June 19, 2013

NEED TO GET A LITTLE CULTURE IN YOUR LIFE? Eat the GOOD Bacteria!

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YOGURTraw apple pie kefir smoothie[1]

Sometime during the Neolithic Era (roughly 4,000 BC), it might have been the ancient Sumerians who first discovered fermentation. Making way for the probiotics we know and eat today (AKA the “Good Bacteria”), fermentation is one of the oldest chemical processes known to humanity. Fermentation most likely started with fermenting grains and honey to make alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine.

WHAT  IS  YOUR  GUT  FEELING?

Did you know that almost 75% of  hospital patients are being treated for some kind of digestive problem? Not surprising since many people do not pay attention to what kinds of foods they are eating, let alone balancing the microflora in their digestive tracks. Taking care of your overall digestive system is easier than you think. With a little education and some effort, you can live a healthier life and have a better quality of life well into your golden years. So, how is your gut feeling these days?

YOUR  INNER  ECOSYSTEM

You never thought of your gastrointestinal tract as your own personal BACTERIAL INNER ECOSYSTEM did you? Just like the delicate eco-worlds of the Rain Forest and Yellowstone National Park, your digestive tract also needs delicate balance to survive. Consuming probiotics encourages the production of antibodies and builds natural and strong defense lines against diseases, allergies, viral/fungal/bacterial infections, IBS and cancer risk. Certainly, I want healthy troops defending my castle, don’t you?  Not just for your insides, probiotics also improves skin, can help maintain a healthy weight,  and provide energy with a general sense of well being.

PROBIOTICS  101

Simply put, probiotics are nature’s purest form of antibiotics. These small microscopic organisms, called microflora, assists the body in building long-lasting immunity and defending it from a host of chronic illnesses and diseases. Heck….the word PROBIOTIC means  “FOR LIFE”.  Our bodies have 20 times more bacteria than living cells and the reason to pay attention to eating the right kind of bacteria for good digestion. You can choose probiotic cultures in the way of fermented foods (or supplements) as part of a regular diet.

Some  probiotic food categories:  NOTE: Not all probiotic foods are created equal. Some have much more friendly bacteria and, therefore, better for the digestive tract.

  • DAIRY – Kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • VEGETABLES – Sauerkraut, pickles etc;
  • SOYBEAN BASED – Miso, tofu, tempeh, natto, shoyu, soy yogurt
  • GRAPES/FRUIT – Wine
  • WHEAT/RYE – Sourdough bread

PROBIOTIC  BEGINNINGS

In 1908, a Ukrainian named Elie Metchnikoff was pivotal in starting the modern discipline of probiotics. A Nobel laureate, working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Metchnikoff was very impressed with longevity and robust health of Bulgarian peasants who habitually drank fermented milk. He also identified an apparent link between acidophilus-type bacteria and extended lifespan for humans.

In the 1930’s, Dr. Minoru Shirota in Japan isolated a strain of lactobacillus bacteria now used in the yogurt  Yakult. A yogurt drink, Yakult was manufactured by Dr. Shirota and still sold today around the world. This Japanese scientist inspired a philosophy called SHIROTA-ISM believing that ingesting probiotics, exercising, and eating healthy is the “preventive medicine” approach to a long and healthy life.

By the 1990’s, at least 20 million people in Asia were consuming probiotics. Currently, western cultures are not getting enough “culture” in their diets, however, trying to catch up with their friends in eastern countries. There are several clinical studies showing the positive effects probiotics have on chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, diarrhea and more.

OVERUSE  OF  ANTIBIOTICS

There are over 100 trillion GOOD bacteria in our bodies that play a vital role in digestion and immune function for overall well-being.

ANTIBIOTICS CAN NOT DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN GOOD BACTERIA AND BAD BACTERIA. Antibiotics kills them both and the reason the good bacteria needs replenishing ASAP. Antibiotics wipe out the healthy gut bacteria that manufacture B vitamins and creates an environment for the bad bacteria to multiply. The result is risk of infection by stressing the immune system.

NOTE: There are times when using antibiotics are necessary. The information here is not meant to replace any medication used under a doctor’s care. Consult your medical practitioner before introducing anything new to your digestion system if it applies to your particular medical condition.

In the 19th century, Louis Pasteur discovered that micro-organisms were responsible for infections and realized (However, late in life) that strengthening the body, rather than attacking the invading organism, can prove to be a more effective strategy. However, for the last 100 years, the focus has been on the use of antibiotics as the “bacteria killer”. We came to think as bacteria as all BAD, with little attention placed on the GOOD bacteria. Heck…..many people were not even aware good bacteria existed at all. At a typical doctor’s visit regarding infections, antibiotics are prescribed without recommendations to consume probiotics containing live cultures (bacteria) that will repopulate the gut. Only recently with the onslaught of new infections and the over use of antibiotics by society in general, has attention turned to the use of probiotics as natural  antibiotics. Over use of antibiotics also comes to the public without having to get a prescription from the doctor. Every time we consume dairy and meat products from animals raised on conventional farms, we are ingesting extra antibiotics we don’t need. Those animals are living in very cramped quarters and constantly fed multiple antibiotics for prevention measures when, in reality, these animals should only be fed antibiotics sparingly. This is another reason to choose organic raised meat and dairy, when available, to greatly reduce (or eliminate) unnecessary antibiotic use.

KEFIR  vs.  YOGURT

Both are cultured milk products but contain different types of beneficial bacteria. Yogurt’s transient good bacteria help keep the digestive system clean while providing food for the friendly bacteria that already live there.  However, Kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract due to containing several major strains of good bacteria not found in yogurt. Kefir’s active yeast and bacteria also provide more nutritional value to help keep the colon clean and healthy. Yogurt is thicker than kefir and usually eaten with a spoon. Kefir is thinner, similar to a creamy milk beverage. You can buy yogurt and kefir at the supermarket or you can make your own by adding a culture to virtually any kind of milk (even soy milk or rice milk) and allowing to ferment so the GOOD bacteria can multiply. The Internet is loaded with yogurt and kefir recipes if you are adventurous enough to give it a shot. As a result of the fermentation process, both yogurt and kefir contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan helps boosts the serotonin levels in the brain, calming the nervous system and, therefore, reduces anxiety.

LACTOSE  INTOLERANT?

I can’t swear to this and not sure if this works……According to some writings, kefir can be ingested by people who do not digest milk products well. They say….the beneficial yeast and good bacteria in the kefir culture consume most of the lactose (which is the milk sugar). The suggestion is to eat/drink kefir on an empty stomach first thing in the morning before breakfast. Many people have been pleasantly surprised to find they can tolerate the kefir this way. The curd size of kefir is smaller than yogurt and easier to digest.

A  FEW  POINTS  OF  INFORMATION  REGARDING  YOGURT AND KEFIR

  • Eating FROZEN yogurt is a delicious desert but does not contain the live cultures needed to protect your inner eco-system.
  • It is best to eat plain yogurt and kefir and add your own fruits and spices. Many brands contain either a ton of sugar or sugar substitutes.
  • EAT ORGANIC – I cannot stress this enough! Organic dairy products do not contain all those extra and unnecessary antibiotics and hormones fed to dairy animals.

Below is a recipe for an apple pie smoothie. A little different from the usual fruit smoothies and tastes like apple pie. I do not add honey or dates to my smoothies since my husband is is diabetic.

RECIPE – APPLE  PIE  SMOOTHIE

  • 3 apples, cored and quartered
  • 2 cups kefir or 1  1/2 cups plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup raw honey or 1/2 cup pitted dates (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 scraped vanilla bean
  • 2 cups ice (optional) – or use less ice if you do not want the drink to be too cold

In the order listed, place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed for 45-60 seconds or until smooth. Your apple pie is now ready to drink. ENJOY!

Below is a recipe my husband and I made up, on the spot, when a neighbor dropped off fresh mangoes at our doorstep. In addition to a luscious tropical flavor, mangoes provide 20 different vitamins and minerals.

RECIPE – MANGO  KEFIR  SMOOTHIE

  • 2 mangoes peeled and quartered – remove pit
  • 12 oz. kefir
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or coconut extract
  • 1 cup ice (optional)

In the order listed, place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed for 45-60 seconds or until smooth. Your mango smoothie is now ready to drink. ENJOY!

Fermented food in jarsFermented-cabbage-sauerkraut

Originally, fermentation preserved foods when refrigeration was not available. Needless to say, it has been around for a long time. Fermentation is making a comeback because people are realizing it is a great way to consume probiotics. Lacto-fermented foods are fermented by the lactobacillus bacteria. It’s a GOOD bacteria, feeds on sugar, and produces lactic acid. Now you know why these foods taste acidic. Most vegetables (even fruits) can be fermented. It is not a hard process and you can make small or large quantities of fermented foods at one time.

NEED  TO  KNOW  BEFORE  FERMENTATION  PROCESS  BEGINS

  • Make a brine of sea salt and water:  The quantity of salt can be up to you. A general ratio is 2 tablespoons of salt to 4 cups of water when fermenting 4 to 5 pounds of vegetables. Seaweeds can be used in place of salt and are packed with micro-nutrients and a good source of iodine. There is no need to use a vegetable starter culture if you are using salt.
  • Fermentation vessel:  Choose a large glass (or ceramic) jar or pot where you can fit a cap or plate on top. It is very important to keep the vegetables under the brine solution at all times. The process takes days so you’ll need to check daily to make sure the liquid is covering the vegetables. If not, add more brine solution. Mold, in the form of a white film, can appear on the surface. Usually not a problem, removing the white film should be OK.  Fermentation expands and spills can happen. Place the fermentation vessel on a plate, on a pan with a decent lip to capture spills, or on a thick towel. You can purchase special fermentation pots and glass jars. They are designed to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine solution.
  • Completing the fermentation process:  There are variables dictating the total time it will take to complete the process. The room temperature, the quantity of salt, and the type of vegetable chosen will determine the total process time. Rule of thumb is to taste it after the first 3 days, then taste it 3 days later again and continue every 3 days until it tastes acidic enough to your liking. When you are satisfied, store in the refrigerator and it will keep for months.

Here is a recipe for Bavarian sauerkraut. The next time you grill up some brats, serve them with this flavorful variation on regular sauerkraut and get a healthy dose of probiotics at the same time!

HOMEMADE  BAVARIAN  SAUERKRAUT

  • 1 head of green cabbage, shredded ( 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
  • 1 apple, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
  • Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt

Note regarding juniper berries: Resembling large size peppercorns, juniper berries are more a spice than a berry. Juniper berries have an aromatic, sweet flavor with a touch of orange and pine. Look in the spice section of your grocery store.

1.  Combine the shredded cabbage, chopped apple, caraway seeds and juniper berries together.

2.  Place the shredded cabbage mixture a little at a time in the fermentation vessel, pounding the mixture vigorously each time. Sprinkle some of the sea salt with each addition.

3.  Fill the jar with the mixture up to 1 inch below the top remembering it will expand. Keep checking daily and add more brine solution, if necessary,  to keep the vegetables covered with the liquid at all times.

4.  Keep a plate or lid on top and keep it weighted down with something such as a rock, or a heavy can of goods or a jar filled with liquid. You get the idea. To keep fruit flies away, cover with a clean towel.

5.  Place the fermentation vessel in a warm spot in the kitchen. Allow the sauerkraut to ferment for 7 to 10 days. Check on it daily, keep mixture under brine solution, remove any mold that may form on the surface, and taste the mixture every 3 days.  When you are pleased with the taste, refrigerate.

Getting enough culture in your life is a sure way to a healthier gut and a sure way to stay in tuned with your inner ecosystem.