Getting Cultured – The Benefits of Live Active Cultures

I frequently tell my patients that if there are 2 foods you should add to your diet it would be blueberries and green tea because ounce for ounce they bring more to the table so to speak than most other foods in terms of their super food status. A close third however would be foods that contain active cultures. Whereas tea and berries deliver high levels of anti-oxidant and other disease fighting nutrients to your body, foods with active cultures such as yogurt and cultured milk help your body digest and absorb these super foods by supercharging your digestive process. After all, if you can’t digest and absorb the foods you are eating, you can’t get the benefits of the nutrients they contain.

Good health begins in the gut. Foods with active cultures help by providing you with 2 types of nutrients: prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics, such as inulin, are nondigestable components of food that stimulate good bacteria in the gut and inhibit bad bacteria. They also aid in absorption of minerals that are active in immunity such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron, and help in the synthesis and metabolism of other vitamins. Probiotics on the other hand are live microorganisms or “good bacteria,” which promote and maintain digestive health and regularity. Probiotics and prebiotics work together to fight disease and promote health and wellness.

As we age the number of these good bacteria in our gut declines. In addition, the environment we live in continuously degrades these helpful microorganisms. Antibiotics although helpful against bacteria that cause infection also indiscriminately kill the good bacteria that help our digestive system function at an optimal level. Animal products are packed with antibiotics used to prevent infection in the animals while they are alive but get passed on to you when you consume them. Try to use choose foods that specifically state on the packaging that they do not use antibiotic to avoid this potentially harmful side effect of consuming these foods.  Other medications such as anti inflammatory drugs and chemicals such as chlorine in our drinking water can damage the lining of the bowels and destroy the good bacteria.

There is a significant amount of research out there that supports the claims that active cultures can decrease cholesterol, strengthen the immune system and fight against certain types of cancer. Acidophilus, one of the main “friendly,” bacteria has been shown to decrease antibiotic induced diarrhea and may help prevent or lessen severity of travel’s diarrhea. Regular intake of these helpful nutrients has also been shown to reduce symptoms associated with Irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.

The health benefits of pre and pro biotics have not passed by the companies that produce our food. It used to be that yogurt or cultured milk were the only products containing any appreciable amount of these nutrients however now you will find them in breakfast cereals, protein powders and a host of other products.

For good digestive health, you should eat something everyday that has active cultures in it or take a supplement that contains these powerful nutrients. Check the labels on foods for the content they have. Typical yogurt products contain 2 or 3 different strains of active cultures such as lactobacillus acidophilus. I like Stoneyfield Farms brand, an organic yogurt that contains high levels of 5 different active cultures and if you want to get even more, try Kefir cultured milk in a smoothie. This product contains 10 separate species of good bacteria. If you don’t like dairy products, Kashi brand makes a cereal called Vive which is fortified. If you are using our Vitality Pack line of daily vitamins you are getting a pharmaceutical grade dose of active cultures along with other nutrients to optimize digestive function.

A word of caution, if you do not typically ingest these nutrients, you should start slow and build up the amount you eat over time. Drastic changes in the environment of the bowel can cause bloating, diarrhea, gas, and cramping. This is due to a shift in the bacterial balance to good bacteria as they literally crowd out the bad bacteria and feed on other toxins in the gut that may have built up over time. As you achieve greater digestive health these symptoms should resolve. I have included a recipe for a smoothie I make a few times a week which is a great way to start the day. It is packed with anti-oxidants, fiber, active cultures calcium and protein. Try this power smoothie a few times a week for breakfast and experience the benefits of  multiple super foods in one meal.

Until next time, Stay healthy and live well. Dr. Mike

Dr. Mike’s Power Smoothie

1 cup kefir plain lowfat cultured milk

1 cup fresh or frozen blue berries

1 scoop Aria protein powder

1 tablespoon natural peanut butter

Place all of the ingredients into a blender with a 1/2 c of water and a few ice cubes and blend to desired consistency.

Nutritional info: 330 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams of carbs, 29 grams protein

This smoothie gives you great macronutrient balance as it contains 34% carbs, 35% protein and 31% fat. It provides 600 mg of calcium (60% of the RDA), 10 separate species of live active cultures, and a whopping dose of antioxidants. The peanut butter adds healthy fat which gives this meal staying power so you are not hungry in an hour, and the added protein and fat slows down the absorption of carbs which gives you a slow steady source of energy throughout the morning. Optional ingredients could include a serving of Benefiber® for added satiety, ground flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids and of course any other fruit you would like to include.

Author Info

Dr. Michael Heim

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