Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not All Yogurts are the Same

Yogurt?  I make my own.  I know that sounds crazy, but I have my reasons.  And I think they're good ones.

It's all about gut health--  More and more nutritional healing research is pointing clearly in the direction of gut health.  Yes, gut health...not very glamorous sounding, but your overall good health relies on it.  Gut health refers to the delicate balance in our guts between good and bad microbes.  Our gut is literally filled with microbes and these microbes are essential for the proper digestion of food, but much more importantly, to the overall health of our bodies.

Just what are these gut microbes?  They are both good and bad bacterias, good and bad viruses, yeasts, parasites and other tiny living creatures that live in our gut.  Many of these microbes are crucial to the functioning of our body's systems.  In fact, without gut microbes we would actually be incapable of digesting our food.  They do much of the work for us, breaking down and pre-digesting food for us so that it can be absorbed into our blood stream and transported to the places in our bodies where the nutrients are needed.

Keeping things in balance--  Unfortunately, a lot of the helpful microbes get killed off in our guts because of modern living and modern diets.  Most of us know that when we take antibiotics we are killing off much of the beneficial bacteria in our guts.  Did you know, however, that eating meats and poultry that are fed antibiotics can also contribute to killing off beneficial gut bacteria?  And did you know that the hormones and pesticides that are common in our food sources are also disturbing the balance in our guts.

It's not just a matter of avoiding the killing off of the good microbes, it's essential to create an environment which encourages the good guys to thrive.  Just like all the cells in our bodies, these organisms need to reproduce and propagate.  When we feed them foods that make our guts inhospitable to them, they don't thrive, and that means that they are unable to help us heal and be strong in turn.

In fact, certain foods feed and support the bad guys.  One example of this is candida yeast which thrives on sugars.  A small amount of candida is naturally found in our intestines and in proper balance, it is a helpful organism.  However, eating too much sugar (or processed food, which is filled with sugars and high fructose corn syrup) just encourages it to take over.  Candida yeast, with a little encouragement from our poor eating habits, will colonize in large sections in the intestines.  Once it's there, it's very difficult to eradicate.  It punches holes in the intestinal wall creating leaky gut syndrome which wreaks havoc on the body's immune system and causes inflammation, which then leads to all kinds of diseases (see blue box below).

What's the problem with store-bought yogurt?--  So, getting back to yogurt, many commercial yogurts are filled with sugar, or even worse, high fructose corn syrup.  They're not at all healing foods. In fact, they're feeding the bad guys in our guts, helping them to wrestle over command from the good bacteria we really need.  We might as well eat a hot fudge sundae.  At least when we eat the sundae, we call it dessert.

Unfortunately, many of us think of yogurt as a health-promoting food.  And it once was.  Yogurt is cultured milk which means it is fermented.  In the culturing process, beneficial bacterias are introduced to the milk which is kept at a warm enough temperature over a period of time in order to allow those bacterias to multiply.  In fact, milk itself comes right out of the cow intact with many of the cow's own beneficial bacterias.  Culturing encourages them to grow, too.

However, what happens when we pasteurize milk?  We heat it up to temperatures somewhere between 140 and 160 degrees, depending on the process.  Unfortunately, the bacterias are mostly killed off by around 120 degrees.

So, in the making of yogurt, we take the milk from the cow which is brimming with many, many different varieties of healthy bacteria (good), we heat up and kill the bacteria (bad), we then culture the pasteurized milk by adding in a handful of strains of good bacterias (somewhat good), and then we add in sugars and high fructose corn products, stabilizing agents, thickening agents and artificial flavorings (bad). Many of these ingredients arrive into the gut where they support and encourage the bad microbes to flourish and take over.

That's just plain kooky.

Yogurt is not always what we think it is-- We think of yogurt as a health food, and yet many of the commercially prepared brands are simply desserts in disguise.  I don't know how you feel about it, but when I choose to eat dessert, I want to make a deliberate choice for it.

The Cornucopia Institute just did a study evaluating the brands of commercially prepared yogurts available and has ranked them based on the quality of their cultures, whether they are organic or not, whether they add thickeners or stabilizer and what sorts of sweeteners they use along with how much of them.  You can find their comparison rankings by brand, called the Cornicopia Yogurt Buyer's Guide,  here.  And for the Executive Summary of their overall report called, Culture Wars, click here.   This report is easy to read and very informative, well worth your time.  Here's a little excerpt from it:

Why home-made?-- Now, back to why I like to make my own yogurt.  It all has to do with pasteurization and how the process kills off the natural live bacterias in the milk.  I buy raw milk to make my yogurt, but I do live in California where raw milk is available for sale (some states have banned the sale of raw milk).  Milk must be heated in order to get the cultures actively growing, but I am careful to keep the temperature below 110 degrees so that I am not killing off any of the live cultures.

I also infuse my yogurt with additional live cultures by adding a tablespoon of yogurt from one or more of the better commercially prepared brands or, even better, commercially prepared raw kefir.  This insures that I am cultivating as many bacteria strains as possible in my yogurt.

Making your own yogurt is actually very simple to do.  The actual work takes only about ten minutes but then there is a warming period that can take from 8 hours to a day or so, depending on the method you use.  To see how I make mine, click here.

I actually have pretty strong dairy intolerances and have been avoiding dairy products for many years.  (See here for information on dairy allergies, intolerances and lactose problems)  However, I find that home-made yogurt made from raw milk is something I can tolerate.  Plus, I appreciate that I am supporting and cultivating the beneficial bacterias in my gut with every bite.

Research suggests that eating yogurt may help with weight loss, probably because it reduces inflammation and insulin sensitivity.  I'm all for that!

Homemade yogurt tastes delicious, too.  I sometimes use it as a topping for soups and stews (kind of a replacement for sour cream).  I also love it as a mid-afternoon snack especially when I add fresh fruits and nuts to it.  Or if I really have a sweet tooth, I'll stir in a little cocoa powder and Coconut Nectar.  Then it really does taste as good as a hot fudge sundae, to me!

According to a study performed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Twelve weeks of consuming a fermented milk product containing the Lactobacillusstrain was associated with a 4.6 per cent reduction in abdominal fat…”.

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