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Did you know that the human digestive tract is home to over 400 species of micro-organisms? Some are “good bugs” or friendly bacteria and some are “bad bugs” or harmful bacteria.
Probiotic , a Greek word meaning “for life”, can be defined as “live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” [WHO/FAO]. Probiotics are the good bacteria that promote healthy digestion and build immunity. Two of the most common strains of probiotics are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Probiotic food is food that contains live bacteria that are extremely beneficial and not harmful to humans. The first example of probiotic food was the introduction of acidophilus to milk, which converted it to curd. This helped people who had difficulty digesting milk, tolerate it better.
Most probiotic food is fermented, at least partially. Many people add probiotic bacteria to their food or take them in capsule form. However, they are easily available in the form of yogurt [curd].
You might have not realised it but your stomach is a storehouse of probiotic bacteria. Just by eating curd occasionally, you would have consumed a billion bacteria till date.
Yogurt is a living food, produced by the action of friendly bacteria on the sugars in milk [or lactose] that turns them into lactic acid; it is often the cause of food intolerance to dairy products.
However, when milk becomes yogurt, it is much easier to digest. The bacteria living in yogurt are highly beneficial for overall health.
Yogurt is extremely versatile. It is an excellent breakfast food, mixes well with most fruits, seeds and cereals. It makes soups, stews and sauces thicker and creamier, but as heating destroys its friendly bacteria, it should not be used during cooking but simply stirred in at the end.
The above benefits are only provided by “live” yogurt i.e. yogurt made through a natural process without adding any external chemicals to hasten the process from milk to curd.
Probiotics in today’s life
Healthy intestinal functions are the key to good health and longevity. However, statistics show that one third of the urban Indian population is prey to digestive disorders or lifestyle ailments.
Ever increasing stress, irregular eating habits, excessive travel, indiscriminate use of antibiotics, high alcohol consumption, high intake of packaged and processed food, and pollution are all factors that contribute to this alarming trend.
If wellness and internal harmony are today’s health priority, probiotics is probably the answer we are looking for to address our lifestyle woes. By maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora, probiotics enable the body to improve its natural defences.
Buttermilk is a probiotic food. It contains living microorganisms that can survive the passage through the stomach and become active in the intestines. Decades ago, buttermilk was made from the liquid that separated from butter during the churning process. Left to ferment naturally, the result was old-fashioned buttermilk, a thinner, sweeter beverage than what’s in dairy cases today. Now buttermilk is made by adding cultured bacteria to low-fat or fat-free milk, just like yogurt. The live cultures provide its distinctive rich, creamy texture and a host of health benefits. Besides the nutritional benefits, there are some old wives’ tales as to other benefits of buttermilk. In India, it is a cure for an overdose of bhang. American settlers thought a glass of buttermilk protected a person from poison ivy. Women settlers often washed their faces in buttermilk for a soft and creamy complexion and it is still used to prevent a tan.
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