PROBIOTICS: Good Bacteria

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

Woman eating curd

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.

Probiotics – healthy bacteria

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.

Benefits of probiotic food

  • Probiotic foods maintain a low pH level thereby reducing the risk of harmful bacteria invading the body
  • Bacteria in probiotic food support digestive function and are beneficial for intestinal health
  • Eating live food regularly is the most effective way to restore the balance of intestinal bacteria called “flora”
  • Highly beneficial for people suffering from yeast infections such as Candida
  • Prevents diarrhoea, gastroenteritis and other bowel problems
  • Fight-off unfriendly bacteria that cause food poisoning and travellers’ tummy bugs
  • Supports the immune system to battle infection
  • Protects the urinary tract from infection
  • Helps to heal peptic ulcers
  • Help our body to face stress, high blood pressure and help lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduction in eczema
  • Reduction in mental illness
  • Reduces childhood allergies and asthma.

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.

Health Benefits of Buttermilk

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.

  • Buttermilk is lower in fat than regular milk, because the fat has been removed to make butter.
  • It is also high in potassium, vitamin B12, calcium, and riboflavin
  • A good source of phosphorus.
  • Those with digestive problems are often advised to drink buttermilk rather than milk, as it is more quickly digested.
  • Buttermilk has more lactic acid than skimmed milk.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Naini Setalvad
Naini Setalvad is a renowned nutritionist and health and obesity consultant. She is a regular columnist for the leading newspapers and magazines. She has also conducted workshops to improve performances, memory, concentration, inter-personal relationships, reducing stress, aggression, mood swings for various institutions.


  1. How can we be sure that the yogurt and buttermilk has living bacteria. It is my understanding that all milk by federal law must me pasteurized. This means it is heated to about 150 degrees that kills the bacteria, therefore yogurt and buttermilk would not have live bacteria unless it had the bacteria replaced. How can we tell if the bacteria has been replenished? I have been told that cultured buttermilk has living bacteria because it is injected into the milk to help it be processed into curd. Is this true?

    I know that buttermilk makes biscuit dough rise. I have been told buttermilk and a substance in the wheat flour react to give off carbon dioxide which causes the dough to rise. Is this true?

    I hope you will be allowed to answer, then when I talk about these things I can have some verification from an authority such as you.

    I am a retired Dentist and know a little bit about this but have no proof of it. Hope you can help. I have many digestive problems so that makes my interest keener. God Bless you. – Dr. Troy Bishop

  2. Good articles always help us ……..

    But we need more information about research institute & researcher which might be helpful for students who research with probiotics for our postgraduate study.


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