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Eat that dahi!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Probiotic foods like live-culture yoghurt can offer a range of benefits, according to various studies

It’s blazing outside and you’re probably eating a lot of dahi or drinking chaas anyway. But did you know that according to the latest research, probiotic foods like live-culture yoghurt can offer a range of benefits for various health conditions, including allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Harvard Medical School’s recent report, The Benefits of Probiotics, says that probiotics may even help with weight loss!

Other such foods that the Indian palate may find more exotic include kombucha, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut. What they have in common is that these are all fermented foods — it’s the fermentation process that creates probiotics.

What are probiotics?
You’ve heard of bacteria and you’ve been put off by them. After all, these are nasty little creatures who create havoc with our systems, causing coughs, colds and other unpleasant illnesses. But did you know that there are good bacteria too—and that they can actually improve your health?

It’s a concept that goes back to ancient times. Russian microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff (1845-1916) was the first to associate the large amounts of fermented dairy products with the good health and longevity of Bulgarians as long ago as 1907. But the belief that acid-producing organisms and fermented products being good for you goes back even longer; it is said that fermented milk products were used to treat illnesses of the digestive tract in Roman times.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms that help our bodies function properly. Bacteria that are in our intestines help us digest what we eat, produce vitamins and even destroy disease-causing micro-organisms, and produce vitamins, according to National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in the US. Such organisms exist in our bodies in large numbers; in fact they out-number human cells by 10 to one. Probiotic foods have micro-organisms that are usually similar to those that live within us.

Do they really help?
Researchers have been studying probiotics to find out how effective they are in dealing with a variety of health problems, including digestive disorders such as diarrhoea caused by infections, antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease. They have also looked at allergic disorders such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and hay fever; tooth decay and other oral health problems; liver diseases, the common cold and colic in infants, among other things.

NCCIH believes that there is preliminary evidence to indicate that probiotics are helpful in preventing diarrhoea caused by infections and antibiotics and in improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but more work on this needs to be done—for instance, which probiotics work for various problems and the quantity one should take.

That’s because probiotics are not all alike. While one Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus would have the same effect.

What can they do?
Probiotics can:

1. Balance the friendly bacteria for a healthier digestive system. If there is an imbalance, it would mean there are more bad bacteria than good ones, which can happen through illness, poor diet or medication. This can lead to obesity, allergies, digestive and even mental health issues.

2. They can offer relief from diarrhoea. According to some studies, probiotic use is associated with lower risk of antibiotic-related diarrhoea. In one study, it was found that this can be as much as 42% less. They are also believed to be useful with other forms of diarrhoea that are not associated with antibiotics. Research indicates that strains such as Lactobacillus casei,  Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii can reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

3. Studies are linking gut health to mood and mental health. One study in 2015 found that probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts, and suggested that further research be done on the use of probiotics as a potential solution for depression. Another followed 70 chemical workers for six weeks and discovered that those who consumed 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or took a daily probiotic capsule actually benefited in terms of their general health and anxiety and stress levels.

4. Eczema in infants and children may be controlled with the use of probiotics. and Certain probiotic strains may reduce the severity of eczema in children and infants. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) refers to a study that involved feeding infants probiotic-supplemented milk and compared them to infants fed milk without probiotics. The eczema symptoms improved in the first group. Another looked at pregnant women and found that the children had an 83% lower risk of developing eczema in the first two years of life. However, researchers have indicated that more research needs to be done in the area.

5. Some probiotic strains are believed to ensure healthy hearts by lowering the ‘bad cholesterol’ and blood pressure. By breaking down bile in the body, probiotics can stop them from being reabsorbed in the gut, where they can seep into the blood as cholesterol.

6. Probiotics can strengthen your immune system. One study found that over 570 children who took Lactobacillus GG had reduced severity and frequency of respiratory infections. Lactobacillus crispatus is believed to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women by 50%.

7. Probiotics could help you lose weight by preventing absorption of dietary fat in the intestine. They may also help you burn more calories, and feel fuller, thanks to increased levels of certain hormones. One study showed that dieting women who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus for three months lost 50% more weight than women who didn't take a probiotic.

A Word of Caution
Many of the available studies indicate that more research needs to be done not only on the benefits of probiotics, but on the quantity and variety of strains. It is also true that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem.

So should you be eating probiotics?
Harvard Medical School points out that food marketers have found a new niche with products that include probiotic cereal, soy milk and granola bars, among other things. “However, their claims may be based only on preliminary scientific findings. More research is needed to see whether probiotic bacterias' beneficial effects are the same when they're treated or added to food products. Dried probiotics may survive a trip through the intestines if prepared and stored properly. Heat often kills live active cultures.”

It adds: “The scientific community agrees that there are potential health benefits to eating foods with probiotics. However, more research is needed to solidify the claims. The best we can say right now is they won't hurt and may help.”

So eat that dahi anyway; there are enough studies out there that indicate the probiotics make it good for you. And even if we discount all of them, there’s a lot to be said for the fact that dahi is nutrient-rich and the best way to cool off when the sun beats down!

Short Takes

  • The fermentation process creates probiotics, or ‘good bacteria’ that are said to be beneficial to the body.
  • While more research is required, there are indications that they can help in treating a variety of ailments.

A session on probiotics

Gut health is making waves across the world of fitness, nutrition and health, and probiotics has become a buzzword. On April 21, 2018, visit Olive Bar and Kitchen, Bandra, for ‘The Probiotics Harvest’ masterclass (3.30pm onwards).

Head Chef Rishim Sachdeva has invited Moina Oberoi, founder of the natural probiotic foods company Mo’s Superfoods, and a wellness chef consultant and entrepreneur who works closely with organic farmers and producers. Moina is the brains behind the popular Mo’s Kefir, a fermented milk drink. Joining her will be nutritionist Khushboo Thadani, a nutrition specialist who coaches clients to achieve a healthier body, attitude and lifestyle through nutrition, via her nutrition consulting business, K Weigh. Jointly, they will offer attendees an exciting session that will demystify probiotics, and highlight the best foods to find them in.

The workshop will begin with Khushboo giving a talk on gut health and the overall benefits of probiotics. She will also offer samples of kimchi, a fermented food known for its probiotic benefits, to attendees, to try and to purchase.

Moina will then continue the workshop, introducing attendees to kefir, with a specific focus on cashew kefir milk versus regular milk (98% lactose and dairy-free). She will also instruct attendees on how to make cream cheese from cashew kefir milk.

Chef Rishim will then take over, for an interactive demo that will show attendees how to create a dish using the cashew kefir cream cheese. He will whip up a delicious Tuna Jerky with Cashew Cream Cheese, Smoked Ketchup and Gremolata, that participants can then sample and enjoy.

Entry is completely free, but do call.

Olive Bar & Kitchen, Bandra
14, Union Park, Khar (W)
Tel +91 22 4340 8229
Hours of Operation:
Dinner 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. (Monday to Sunday)
Brunch 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday)

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