Are You Pro-Life?

I must have been around four when I first sensed magic.  There was no rabbit, top-hat or tuxedoed magician. There was instead a small kitchen, a yogurt maker and a mother.  Mum would fill the glass jars with milk and a dollop of culture, place them in their incubator, cover them with a tea cloth blanket, plug them in, shut the lights and let them sleep. This metamorphosis fascinated me. And it was this magic concoction (to which we’d add jam) that was the usual answer to dessert. My mother was uncompromising in her belief that if you ate well, there was little need for medicine.  Yogurt, teeming with probiotics*, was her penicillin.

What is a probiotic

Probiotic means “pro life”, as apposed to antibiotic which means “against life”.  They’re live microorganisms that take up residency in us and are also used to ferment foods such as yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso and kim chee.

There are over a hundred strains, that all do different things to different foods and have varying degrees of impact on our health.  And to make it even more confusing, they’ve all chosen to keep their Latin names, (lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillicus acidophilus, bifodobacterium) which is why when you try to read the list of them on the side of a yogurt container, you feel like you’re reading Greek (even though you’re reading Latin).

Tempeh**, kefir, miso and kimchee. (Top left and clockwise.)

Why are these foods good for us

We have good and bad bacteria in our gut that (when all’s going well) cohabitate quite nicely.  It’s like a terrarium with layers of moss and bugs.  A few worms are fine, but too many and the plants can’t regenerate fast enough. Same with the gut. The role of the good bacteria is to digest food, absorb nutrients, rid the body of toxins, clean the digestive system, boost immunity and keep colon cancer at bay. Probiotics are the good bacteria.

How does the system get disrupted: if too much bad bacteria enters, or sugar or stress throws off the pH balance (which allows the bad to thrive) or if good bacteria is killed by antibiotics (which, though intended to kill only the bad bacteria, is indiscriminate, creating “collateral damage” amongst the good bacteria who are trying to do their job) –  then the balance tips, leaving the ranks of good bacteria thin, resulting in the digestive roads just not getting cleaned.

Our entire immune system in fact, resides largely in our gut and the more balanced our gut is, the easier it is for our body to fight illness.

Even serotonin (the feel-good chemical) is largely produced in the gut.  The better shape we keep our digestive system in, the happier we will be (literally.)

But keep in mind

  1. Many “enriched” probiotic foods have low levels of probiotics. Enriched juices, chocolate, granola, and yogurts may have low probiotic levels. Eat foods whose probiotics are the result of natural fermentation – yogurt (with probiotic strains) and kefir for example. The more strains of probiotics listed the better*, and beware of this-sounds-too-good-to-be-true  health claims.***
  2. You need billions to get the benefit. In a cup of plain yogurt, you’re likely to get 10-20 billion CFUs (though you will not find this on a label because of the huge variance).  The less processed the yogurt, the more strains listed and the less fruit-on-the-bottom, the higher the probiotics. If you are getting them via a pill (which I would only recommend if you’re needing a strong hit over a short period of time), look for at least 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units).
  3. Consuming probiotic foods with high levels of sugar (eg. highly sweetened yogurt or kefir) is like pouring kerosene onto a fire at the same time as spraying it with water. One of the benefits of probiotics is that they help eliminate the sugar that enters your gut, so to add more, along with the probiotics is only making the good bacteria’s job harder.
  4. They have to be alive. Don’t buy any probiotic food or supplements off the shelf unless it specifically states that it’s shelf stable. To remain active, most require refrigeration even before being opened.
  5. If you go on antibiotics, dump a wheelbarrow’s equivalent of fresh compost (probiotics) on your gut before, during and after****.

If something becomes “good for you” it, unfortunately, finds its way into a pill.

Cheapest way to get the benefits and not have to worry about any of this?  Get a yogurt maker†.

What’s your take on probiotics and fermented foods?

Related Posts
Tofu: White Bread of the Soy World?
What To Expect When You’re Expecting Kombucha

*Yogurt must contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus to be officially labeled “yogurt”, but often contains additional probiotic strains. There is some debate as to whether streptococcus thermophilus (and to some extent L. Bulgaricus), though, are technically probiotic, since there is not consensus about their survival in the gut. My mother always made yogurt that contained strong probiotic strains; look for brands labeled “probiotic” that contain more than the two basic yogurt strains.
**Though tempeh, is made with probiotic bacteria and is an outstandingly nutritious food, if you eat it cooked (as most do!) it is much less “probiotic”, since the cooking kills (most/all) of the bacteria.
***Dannon was recently charged by the FTC with false advertising on their Activia brand.
****Excellent article on antibiotics and probiotics
† Be sure to check that your yogurt maker does NOT heat above 110 degrees. Many do which kills the bacteria.  It’s best to let it culture for 24 hours, at low heat, in order to allow the bacteria to fully grow. Most store-bought yogurts are rapidly cultured for a couple hours at high heat.

Get Posts By Email

  • Cindy

    Even though Activia may not do all the things Dannon claims it does, is there anything redeeming about it? I’ve been eating it so would love to know …

    • Michelle

      My issue with Activia (beyond any exaggerated health claims about what the product can “do” for you), is that it has high levels of sugar (17g in one container), as well as corn starch and gelatin (used as thickeners). Whenever you see corn starch, gelatin or pectin on a yogurt label, it’s a likely indication of two things: 1) short fermentation period and hence lower nutritional value (the bacteria creation/ fermentation thickens the milk) and/or 2) less actual yogurt in the container, with the volume made up by the fillers.

      • Clara

        It is a shame b/c Activia in Europe was/is my favorite yogurt – there it does not have corn starch, gelatin or sugar added, all of that is for the American palate which needs so much sugar. I can’t even eat the Activia yogurt here b/c it tastes so artificial and sweet! I always just read the ingredients and buy the ones with the least added ingredients (that I can’t spell) – Fage, Chobani and Liberte are my favorites!

        • Good Food In My Plate

          Even Liberté uses “modified corn starch” in their “probiotic certified organic yogurt”… So sad…

    • isa

      Easiest way to make youghurt, and you do not need a machine to do it i learned from our friends in bulgaria: 1)buy one Good youghurt (natural) and one liter of milk (low-fat or whole,both work).
      2)-heat the milk quick and stop when start boiling-you can let it boil some seconds. 3)let it cool till ca. 37° centigrades (body-temprerature or use thermometer).4) mix the cup of youghurt with milk,-a glass jar is good. 5)close well, wrap with warm cloth (i use my woolen pullover) and let rest in warm place (i leave it on chichen-table) for ca. 7-8 hours; then place it in fridge. That’s all it needs,and you have home-made yoghurt is denser and Better than anything you shop, and you know what you eat. i have used this method for years because we have diabetic in family and i tired to seach sugarless youghurt. Thanks and best!

      • Michelle

        True! For me, the room method works great in the summer, but I find in the winter when my rooms are not warm enough, the yogurt never gets beyond a thin, jelly consistency. I have used a warm oven which can also work well, just be careful not to let it get over 110 degrees, else it can kill the culture.

  • http://www.thetableofpromise.blogspot.com The Table of Promise

    I believe firmly that home fermentation has been my ticket to good health this fall (between probiotics and coconut oil I haven’t been sick yet!). I have started drinking kombucha, and I am in the process of brewing my first batch. I can hardly stand the wait. I am also interested in water kefir, though I haven’t tried that yet.

    Home vegetable fermentation is super easy, and although many recipes and cookbooks and online blogs will tell you to use whey obtained from some other time honored tradition like straining yogurt or making cheese, it is very easy to ferment vegetables with just a little extra salt. My fav is sauerkraut.

    And also, you don’t really need a yogurt maker to make yogurt. Our nanny is from Bulgaria (i.e. bulgaricus…) and she taught me how her grandmother used to make yogurt with just a dutch oven.
    http://thetableofpromise.blogspot.com/2010/06/how-to-make-yogurt-at-home.html

  • Juliana

    They actually found that in the US, Activia contained no live bacteria! Which was a real shame. Don’t even need a yogurt maker, there are several strains of yogurt and kefir that make themselves on the kitchen counter in 12 hours, easy peasy. You can buy the starter cultures on eBay for few dollars and they last forever.

  • Karen

    Can’t you make yogurt from yogurt? I kind of think you can. You just buy plain yogurt from the grocery store, making sure it says “made from live culture” on the container.
    And you can make it without a yogurt maker. You just need to keep it between 90-100 degrees. If you have an oven with a pilot light, you can put in there after warming the oven and turning it off. I don’t have a pilot light, so when I want to do something like this I put my husband’s trouble light in there, resting on a cast iron skillet. It keeps the oven a nice temperature for “growing things.” I use this method when I make dosa batter.

    • Michelle

      You definitely need a starter culture (existing yogurt is perfect). I have made it without an actual yogurt maker but I find that the length of time it takes to fully culture (and congeal) the milk, as well as HOW congealed it gets varies enormously when you go “free form”. Made it last week with nothing more than a big jar, a heavy cloth and a warm kitchen and it took 2 days to culture, and was a tad watery. Sometimes the fun of playing in the kitchen though, is NOT knowing exactly how things will turn and .. and when they’ll turn out …

  • http://www.zeninthekitchen.blogspot.com Tijen

    The milk I got from the market yesterday is sleeping at the moment, under heavy covers: A blanket, a vest and a coat. Three more hours, then it will be a tasty yogurt to be eaten daily. What happened to the remaining milk? It became a silky ricotta. The difference is: I make the cheese by adding yogurt mixed with water (we call it “ayran” a national drink that Turks love). And I add a little sea salt. In only one hour, my cheese was ready. I could even spread some on homemade multi grain bread. Have a good day!

    • Carol

      I’d like to know more about making ricotta, please.

  • http://6512andgrowing.wordpress.com/ 6512 and growing

    I’m a big fan of making yogurt, kimchee, raw cheese, sauerkraut. I love holding a jar of fermenting sauerkraut up to my childrens ears and shrieking “it’s alive!” We make yogurt weekly from raw milk and I’ve just started making a raw cheese from that milk.
    I feel sort of like a mad scientist/betty homemaker.

    • Andrea

      That’s hilarious – I laughed out loud!

  • Jake Eaton

    Hi Michelle,

    I’d love to hear about your thoughts on Kombucha. Not only is it delicious but I’ve heard the probiotic content is great as well. I drink GT’s brand – do you know of any others as good? And have you ever tried brewing your own?

    • Michelle

      I’m a big fan of Kombucha. If there’s ever a version 2.0 of this post, I’ll add it to the images .. Kombucha is very high in all the vitamin B’s and rich in the probiotics L.bacterium and S. bouldardi. As for whether I make my own – a friend of mine just gave me a starter “mushroom” last week! It’s sitting on my counter – expectantly… Will let you know how the experiment goes.

      Back to GT’s Kombucha….if you look at the level of probiotics, the bottle says there are 2Bn of them which is pretty solid – not exceptional but solid. But … there are other benefits to kombucha beyond probiotics … it’s super acidic (high in acetic acid) which offers tons of benefits. Our gut loves acidic foods (in moderation) as our liver has to produce it to digest food so the more we can supply, the less the liver has to do. It’s why some people feel wine (even more acidic than vinegar) helps digestion. It’s also why fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha etc are great for us. It’s also believed that these acids decrease muscle fatigue, and help with acid reflux problems – the theory there being that the acetic acid lowers stomach acidity since acetic acid is a weaker acid than stomach acid.

  • Lauren

    I currently eat Whole Soy yogurt. In your opinion, as a soy yogurt, does it provide the necessary probiotics?

    • Michelle

      It’s a fine substitute. Some more thoughts:
      GOOD
      - They use many strains of probiotics which is good (some products have only 3)
      - Very hard to say how it compares to yogurt since there are so many variables: how long it was cultured for, how many cultures were added, how long the product has been on the shelf
      LESS GOOD
      - They do not offer an unsweetened option (where you could add your own) so the added sugar is quite high. This is likely b/c unsweetened soy is not terribly populular since it can have a chalky taste.
      - If you eat soy because you are lactose intolerant, you might find that dairy yogurt does not present probs for you, since the yogurt cultures consume the lactose in the milk, leaving very little in the yogurt
      - Probiotic levels drop rapidly over time, so try to choose a container that has the longest ‘best before” date and try not to have it linger in the fridge too long

      • Lauren

        Thank you for the clarification.

        • Sirena

          Soy is a terrible, cancer causing food.
          Unfortunately so many people are not educated about or and blindly choose disgusting soy over regular yogurt.
          Soy is cheap, carcinogenic product, it raises amount of estrogen and promotes cancer cells growth

    • Raven

      It doesn’t matter if it has a lot of probiotics or not because it is made out of soy, which is something you should never put in your body.

  • Blythe

    Do you have any brands of yogurt you recommend? I’ve been drinking Kefir lately since I had to go on Antibiotics for strep throat but usually I buy the Dannon light and fit because it doesn’t have a ton of sugar… I am waaaay too busy to even comprehend making my own yogurt, and honestly the idea doesn’t really appeal to me. Thanks!

    • Michelle

      I totally understand your desire for a low sugar yogurt but I would HIGHLY encourage you to look at other options over Dannon Fit&Light which is not a nutritious product. This product has so many things about it that are not winning it nutrition points, such as: starch fillers (which means less actual yogurt), preservatives, artificial sweeteners (hence it’s low sugar claim) and worst of all — artificial colors.

      Here is what I look for in a yogurt:
      - from a smaller producer (if possible), since it means its usually fresher
      - no starch or locust bean gum as a thickener (since this means there is less “yogurt” in the container)
      - no whey protein (since this is added to supplement the protein levels but is usually done with the inferior yogurts that need the boost)
      - no additives, preservatives, or artificial coloring

      If you want some sweet in your yogurt, either buy the plain unsweetened version and add honey and fruit (fresh or frozen) at home – since i feel ALL the sweetened yogurts have too much sugar, OR buy a sweetened one and “dilute” it with a plain totally unsweetened one.

      The brands I like:
      - Smaller producers: Ronnybrook or Maple Hill (avail in NY), or if you by chance you live in CA, try Strauss.
      - National producers: Stonyfield (choose unsweetened else buy the fruit one and dilute it with plain), Wallaby, Dannon (but ONLY the unsweetened kind — most of the others have high sugar and/or fillers and/or artificial sweeteners), Brown Cow, Liberte
      - Greek yogurt: Siggis, Chobani, Fage is fine but it has fewer cultures than the others which usually means fewer probiotics

      Good luck!!

  • Nadine

    I like Body Ecology starters for making cultured veggies and Kefir. I also find that the Lifeway Kefir (plain, organic) at Whole Foods is pretty good and convenient. If you have a hard time digesting dairy, Helios (I think it is actually Lifeway as well) has kefir made from goats milk which they say tends to be a bit easier to digest. Sometimes I add honey, bananas and raw cacao nibs and it makes me really happy.

  • http://www.mommysnest.com MommyLisa

    We love greek yogurt, kefir – so good. Yum!

  • http://www.zeninthekitchen.blogspot.com Tijen

    Hi Carol,
    This is a recipe from the Black Sea Region of Turkey. You need about a cup of yogurt for 2 pints (1 liter) of milk. The yogurt needs to be natural (no sugar). You mix it with a cup of water. While heating the milk, start adding the yogurt mixture slowly. When the milk is ready to boil, you’ll see the change. Then turn the heat off and let it sit for a while. The rest is the same.

    • Michelle

      Do you then strain it through cheese cloth?

    • Carol

      Thank you very much. Can’t wait to make it.

  • http://www.zeninthekitchen.blogspot.com Tijen

    Hi Michelle,
    If you’re asking the recipe I shared, yes, you strain it through cheese cloth. I make it two types. Today I strained but a little juice is left so it’s creamy. Sometimes I cover the cheese cloth and put something heavy on it and wait for 3-4 hours. Then it becomes thick. Here is a photo of it:
    http://mutfaktazen.blogspot.com/2009/04/yine-peynir.html
    (that’s my Turkish blog)
    This is the one with dried tomatoes and herbs:
    http://mutfaktazen.blogspot.com/2009/04/yogurt-ve-peynir.html

    • Michelle

      Wonderful, “sag olun”! How I wish I read Turkish!

  • Heather

    Any sense in making yogurt without lactobacillus strains? I know it sounds crazy, but my son is really allergic to milk, even to the point where he seems to react to probiotics. I don’t know if it’s the probiotic itself, or that it tends to be cultured in a milk base. I’ve tried commercially produced coconut-based yogurt with the same effects. I’m wondering if it would be worth trying some kind of (milk-free) yogurt at home.

    • Michelle

      Hi Heather – The family of probiotics with all the cousins and far flung uncles is an unwieldy one to navigate and gets confusing very quickly! And I am not an expert! But here’s what I know … there are a lot of “sub” strains under lactobacillicus and they are not all used to culture milk, and hence do not all require a dairy base (lactobacillicus kimchee for ex is used to culture vegetables to make kimchee). But with yogurt you will always find lactobacillicus bulgaricus and I have not found any evidence that you can make it without this strain.

      It’s hard to say if it’s the probiotic itself that might be causing the allergy — the website of “SO Delcious” which makes coconut milk yogurt, says it is dairy free which would suggest that even the culture was not created on diary products, so I would think that his allergy would not be to the probiotics themselves. Probiotics tend to HELP with any digestive issues.

      If your son is allergic to milk, it is most likely the lactose in the milk that is unable to digest and that should largely be eliminated with a cultured product like yogurt (that has consumed the lactose), so I wondering if perhaps it could be the high levels of sugar in commercially sweetened yogurt as well as sweetened coconut-milk yogurt, that he is reacting to? (Hard to say w/o knowing his symptoms.) Have you by chance tried plain, unsweetened dairy yogurt (which should have even lower lactose), adding a small amount of say honey or fruit at home? Wonder if that makes a difference …

      Hope that sheds a little more light, good luck!

  • http://www.zeninthekitchen.blogspot.com Tijen

    Michelle,
    My pleasure!
    Pls. let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

  • Jon

    Do you have any scientific basis for saying that consuming ‘too much processed food’ disrupts our system?

    • Michelle

      The problem around eating large amounts of processed food, centers around what you GET in them and what you DON’T get in them.

      What you get is usually large amounts of sugar, salt and additives (food colorings, flavors, preservatives). The sugar is problematic in that it spikes your blood sugar (which can lead at a minimum to a “crash” in a few hours and worse, if not regulated, to diabetes.) It’s also problematic as it causes the gut to be forced to produce large amounts of acid to offset the sugar which leads to a disruption in the pH and the overall digestive system. Bad bacteria loves sugar and thrives when our pH is thrown off.

      As for the additives, the body clears them from the system by sending the blood through the liver and cleaning it. The more cleaning the liver needs to do the more overtaxed it gets.

      And then there is what you DONT get from processed food, that your body wants — maximum nutrients (which are highest in fresh, unprocessed foods) and high fiber (often broken down or non existent in processed foods).

      In terms of scientific studies — the issue of processed food is so broad that it is impossible to point to one study (there are hundreds!) that sums it all up, but there is one referenced in this article about the hazards of sugar. You might also want to check out the wikipedia entry on processed food that gives a broad look a the overall health issues related to excessive processed food consumption.

      Hope that helps…

    • http://prasadabeauty.com Lisa G

      I dont think scientific basis is NECESSARY on this one!

  • http://www.thetableofpromise.blogspot.com The Table of Promise
    • Michelle

      It’s about time they were forced to be truthful! Thanks for sending this …

  • http://www.myofficeisthekitchen.blogspot.com Wendopolis

    I love fermented foods! I have Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” and have made several fermented foods found in the book.

  • Tomas

    Michele- very interesting post. This gets into more than putzing around the kitchen though. I am always curious about background and education of people when they start offering medical/scientific advice. Care to share….?

    For those of us who do not always have “fresh” milk available, one of the few good uses of powered milk is to make yogurt. I have used “Milkman” brand, in a slightly rich mixture. You can’t tell the yogurt is not from whole fresh milk!

    I’ve made yogurt both with and w/o an electric yogurt maker…the little electric incubator really is the best. Very easy, and does not take much time. Probably less time than visiting the store for the commercial variety. thanks and take care.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for writing Thomas and very interesting to hear you can make yogurt from powdered milk — I really would not have thought you could, given that the powdered version is dehydrated, most likely ultra pasteurized, with no visible life! But clearly it can be reincarnated!

      In terms of my “credentials” – here is what I am not: a doctor, a scientist or a certified nutritionist. Here is what I am: a voracious reader and consumer of health, food and nutrition information; an avid questioner and skeptic of what I am told by many people and by most manufacturers; an extreme “foodie” and cook who cares deeply about putting the most nutritious, most delicious foods into my body; a daughter of a mother who was a devotee of whole foods and steeped in nutrition wisdom, well before it was fashionable; an incredibly healthy person who is convinced that much of my health and fitness is attributable to what and how I eat — and a fervent belief that this can be the case for everyone.

      My “formal” professional background, is in working with early stage Internet start ups. It’s also in photography. I wanted to merge these skills along with my life long passion for food, and health, and writing and educating – and so, The Sweet Beet was born….

      • Tomas

        Skeptics I like! Thank you.

    • Lise

      Tomas – Many of the big boys, Stonyfield, for example, use powdered organic milk for their products, including yogurt, which may be sourced from as far away as New Zealand! One of the unfortunate side effects of the popularity of organic dairy is that there isn’t enough to go around.

      Some interesting facts related to how it is made, its nutritional status, etc., can be found at http://www.dairyguideline.com/how-powdered-milk-is-produced.html

  • kkg

    Do you have a yogurt maker brand that you would recommend?

    • Michelle

      Funny you ask since I’m in the market myself – I had an old one (from a garage sale) that’s finally met its end so I’ve been making yogurt simply by allowing it to sit, covered, in a warm kitchen, which does the job, but takes 2 days to ferment and it not always consistent. So….the 2 that I am considering are: EuroCuisine YM100 (you make it in 7, 6oz glass jars) or Salton (you make it in a single 1 qt container but have also seen a model with small glass jars). Both are available on Amazon and get excellent reviews. Only negative thing I can see about Euro is that some people believe that the yogurt is fermented at too high a temp (130 degrees) which kills some of the bacteria, so I agree it is preferable to choose one with a lower temp, which i believe the Salton has. The 1qt Salton maker is pricier than many of the other brands but if you’re going to be using it a lot, likely worth it… If there are any you see that you want my opinion on, happy to give it!

  • Agent Scully

    What do you think of the Whole Foods 365 brand plain nonfat yogurt? Ingredients are pasteurized nonfat milk, pectin, and cultures: s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus, l. acidophilus, b. bifidum, b. infantis, and l. casei. It is high in sugar, 16g, as well as sodium. However, it is high in protein and potassium. This is the only plain yogurt at my Whole Foods (besides the Greek variety).

    • Michelle

      The only element on which it loses a few points is the pectin. There is nothing harmful about pectin, it’s derived from plants, and used as a thickener as well as a gelling agent that helps give yogurt a smoother mouth feel. I prefer yogurt, though, that does not have this but simply milk+cultures which is all you need! It can be hard to find though – your best bet is to look for small, locally produced brands (a farmers mkt will for sure have them-I buy Ronnybrook as well as Coach Farms goat yogurt), but it is hard to find a national brand that does not have pectin. If you can’t find a local brand without pectin, the plain 365 brand is a fine choice.

  • http://thevegster.wordpress.com Ashlei

    I like to rely more on fermented foods than on the probiotic pill.

  • http://www.jonathandavidtaylor.com/www.jonathanswritings.com Jonathan David

    I am sitting, reading your blog as I eat my first ever bowl of homemade yogurt, topped with a generous pile of pomegranate seeds.

    A few observations as one who was until only minutes ago a d.i.y. yogurt virgin: homemade yogurt is simpler than the packaged sort, has a more custardy smooth quality, has more naturally-occurring sweetness, and pairs much better with fruit.

    Michelle, thank you for labor of love and art that your blog is. I am now a connoisseur of both homespun yogurt and The Sweet Beet.

    • Michelle

      Oh, I’m so thrilled! Makes you feel like a serious alchemist, doesn’t it! I am also convinced that there are more probiotics in homemade yogurt- if for no other reason than the fact that’s it’s fresher – you can’t beat the 30 second journey from when the yogurt comes off your kitchen’s “assembly line”, to the moment it meets your mouth…

  • http://www.kissesforbreakfast.com Emily Elizabeth – Kisses for Breakfast

    “Even serotonin (the feel-good chemical) is largely produced in the gut.  The better shape we keep our digestive system in, the happier we will be (literally.)”

    That statement was ver interesting to me because I’ve noticed that when I get “glutened” (that’s what I call it when I get sick from eating wheat – since I have celiac disease my immune system attacks my stomach when this happens) I not only feel terrible physically, but mentally too. The world is ending and I’m agitated and angry for no reason. I also tend to crave sugar which I believe is a quick serotonin fix (but then makes you feel worse).
    I’ve been drinking Kombucha lately to get my probiotics (and it tastes great). Have you tried it? Would you put it on your list of good options?

    • Michelle

      Hi Emily–Yes am a fan of Kombucha! Someone else asked me my opinion on it (he had asked me specifically about a popular brand called GTs), so I’m copying and pasting what I wrote to him here ….

      “Kombucha’s great. It is very high in all the vitamin B’s and rich in the probiotics L.bacterium and S. bouldardi. As for whether I make my own – a friend of mine just gave me a starter “mushroom” last week! It’s sitting on my counter – expectantly… Will let you know how the experiment goes.

      Back to GT’s Kombucha….if you look at the level of probiotics, the bottle says there are 2Bn of them which is pretty solid – not exceptional but solid. But … there are other benefits to kombucha beyond probiotics … it’s super acidic (high in acetic acid) which offers tons of benefits. Our gut loves acidic foods (in moderation) as our liver has to produce it to digest food so the more we can supply, the less the liver has to do. It’s why some people feel wine (even more acidic than vinegar) helps digestion. It’s also why fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha etc are great for us. It’s also believed that these acids decrease muscle fatigue, and help with acid reflux problems – the theory there being that the acetic acid lowers stomach acidity since acetic acid is a weaker acid than stomach acid.

    • Michelle

      Emily-Apologies! This comment somehow slipped by and I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier! Tons of people have asked about kombucha, so I think I may have to do a dedicated post on it…

      It took me a while to get accustomed to the vinegary taste but now I’m a fan. In fact, a friend gave me a Komucha “mushroom” starter and I now brew it on my counter top!

      Kombucha is very high in all the vitamin B’s and rich in the probiotics L.bacterium and S. bouldardi. It’s also very acidic (high in acetic acid) which offers tons of benefits. Our gut loves acidic foods (in moderation) as we have to produce acids to digest food so the more we can supply, the less the body has to do (within moderation). It’s why some people feel wine (which is even more acidic than vinegar) helps digestion. It’s also why fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha etc are great for us. It’s also believed that these acids decrease muscle fatigue, and help with acid reflux problems – the theory there being that the acetic acid lowers stomach acidity since acetic acid is a weaker acid than stomach acid.

      • http://www.kissesforbreakfast.com Emily Elizabeth @ Kisses for Breakfast

        Hi Michelle,

        What perfect timing for your response! I actually just sipped my first batch of home brewed kombucha today. It is awesome. I’ve already started my next batch (doubling it this time). I would be VERY interested in a post on kombucha!

  • Roland

    My wife and I have been making and using our own milk kefir for years. Kefir grains are wonderful, they keep growing so you always have enough to give to friends!

    My question has to do with vinegar. I have a live-food-eating friend who says that vinegar is dead and a “death product.” Passing over the emotionally-charged language, what do you think of this? Is raw, live vinegar detrimental to health for some reason?

    • Michelle

      In terms of vinegar being “dead”, I’m not exactly sure what your friend is referring to, although wikipedia does say this:

      “Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional vinegars and fermentation proceeds slowly over the course of weeks or months. The longer fermentation period allows for the accumulation of a nontoxic slime composed of acetic acid bacteria and soluble cellulose, known as the mother of vinegar. Fast methods add mother of vinegar (i.e., bacterial culture) to the source liquid before adding air using a Venturi pump system or a turbine to promote oxygenation to obtain the fastest fermentation. In fast production processes, vinegar may be produced in a period ranging from 20 hours to three days.”

      So perhaps your friend is referring to the “fast” method which cheaper vinegars may use?

      The other thing that is sometimes raised about vinegar is this — vinegar is made via the fermentation of ethanol (from cider, rice etc) but the FDA also allows ethanol to be made from petroleum. I have not seen even the cheapest of vinegars being made from petroleum, but it’s legal so it’s something to be aware of.

  • Richard Vidutis

    What a pleasant surprise to find this blog! Reading it brought back fond memories of my student days studying languages in Poland and Lithuania during the Soviet era and my discovery there of probiotic foods (cheeses and drinks). So, I thought I’d reminisce a bit if folks don’t mind and make a few comments about good and bad foods encountered there–

    As dismal as material conditions were back then in the western portion of the Soviet empire, they had unbelievably delicious simple foods especially fresh cheeses, which they love, many of which were fermented such as quark, twarok, along with fresh cottage cheeses, and drinks like kefir. And never were they pumped up with any additive filers or preservatives like dairy products in the States. Consequently, they were made fresh every day and the place to go in Poland for cheap dairy products was the Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar); people would not buy anything over one day old even bread. Having surpluses of dairy goods, the Bar Mleczny was created by the government as a subsidized cafeteria for the workers after they closed down almost all of the privately owned restaurants after the war.

    The Bar Mleczny(s) across the Poland were mostly dismal facilities but the fresh and freshly fermented cheeses they served were to die for. I’ve never experienced anything remotely like it in North America. Most of the Bar Mleczny(s) went bankrupt after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but quite a few are still maintained by the government and there is a nostalgic craze developing for them, and quite rightly.

    My fondest memory is for the fresh kefir–clobbered and fizzy with about a 1-2% alcohol buzz. The kefir at Whole Foods is nothing like it–it too has fillers which I think makes it smooth textured totally destroying the freshness characteristic. I use the Whole Foods kefir as my starter to make my own from 1 or 2% milk, which tastes quite good.

    Finally, they also love a fermented bread-based drink called ‘gira’ in Lithuanian and ‘kvas’ in Russian; it is often found on corners dispersed from small tankard trucks. My mother used to make it from rye bread (whole rye, no wheat or additives or preservatives), yeast, water and raisins, and let it go for a couple of days. Again, amazingly refreshing and probiotic healthy (and let’s not forget that little bit of alcoholic kick).

    We foreign students used to ‘escape’ Poland some weekends to the enclave of West Berlin just to see lights again and smiling faces. But I noticed a curious thing. After we indulged in eating all those things that we bought at the PX in Berlin that were impossible to get in Poland–hamburgers, canned tuna, corn flakes, pop, etc–I quickly developed plaque on my teeth, a condition I had not known in communist Poland. In other words, as poor as Poland was, its foods were not adulterated. And so I wonder, with EU standardization of foods, how the old traditional foods are faring these days in Eastern Europe under a new Union. In Lithuania, for example, people are complaining that their incredible rye breads now have to have some kinds of additives. I wonder if this will lead again to a kind of underground black market food production that existed in the Soviet Union where villagers made certain food products vastly superior to government produced foods.

    Anyway, hope I didn’t bore everyone with Soviet nostalgia–”those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end….”

    • Michelle

      Good food in the soviet block, is not a phrase we hear often! Thanks for opening our eyes to some of simple foods that sadly we have such limited access to in our western world of “abundance”.

      Out of curiosity, when you make kefir, how long do you ferment it for? My hunch is that part of the reason kefir is generally of higher probiotic value than yogurt, is because it is fermented for longer, giving the bacteria more time to multiply … Any tricks you want to share that you’ve found make your kefir outstanding?

      • Richard Vidutis

        No tricks, really. I take one gallon of milk (I find whole milk a bit too rich for my taste and use 1-2% milk) and add maybe 1/2 cup store-bought kefir as a starter. Shake the jug pretty good to disperse the starter throughout the milk and let it sit for a couple of days or so outside. I like putting the jug in a sunny window to get some warmth on it. Of course, the heat from the window and the room will vary from summer to winter. So, check it in a couple of days to see if it starts to thicken and then watch it till it hits that peak time when the kefir is ready, meaning that you probably do not want to let it ferment for too short or too long of a time–too long can make it quite sour and too short tastes a bit like spoiled milk. It’s a matter of taste, of course. So, play with the fermentation time until it has those clobbered lumps that make it taste so good.

        As for the store-bought kefir. I was thinking about a couple of possible methods (that I have yet to try by the way) about saving the rest of the starter kefir; it would be crazy to blow about $3.00 every time to make a fresh batch of kefir. Could the rest of the bottle be frozen and then thawed to use a little bit of it for the next batch? Would freezing it kill the bacteria? And here’s another method that I have actually seen used with a yogurt culture. I did my dissertation research among Finns in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Some of the older generation made a yogurt called ‘viili’, a rich ropey (kids would call it snotty) texture and very mild flavor that is best made with the richest milk possible. If one lady’s culture went dead, there was always someone in the area who had it to share. But the way they got it was someone in Finland would dry it on a piece of clean cloth, like a handkerchief, and send it in the mail to the States. The cloth with dried viili would be put in a bowl and cooled boiled milk poured over it to set in a couple of days. Would kefir work the same way? Dry and store it in the refrigerator or freezer? Worth a try for such a delicious drink.

  • K

    Yogurt sucks. Try GoodBelly – it works.

  • Patty Cason

    So what do you think about the product Good Belly?

    • Michelle

      I am a bit wary of the basic juice since there is no indication of level of probiotics, so my hunch is you’re not getting a lot of probiotic value, however the GoodBelly “Bigshot” claims to have over 50Bn CFU’s per serving (at time of manufacture), so I would choose those before the juice.

      • Patty Cason

        Thanks Michelle for your honest answer. Best wishes.

  • mia perine

    GoodBelly is a fabulous alternative for us non-yogurt people! One little shot does the job. They are convenient, potent little suckers and kids love them. However they aren’t readily available in organic sections of grocery stores and organic food stores don’t always have them. Kinda pricy too. But worth it if you can find it!

  • Dave Young

    Hello there,
    Can you recommend a good yogurt maker?

    thanks!!

    • Michelle

      Funny you ask since I’m in the market myself – I had an old one (from a garage sale) that’s finally met its end so I’ve been making yogurt simply by allowing it to sit, covered, in a warm kitchen, which does the job, but takes 2 days to ferment and it not always consistent. So….the 2 that I am considering are: EuroCuisine YM100 (you make it in 7, 6oz glass jars) or Salton (you make it in a single 1 qt container but have also seen a model with small glass jars). Both are available on Amazon and get excellent reviews. Only negative thing I can see about Euro is that some people believe that the yogurt is fermented at too high a temp (130 degrees) which kills some of the bacteria, so I agree it is preferable to choose one with a lower temp, which i believe the Salton has. The 1qt Salton maker is pricier than many of the other brands but if you’re going to be using it a lot, likely worth it…

      • Dave Young

        Thanks!! That helps! Good luck in your decision.

  • http://www.radandhungry.com Laura

    So what would be a “decent” sugar amount for plaid yogurt? Looking at labels at the grocery store, almost all of the plain yogurt I find still has 12g of sugar…which seems very high to me! But is this “ok”/normal?

    • Michelle

      In fact, if you can find a yogurt with only 12g of sugar, that’s low compared to most! I have not found a single one that I think has a level of sugar that I’m comfortable with- they are all FAR too sweet, so I always buy plain unsweetened and add my own fruit. If the fruit alone is not sweet enough, I add a touch of honey, but you really can train yourself to desire much less than you’re accustomed to.

      The other thing you might try is buying the fruit version AND the plain and mixing them OR another option is buy the fruit version with the fruit on the bottom (not the pre-mixed) and then scoop up only a small bit of the fruit into the yogurt (leave the rest on the bottom) and you’ll be consuming only a fraction of the sugar.http://www.thesweetbeet.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-form

      • http://www.radandhungry.com Laura

        Sadly, I was mistaken–checked the yogurt in my fridge, and it’s 15g of sugar :P Oops!

        It IS plain, though, and I checked the ingredients, and there’s no added sugar…it DOES have pectin, though. Could that be adding sugar content?

        I’m actually fine with the taste of unsweetened yogurt…I’ve trained myself to like it over the years :) But it just drives me batty that I can’t find any with less sugar!

        • Michelle

          Even unsweetened yogurt will have sugar in the form of lactose (naturally occurring from the milk), so if it’s plain yogurt, then that’s what the # grams of sugar is referring to. Lactose is still sugar so it’s important to be aware that even plain yogurt is not “sugar free”, but lactose is more slowly absorbed than fructose or glucose which is what the added sugar is that the manufacturers adds. When yogurt is sweetened it can easily boost the total sugar grams into the 20′s.

          • http://www.radandhungry.com Laura

            Oh good, that does make me feel better about it! Thank you for all the awesome information!

  • andi3

    what are some good commercial yogurt makers for the home?

    • Michelle

      I am actually in the market myself – I had an old one (from a garage sale) that’s finally met its end so I’ve been making yogurt simply by allowing it to sit, covered, in a warm kitchen, which does the job, but takes 2 days to ferment and it not always consistent. So….the 2 that I am considering are: EuroCuisine YM100 (you make it in 7, 6oz glass jars) or Salton (you make it in a single 1 qt container but have also seen a model with small glass jars). Both are available on Amazon and get excellent reviews. Only negative thing I can see about Euro is that some people believe that the yogurt is fermented at too high a temp (130 degrees) which kills some of the bacteria, so I agree it is preferable to choose one with a lower temp, which i believe the Salton has. The 1qt Salton maker is pricier than many of the other brands but if you’re going to be using it a lot, likely worth it…

  • andi3

    Thanks. I’ll check them both out. you might want to look up Frances Lam’s articles on yogurt in Salon. FrancisLam-Salon.com.html

    I have never found yogurt in the U.S. to compare with what I ate in Greece, India, Russia. Nothing like it commercially.

  • Good Food In My Plate

    I just bought today a Liberté certified organic probiotic strawberry yogourt (650g) and here’s the list of ingredients :

    “Ultrafiltrated partly skimmed organic milk, organic fruit preparation (sugar, strawberries, water, modified corn starch, pectin, citric acid, natural flavour), bacterial culture”.

    “Modified corn starch”, what the heck ? It is labelled “organic”, right ? “Natural flavour”, we all know that it stands for “non-organic flavour” ?

    I think Liberté should stop bullshitting people and not use the word organic when it is actually not organic, the milk might be organic but as soon as you add chemically modified ingredient the resulting product is NOT organic…

    • Michelle

      In the US, products with 95% organic ingredients can be labeled “organic”. They can only say “100% Organic” it they are 100%. In the case of flavoring, it is a small amount so they can get away with it. With the corn starch, not sure the quantity they use, but it may be that it IS organic as well? The starch (and pectin) is added both to thicken the yogurt as well as to keep the whey from separating from the solids.

      My answer to all this is to buy yogurt without the added starch or pectin or sugar or flavors and add my own fruit at home.

  • http://www.attunefoods.com Rob Hurlbut

    Michelle,

    Thanks for covering the topic! As you mention, probiotics are live active cultures, but it is important to note that not all live active cultures are probiotics. To be a probiotic, the bacteria must confer a health benefit on the host (The WHO has established the definition here). Additionally that benefit is ususally linked with a specific dosage, so while more is fine (a healthy person has over 100 trillion cfu in their gut!), more is not always better. Obviously I have a bias here since Attune has done a lot of work in the space, but we have been focused on insuring that our bars deliver a clinically supported dose (6.1 Billion cfu) of some of the most researched strains in the world at time of consumption. We regularly test to insure that we meet this standard. Chocolate happens to be a great way to preserve probiotics (low water activity) and we keep our bars refrigerated so that a consumer can take them to go at ambient temps for up to month.

    • Michelle

      Thanks Rob for noting this and I’m going to make an adjustment to the post, to make the point you raise clearer- that not all bacteria (even the good ones) are probiotic. Can you say anything more about your point that more is not always better? Is your understanding that our gut can only handle a certain level of CFU’s and after a certain point, our body just eliminates them?

      I know that Attune Chocolate takes its mission (of getting more probiotics into our bodies!) very seriously with enormous responsibility and truth in its advertising, so thanks for chiming in on this.

    • Michelle

      I just added a link on the probiotic post to this academic study, as it suggests that there is still some debate as to the degree to which the yogurt strains of bacteria are probiotic. Thought you might find it interesting. Seems the yogurt debate and its value as a probiotic has been going on for a long time, with even the scientific/research community not in agreement.

  • Andrea

    Thanks to your info, I’m ditching my usual yogurt and will be making some. My parents had a yogurt maker back in the 70′s but it came with weird powder flavorings that were horrible. We made it for the novelty and not the health benefits so when we hated the end result – the maker went in the next garage sale… Does anyone make Greek yogurt? I love it and would appreciate a recipe! Thanks for your advice on yogurt makers too – we keep our house pretty cool so I think a maker is the best option for us.

    • Andrea

      Ok – I finished making my first batch of yogurt and was so surprised with the results! Very nice!!! So much more tangy than store yogurt. I added the powdered milk to get a thicker product, but I noticed the thick part is on top,which I really like, but as I dig down into the jar it’s a little looser. Do you think it needed to “cook” a little longer (this 2% went for 9 hours)or maybe I didn’t dissolve the culture (freeze dried that came with the machine) enough… any thoughts? Please and thank you!

      • Michelle

        I just saw that I didn’t reply to this – apologies! I’ve never used powdered milk or a freeze dried “starter”, so hard for me to say for sure. It could be that it needed to culture for longer but that really depends on what temp you were culturing it at- for ex, when I make yogurt simply in a warm room, i let it sit for 2 days near a radiator. If you’re using a yogurt maker, check the temp, but if you’re over say 100 degrees than 9 hours should be enough. ( Do you know the temp of your maker? I prefer makers that culture at low temp, ie under 130, as that preserves more of the bacteria.)

        You do need to let it “set” in the fridge overnight as that will help to thicken it too.

        But remember that many store bought yogurt has added pectin or guar gum to thicken them as well as keep the “whey” (the liquid) from separating, so when you make it at home, you’re almost always going to have a thinner and a thicker layer – and very likely will be a bit thinner than store bought. Just stir it well each time you use it and that’ll do the trick.

        • Andrea

          Thanks! I’ve got batch #2 working right now. I checked the temp and it’s about 104 degrees. This batch is using 1% organic milk to which I added about 1/2 cup powdered milk and 1/4 cup of Stoneyfield plain yogurt. I drained a cup or so my first batch in a sieve with a coffee filter and it got really thick. I couldn’t believe how much whey came off! I’m sure having fun with this – thanks for your blog and the great information you provide! I’ll let you know how this batch turns out :)

          • Andrea

            OMG – this is a delicious batch! It’s not nearly as tart as the first and it’s pretty thick all the way through. I “cooked” this batch for 10 hours then right to the fridge for an overnight chilling. Amazing! This will be my recipe from now forward. Thanks again!

          • Michelle

            Oh I’m so glad!!! It’s such an empowering feeling to create your own food – so I’m so glad it worked out !!

  • Lois

    I haven’t seen any mention of it here, but I have had great success using the Yogotherm — which is just a plastic container that is inserted into an insulated shell — hard plastic lined with an inch or two of styrofoam all around. You make your yogurt and put it into the Yogotherm. I find that my yogurt has thickened nicely in 12 to 24 hours, depending on the ambient temperature. When it’s done, the inner plastic container goes directly into the fridge. I got mine here:
    http://www.cheesemaking.com/store/p/100-Yogotherm-Yogurt-Maker-2-QT.html
    This makes more sense to me than burning electricity to keep my yogurt warm long enough to incubate.

    • Michelle

      I really like the sounds of this – both the low tech-ness, as the fact that the yogurt can not get too warm during the culturing phase. Some yogurt makers allow the temp to climb past 130 which can kill the bacteria and defeat the purpose of the yogurt! Be sure to check the temp that your makers gets to …

  • http://www.medicalbillinginfoblog.com medical billing

    Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

  • Mary

    Both kefir and yogurt are cultured milk products…
    …but they contain different types of beneficial bacteria. Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.
    From http://www.kefir.net/kefiryogurt.htm
    I now make kefir overnight and smoothies in the morning. Happy gut!

    • Michelle

      There seems to debate (even in the scientific community) as to how much of the yogurt bacteria actually stays alive in the gut and colonizes. Yes, kefir has more of the bacteria strains that DO survive, so I agree, you will get more of a probiotic/bacterial boost from kefir, which does not mean, though,that you should abandon your yogurt, which is still a super healthy food.

  • http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk Love probiotics

    Ha ha ha, LOVE – “Consuming probiotic foods with high levels of sugar (eg. highly sweetened yogurt or kefir) is like pouring kerosene onto a fire at the same time as spraying it with water”

  • Michelle

    Unfortunately I am not able to access that, it’s only on your end. I’m not sure why it’s doing this and I apologize. Are you seeing any way on your end, to possibly, un-tick that box?

  • Tom

    anyone know a good probiotic pills, I need to take it for a while. I need try to repair my gut, which hopefully repair my immune system. Anyone know how long is too long to take the pills? Can I do it for month, or is that too long. I live in Chicago, would Whole Food have the pills?

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      I’m a big fan of the brand New Chapter which is sold at Whole Foods. Whichever brand you choose , look for a min of 10billion CFU ( colony forming unit) per serving. Taking them for a month is definitely not a problem, in fact I’ve not heard that there is any downside to taking them continuously.

      • Tom

        Thank You

  • http://www.saltwatercleanse.net/probiotic-supplement/strategies-for-utilizing-a-probiotic-supplement/ probiotic supplement

    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  • http://www.saltwatercleanse.net/probiotic-supplement/strategies-for-utilizing-a-probiotic-supplement/ probiotic supplement

    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  • http://www.americanhomemoving.com/c-26-moving-and-storage-services.aspx moving storage

    Your post is extremely good and educational. People can study a good deal from this article

  • Redscouser4

    I make our family yogurt using an insulated container and a live yogurt starter, usually fom an earlier batch. Every few weeks I purchase a carton of commercial plain yogurt to refresh the starter. The only failures I’ve experienced from commercial yogurt are with Liberte products. I’ve since read that all Liberte products score very low on the content of live culture & that they use thickeners, such as gelatin, to provide a thick and rich texture. This may enhance their sales, and explain the rampant popularity of their products, but its not much good if anyone is looking for some of the traditional health benefits associated with consuming yogurt.

    I stopped buying Liberte years ago.

  • Anonymous

    Yogurt is so stinking easy to make, a yogurt maker almost seems like a waste of space.

    Heat your milk to 180 deg (I choose to put open canning jars of milk into a pot filled with water and bring the water to boil, it dirties less dishes).
    Then remove the milk (if not already in jars, pour it in warm jars) and reduce the temp to 110 degrees (the easy way is leaving it on the counter, the fast way is moving the jars to a sink of cold water).
    Add 1 T of plain yogurt that you like to each jar, and put on the jar lids. Place the jars in a cooler of hot water, with a big towel around the whole thing. (or, in a crockpot with an ultra-low setting, or a gas oven with only the pilot light on, or on a low heating pad with a towel between the pad and the container, etc).
    The next day, strain your yogurt if you like it more like greek, then eat it.

    It’s really that easy, no tricks.

  • Offer