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    Archive for the ‘probiotics’ Category

    Do It Yourself: Almond-Based Yogurt!

    While there are a plethora of almond-based products on the market (butters, ice creams, milks, whipped creams, etc), almond yogurt has yet to make it onto supermarket shelves in most places.  Until you see it in a store near you, here is how you can make your own almond yogurt at home!

    The recipe below is for an almond-pecan yogurt.  It is actually very easy to prepare, but requires time and patience for two important processes — the soaking of the nuts and the fermenting of the yogurt.  Although the “bad news” is that you can’t enjoy your yogurt right away, the “good news” is that the hands-on time you need to devote to this recipe is fifteen minutes, tops.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Probiotic Requirements?

    suprema-dophilus-multi-probiotic-largeIs there a recommended amount of probiotics we should be eating each day?

    Is one cup of yogurt a day enough?

    — Maria Barbosa
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Probiotic research is in its infancy.

    Consider, for example, that of the hundreds of thousands of probiotic strains, we only have well-documented scientific data on a small handful!

    One of the challenges that often comes up when studying probiotics is that even within one general strand of bacteria, each species offers different properties (i.e.: one species may survive its transit through the human digestive system, while another may be obliterated in our stomachs).

    I suspect it will be decades until we truly have a solid grasp on probiotics.

    While there currently is no data on recommended dosages, we do know that consustent consumption of fermented foods (either raw, or pasteurized but containing live and active cultures) offers certain health benefits.

    Keep in mind, too, that to keep probiotics in tip-top shape, it is crucial to limit added sugars and consume a fair amount of foods rich in soluble fiber (i.e.: oats, kidney beans, pears) and fructooligosaccharides (i.e.: onions, oats, garlic, bananas).

    I don’t recommend spending money on probiotic supplements that advertise gazillions of probiotic bacteria (ie: “50 million strands per capsule!”).  Instead, stick to the bacterial strands that have been researched (ie: Lactobacillus acidophilus).

    For all we know, only a small percentage of those strands survive the digestive process and actually provide benefits.  Additionally, as with everything else (vitamins, fiber, minerals), it may very well be that extremely high doses cause more harm than good.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Healthy Bacteria

    Probiotic_allfloraAre there any dietary or environmental factors that kill healthy bacteria in the colon?

    I know antibiotics get rid of them, but I haven’t taken those in at least a decade, so do I need probiotics?

    — Katherine (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    It’s important to consume probiotics regularly, since a multitude of factors can decrease the number of healthy bacteria in our colon.

    Here are some examples:

    • Lack of fiber (especially soluble)
    • High intakes of refined carbohydrates
    • Aging
    • Birth control pills
    • Environmental pollutants (mercury, BPA, etc).
    • Stress

    If you like to get probiotics from yogurt, be sure to look for the “Live & Active Cultures” seal somewhere on the packaging.

    If you prefer probiotic supplements, buy them (and keep them!) refrigerated.

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    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: Kombucha

    kombuchaDo you think kombucha is healthy?

    Some of my friends drink it religiously but I don’t know if [the purported health claims ] are fact or hype.

    — Jenny Pottenger
    (Location withheld)

    The mass-market kombucha trend in the United States started approximately a year and a half ago.

    If this is the first time you’ve heard of it, kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has been a staple of Chinese culture for roughly 1,850 years.

    Proponents attribute a plethora of health benefits to regular consumption of kombucha — from thicker locks of hair to a healthier immune system to acne clearup.

    More unscrupulous folks will even claim kombucha can cure cancer and AIDS (remember: if anyone ever tries to sell you a food or beverage by claiming it cures a terminal illness, run.  In the opposite direction.  And don’t look back).

    Not surprisingly, many of these heinous individuals own websites where they sell their “secrets” to healthy kombucha-making.

    Anyhow, kombucha is made by adding sugar and a specific culture containing several strands of yeast and bacteria to tea (usually black).

    The fermentation process, which takes anywhere from five to ten days, results in a tea beverage rich in B vitamins, amino acids, and probiotics (health-promoting bacteria).

    (FYI: The cultures eat up the sugar originally added in, so the end result is basically a sugar-free tea).

    The only thing I would be very careful of is where you get your kombucha.

    Commercial varieties are perfectly safe.  Individuals who make their own kombucha at home, though, can run the risk of unknowingly growing harmful bacteria if they are not careful.

    Individuals with compromised immune systems need to be take extreme care when making — or drinking someone else’s — home-made kombuchas.  A “bad batch” of homemade kombucha can really do a nasty number on their health.

    My main gripe with kombucha — besides the fact that my tastebuds loathe it — is that its health claims are rarely put into dietary context.

    Its status as a fermented beverage gives kombucha a good share of healthful properties, but they hold little weight if the drink is consumed as part of an otherwise unhealthy diet.

    I certainly don’t scoff at the idea that kombucha is a healthy beverage (it most certainly is!), but I am not impressed by the hype.  In my mind, it is equivalent to other probiotics (i.e.: tempeh, yogurt with live and active cultures, kefir).

    You must always remember that health relates to regular and consistent dietary patterns, not one or two foods with magical properties.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Live, Active Cultures in Yogurt

    YogurtWhen I’m buying yogurt, should I only look for brands that contain Acidophilus?

    Or am I better off buying brands that have probiotics or live cultures?

    — Marisa (last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    As if the wide array of brands and flavors wasn’t enough to confuse the yogurt shopper, now there’s all these health claims to sort through!

    First of all, the absolute best yogurt you can buy is plain, unsweetened yogurt.  Most flavoreds yogurt have six or seven teaspoons of added sugar (that “fruit on the bottom” is pure sugar, not real fruit with fiber and phytonutrients.)

    If plain yogurt is too sour for your tastes, you can always sweeten it at home (with fruit, vanilla or coconut extracts, or even just one or two teaspoons of your sweetener of choice.)

    As for probiotics and cultures, let’s clarify that tangled web:

    • Probiotics is the name given to microorganisms that closely resemble the “friendly”/healthy bacteria that live in our colon (prebiotics, meanwhile, are components in certain foods that feed these “critters”) and have beneficial health effects.
    • In other words — and this is important — while all probiotics are bacteria, not all bacteria are probiotics
    • Lactobacillus acidophilus is a “hot” probiotic mainly because it has been the focus of the most studies; its efficacy is well documented
    • Many probiotics have not undergone sufficient testing.  One concern is that some are rendered useless when they come in contact with stomach acids
    • Additionally, most probiotics need refrigeration to survive.  Probiotics in shelf-stable foods have a minimal chance of surviving by the time they make it to your pantry

    When it comes to buying yogurts, there are four things to keep in mind to ensure you are getting as much probiotic bang for your buck as possible:

    1. Buy yogurts that contain “live and active cultures.”  This usually means the cultures are added AFTER the milk has been pasteurized.  If they are added before pasteurization, they are killed by the heat.  Yogurts that only claim to “be made with live cultures” may fall into the latter category
    2. Look for the National Yogurt Association (NYA)’s Live & Active Cultures seal.  FYI: The NYA is “a national non-profit trade organization whose… Live & Active Culture seal, which appears on refrigerated and frozen yogurt containers, helps you recognize those products containing significant amounts of live and active cultures.”  The seal is voluntary, so its absence does not necessarily imply a lack of live and active cultures
    3. Although there are many strains of probiotics, acidophilus is considered the “golden” one because it has been well researched.  We know, for instance, that unlike other probiotics, acidophilus is not destroyed by stomach acids
    4. Lactobacillus Bifidobacteria has also been well-researched, and is also believed to survive the digestive process

    Aren’t you glad you asked?

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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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