusive mix of phytonutrients, plant sterols, and antioxidants with their own health-boosting properties.

    I don’t think of inulin (while helpful and beneficial in its own right) as a true substitute for a 100% whole grain product.

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