A Cultured Affair
Posted: December 13, 2011
Kefir is a cultured dairy product, packaged like milk, which can be purchased in plain or flavored varieties. It has a slightly carbonated or effervescent quality from the cultures used and the fermentation it undergoes. Starting with six to eight ounces of kefir and a little orange or cranberry juice, I throw in a peeled orange, a frozen banana and a kiwi before cranking up the motor, blending it into a delightful healthy drink. Substitute strawberries or peaches. Kefir is produced similar to buttermilk or yogurt – live and active beneficial bacteria are added to milk, followed by an incubation period. The result is a cultured dairy product, where the lactose (or milk sugar) has been converted into lactic acid. This transformation results in the thick and creamy, yet tangy final product. Cultured products may or may not contain probiotics.
Probiotics refers to live organisms which can benefit humans by colonizing the intestinal tract when consumed in adequate amounts. Normally, we have more than 100 trillion friendly organisms of 400 different types in our intestinal tract. An upset in the good vs. bad bacteria can occur as a result of antibiotic therapy or diarrheal disease. Eating a probiotic, like yogurt with active cultures can help reestablish the good bacteria. Probiotics help maintain a healthy intestinal tract and discourage harmful organisms introduced to the intestines. Cultured foods consumed in the U.S. include yogurt, some cheeses, wine, soy sauce, sourdough bread and others, however only some of these foods are probiotics containing live cultures.
The recent Report of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stops short of any specific diet recommendations relating to probiotics, but developing research is suggesting benefits such as reduction in diarrhea incidence, improvements in gut health, possible roles in treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, and reductions in allergies and infections. The research is complicated by the many different strains of bacteria used, levels of live cultures in final products, as well as whether some people are more likely to benefit than others.1
The best known probiotic is yogurt, containing the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus. Acidophilus milk is another product containing the same bacteria. Bifidobacterium is another helpful organism. Research indicates the beneficial bacteria attach to the lining of the intestinal wall, helping to maintain intestinal health. Buttermilk, frozen yogurt, and some cheeses may also have beneficial bacteria.
The key to shopping for probiotics is to look for the terms “contains live (or active) cultures”, indicating that the final product still contains the live organisms. If it says “made with live or active cultures”, processing may have destroyed the bacteria. The National Yogurt Association has established a seal for Live and Active Cultures (LAC). Live cultures must be present in significant quantities to carry this seal. This allows the shopper to differentiate between probiotics and products which are heat-treated after fermentation, which destroys the live cultures. Foods most likely to contain active cultures are yogurt, kefir and acidophilus milk. Check labels and be sure to store products at the proper temperature, consuming them within a reasonable time period after purchase to preserve the live cultures. Put some good bacteria to work in your life!
1. Report of the DGAC on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010; D5-42
Rayna Cooper is a Registered Dietitian and Family & Consumer Sciences/Nutrition Educator serving Penn State Extension in Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271, email firstname.lastname@example.org.