Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Secret 22: Have Yogurt for Very Friendly Bacteria

When you decide to purchase a second hand car, you will most likely look under the hood to probe its condition.  Likewise, if we want to check a person's health, the act of 'looking under the hood' would equate to checking out a person's gut. Alas, it is much easier to look under a car hood.  
The state of your intestines and its flora is a great indicator of your overall well-being.  A gut replete with beneficial bacteria is a leading indicator of a strong immune system. Many people have dysbiosis, which means that their intestinal flora is not at optimum level. A healthy gut has a preponderance of probiotics or ‘good bacteria’ and less in the way of pathogenic or ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast. Too much yeast in the gut may lead to a build-up of toxins, which in turn may be the cause of allergies, depression or fatigue; too high a concentration of pathogenic bacteria causes infection and easily leads to ‘tummy upsets’. Probiotics are your friend and ally in boosting your immune systems and keeping you healthy. In fact, if you were to have your stool analyzed and discovered that more than 50% of your total stool bacteria consists of the bifidobacteria, you would have stool similar to that of  healthy 80 to 109 year-olds from Bama county, Guangxi, China.

Keeping your hard-working friendly bacteria happy and functioning at optimal levels does not require much. Your friends do not like white sugar or flour. A high-sugar/high-alcohol diet (ideal for growing Candida), a high-animal protein, fatty diet (popular with pathogenic bacteria) and stress cause havoc with these amiable bacteria. Live bacteria in your gut thrive on the same things you do – foods high in fiber such as fructooligosaccharides FOS and inulin. Such fiber is found in bananas and other fruit, onions, garlic, leeks, whole wheat and rye, asparagus and artichokes. 'Good' bacteria prefer foods low in glycemic index (more on this in Secret 31). Fatty acids such as fish oils, nut and seed oils aid in the adherence of your friends to the intestinal mucosa. Treating your friendly bacteria with care ultimately benefits you.

Did I mention these probiotics are very hard-working?  Their job description is elaborate:
  • Manufacture: B vitamins, vitamin K, essential fatty acids, lactic acid (this reduces intestinal pH to create an environment that can be inhospitable to pathogens), antibiotics (these specifically kill ‘bad’ bacteria such as the dysentery causing bacteria Shigella), hydrogen peroxide (another pathogen killer), butyric acid (used as fuel by the colon), and enzymes that aid in the digestion of milk products
  • Detoxify and digest toxins produced by our bodies by deactivating nitrites, removing salmonella and reducing excess cholesterol
  • Increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals
  • Assist in the digestion of sugar, fiber, and proteins
The best type of yogurt consist of live cultures of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacilles bulgaricus. You may be familiar with L. acidophilus; note, however, that the presence of L. bulgaricus reduces the amount of L. acidophilus.  Ideally make your own yogurt from scratch using these two strains. If you want to purchase good yogurt make sure to buy yogurt in glass containers (how much do we really know about the interaction between the acidity of yogurt and those cheap plastic containers?  Better to avoid any possible chemical contamination from plastics). Buy live cultures rather than live cultures that have subsequently been pasteurized. Avoid yoghurts containing sugar, stabilizers, thickeners, additives or flavorings. For those of you living in the U.S., my favorite yogurt is White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt from Austin, Texas. It consists only of whole milk and live cultures (L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, B. bifidum) and is delicious. It can be used as a starter for home yogurt making and contains up to 90 billion CFU per serving. Enjoy it plain, with salad dressing, or add it to sauces. 

Bulgarian yogurt: just milk and bacteria

For the best fruit yogurt I choose organic fruit in season and add a few spoonfuls of this yogurt. If the fruit is ripe and in season, you do not even have to add any honey to sweeten it. I also love making lassi – both sweet lassi and mango lassi. All you need is a blender, yogurt, your favorite sweetener, water and ice. Here’s the recipe:

To make two delicious glasses of plain sweet lassi, simply mix the following in your blender:
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup ice
  • 3 – 5 teaspoons of your preferred sweetener
This is very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Plain, sweet lassi: delicious and easy to make at home!

For mango lassi just add ½ cup (or, depending on your taste add even more) mango. I purchase frozen mango chunks (Dole) from Costco or Sam’s Club (I thaw out the desired amount in the fridge the night before) or use fresh mango when it is in season.

Mmmmh, home-made mango lassi

Alternatively, use any fruit in season. Today I made peach lassi and it got great reviews (and disappeared in no time at all).

Another favorite and easy-to-make yogurt dish is Greek tzatiki.  All you need is a cucumber, a garlic clove (or use more, if you are a garlic fan), and yogurt.  Simple chop up the garlic clove; wash, peel and slice the cucumber; mix the garlic with one cup of Bulgarian yogurt and add over the cucumber slices.  Mix and let the tzatziki cool in the fridge for an hour or so before enjoying to ensure that the yogurt has absorbed the garlic flavor.  This dish is also very refreshing!

The best time to start creating a healthy gut is during the infant stage. During birth the infant obtains a generous dose of Bifidobacterium infantis from swallowing vaginal bacteria – this makes for a great starter. According to Beare ‘the state of an infant’s intestinal ecology is a reliable predictor of whether the infant will develop allergies’.  Am I to blame for my son’s food allergies?  Time to make him his favorite mango lassi!

A quick side thought:  how do 'good' bacteria pass through the acidic environment of the stomach unscathed to then successfully colonize the intestines?  Probably the same way many pathogens manage to breach this seemingly inhospitable environment.