Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on September 20, 2012. Enjoy!
Did you eat your bacteria today?
You may well have if you ate a cheese sandwich, drank coffee or had lunch at a Korean restaurant. Yogurt — whose ingredients are milk and bacteria — has many health benefits (such as†reducing stress) from probiotics, beneficial micro-organisms or “good” bacteria.
Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the book “The Art of Fermentation,” “knows how to get you revved up to eat bacteria” and to fill your plate with a “vast army of invisible dining companions,” those microorganisms in foods including cheese and pickles. As research like that undertaken by†the†Human Microbiome Project is revealing, the bacteria in our bodies can have a positive†impact on our health by†aiding digestion, helping with stomach upset and boosting the immune system.
Here are five foods that can help you get your daily dose of bacteria.
The Japanese soybean paste is made from barley or rice colonized by mold that is combined with a soybean base, though adventurous chefs are using pistachios, pine nuts, lentils or mung beans. Miso is a complete protein as it contains all the essential amino acids and has a number of benefits as a digestive aid.
Cheese is essentially fermented milk;†fresh cheese is made from milk and acid. Other types are made from milk plus bacteria, enzymes and naturally formed acids.†Cheese containing probiotics has been shown to boost the immune responses of elderly people.
3. Lacto-Fermented Vegetables
Kimchi, the spicy preserved cabbage that is a ubiquitous feature of Korean meals, has been called one of the world’s healthiest foods. Pickles fermented in lactic acid (which is used in making kimchi) have health benefits, but not the jar of dills or relish you’re likely to find at the grocery store.
4. Some Kinds of Soy SauceLactic acid bacteria and yeast are used in making soy sauce, which has been shown to have benefits for digestion. But steer clear of those containing caramel or other artificial flavors or colorings (i.e., the type probably used in take-out from the Chinese place around the corner). Traditionally made soy sauce is created in a long and slow fermentation process, in which koji (Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus) enzymes can gradually do their work of breaking down the amino acids in soybeans.
The benefits of lactobacillus acidophilus, the “good” bacteria in yogurt, have become commonly known.
If you decide to make yogurt yourself, you’ll need a starter from already-made yogurt. †Katz (author of The Art of Fermentation)†and others contend that heirloom starters from countries like Bulgaria and Greece, which have long traditions of yogurt-making, make yogurt with better texture, taste and values for your health as they draw from “diverse communities of bacteria,”†NPR notes. Scientists are not convinced, but yogurt based on such heirloom starters can be said to be immortal as some of the bacteria in them can procreate indefinitely in milk.
It is possible to get a little carried away by the taste of fermented foods. In Thailand, a love of fermented foods is one reason that liver cancer rates are high, in no small part because of Thais’ love of a dish called pla som, or sour fish. Egg-sized balls of this mixture of raw fish, garlic, salt, steamed rice and seasoning powder are eaten after sitting for three days in the tropical sun.
Scientists continue to research the health benefits of probiotics; so far there is “solid research on probiotics as a medical treatment for irritable bowel, pediatric diarrhea, or allergy disorders,” NPR says.
Katz is more effusive, saying that “good” bacteria plays a role in immune functioning and that “all life has evolved from bacteria and no other form of life has lived without bacteria.” Not all bacteria are created equal. Certainly some are bad, but other types can be quite good for us indeed.
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Photo by amyf