Saturday, April 16, 2011

Show Notes: Foods That Contain "Good Bacteria"

We hear about probiotic foods ... and good bacteria that help out your gut ... but what ARE those foods and where do you find them? 

[I'm talking about this today on my radio show, Saturdays at noon. You can listen live by clicking here.]


Yogurt is one of the main foods that people think of when they think of probiotics. Make sure that the yogurt that you buy specifies that it contains live cultures. Some yogurts do not.


Buttermilk is another food that contains large amounts of beneficial bacteria. Many people like its tangy flavor. Those who do not like either the flavor or the texture might want to consider adding buttermilk to smoothies with fresh fruit.


Kefir is a drink made of milk fermented with kefir grains. The milk can be cow's, goat's, or sheep's milk and once mixed with the grain is allowed to ferment overnight. The result is a very sour drink often mixed with fruit or other sweeteners and is full of nutritious probiotics.


Tempeh is a fermented soy product that has the chewy texture of meat. Unlike tofu, tempeh uses whole soybeans that are allowed to ferment. A type of beneficial mold forms which binds the soy together. Tempeh can be used in many vegetarian dishes as a high quality protein and is one of the few vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.


Miso is a Japanese seasoning that is produced by fermenting various beans or grains. It is used in soups, sauces, and spreads. Miso can be characterized by many things, including the bean or grain it is made from, the flavor, or the color. Popular types of miso include:
  • Shiromiso, also called white miso
  • Kuromiso, also called black miso
  • Akamiso, also called red miso


Sauerkraut is fermented or pickled cabbage. Fresh cabbage is generally cut and then allowed to ferment in a brine for a period of time. During this time probiotic bacteria are formed.

Kim Chi

The odor of kim chi is unforgettable. It is fermented cabbage, somewhat like sauerkraut but much more pungent. It can be made a number of ways, but is normally quite spicy. In Korea kim chi is used as a side dish or a relish.

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Show Notes: Bacteria Are Like Darth Vader

Remember when life was simple? Cholesterol was bad for you, fats were bad for you, bacteria were bad for you. 

[Saturday at noon EST, on the radio show: listen live by clicking here]

Now we look at them like the modern day villains of the screen -- bad, okay, but mainly just misunderstood. Darth Vader just wanted to be close to his son: awww.  

With our diets, the simple world of bad foods has gone all "Darth Vader" on us. There is good cholesterol AND there's bad cholesterol; there is good fat AND there is bad fat; finally, there is even good bacteria AND there is bad bacteria. 

The good bacteria come from any fermented foods, and these have a ton of health properties in them. Your body is needs you to eat bacteria, or you will be more likely to get sick!! You just have to make sure it is the bacteria that comes from foods like yogurts, saurkraut, buttermilk, etc. 

I'll publish a separate list of those food sources, but first you need to know the basics about these bacteria:

What you need to know about probiotics: Probiotics are living microorganisms, i.e., “friendly” bacteria, usually lactic acid bacteria.
The benefits of probiotics are realized by this “friendly bacteria” shifting the pH of the intestine downward, which creates a less desirable environment for pathogenic (or bad) bacteria. The more “friendly bacteria” the more lactic, butyric and acetic acids are produced which increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria. People over the age of 60 have 1,000 times fewer good bacteria than younger adults.
The World Health Organization (among others) suggests that probiotics, when consumed on a daily basis may be beneficial in one or more ways:
  • Help strengthen the body’s natural defenses by providing regular probiotic bacteria for the intestinal tract.
  • Provide source of calcium to those individuals who are lactose intolerant and unable to consume most dairy foods.
Some of the benefits that have been shown by research so far:
  • Allergies: Probiotics in some people positively impact the mucosal barrier of the intestinal tract.
  • Cholesterol: Probiotics can raise the level of HDL — the good cholesterol.
  • Colon Cancer: Probiotics help maintain a healthy intestinal microflora and promote a healthy intestinal environment.
  • Constipation: Probiotics help shorten long intestinal tract transit time and can improve regularity.
  • Diarrhea: Probiotics maintain the level of “good bacteria,” which balance bacterial and virus infections that can cause diarrhea.
  • High Blood Pressure: While more research is needed to reach a consensus, several studies have suggested that fermented dairy products may have a positive effect on blood pressure.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Probiotics help restore the balance of bacteria and can eliminate the abdominal pain, gas or constipation.
  • Immunity: 70 percent of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. The microflora acts as a physical barrier to help fight diseases. Probiotics as they regulate the balance of bacteria and increases the “good bacteria” reinforce this barrier.
But it is important to note that there are specific strains of good bacteria which offer targeted health benefits. For example, the probiotic strains B. infantis 35624 and B. animalis DN-173 010(Bifidus regularis) are designed to benefit GI symptoms. A complete list of strains and their health benefits follow this article.
All yogurt products do not contain live cultures or probiotics. Look for the “Live Active Culture” seal on the package which requires that the product contains at least 108 viable lactic acid bacteria per gram for refrigerated products and 107 for frozen. However, this seal does not differentiate probiotics from starter bacteria and should not be used to determine the content of probiotics.


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Friday, April 15, 2011

Alzheimers Research: Pills? No; Mediterranean Diet? Yes.

Alzheimer’s research is continuing -- that’s one bright side we can take from the mixed Alzheimer’s news this week.  

But the negative news was truly disheartening. A commonly prescribed drug to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s was found ineffective for mild cases. Memantine, brand name Namenda, doesn’t appear to slow memory loss any better than a sugar pill for patients in the early stages of the disease, researchers have concluded.

In fact, none of the handful of drugs approved for Alzheimer’s patients can slow, much less stop, the disease. They can only treat symptoms such as memory problems and confusion. 

The latest finding comes on the heels of a string of drug failures -- heartbreaking for those already suffering with the disease and for their families.

Still, some people don’t want to just hope for the best; they feel the need to do something, anything. If that’s the case, here’s a look at what research suggests might --- repeat, might -- slow or reduce the risk of cognitive decline:

-- Take a walk. Healthy adults who walked at least six miles a week had higher brain volume, an indicator of brain health, in one study. Cognitively impaired adults needed to walk 5 miles a week for similar results.

-- Eat healthy. People who have diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats -- a la the Mediterranean diet -- appear to have a reduced risk of dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids, a “brain food” found in some fish, have been linked to reduced risk as well. Gingko biloba doesn’t appear to do anything at all, however. 

-- Stimulate yourself mentally. Learning a new language, reading, and being socially active have been linked to slower mental decline.

Science hasn’t vetted these out these strategies completely, but it’s safe to say they can’t hurt.

In the meantime, take solace in the wealth of ongoing Alzheimer's research. A cure may not be around the corner, but researchers aren't giving up.

RELATED: Alzheimer's patient is taking her chances in clinical trial

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Expensive Pee: Folic Acid Supplements Fail Again

In another blow to the notion that B vitamin supplements ward off heart problems, a new clinical trial finds that folic acid supplements may not slow plaque buildup in healthy older adults' arteries.
FOODS with B vitamins like folate, however, do in fact help your heart and lower your homocysteine. 

Here is our rule: 
pills are for sick people. Take pills if you need them, as a last resort, but otherwise you need to get your nutrition from food.  This study just confirms that the mountain of supplements you're taking may make you feel like you're doing something wonderful for your health, but in the end it's just not. 
In the end, you just get really expensive pee.  

Here is the balance of the article 
In recent years, a number of studies have been set up to test whether B vitamins can help protect older adults from heart problems and strokes.
The hope was based on the fact that B vitamins, particularly folic acid, curb levels of a blood protein called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of clogged arteries, heart attack and stroke.
But clinical trials of people with established atherosclerosis -- a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes -- have failed to find a benefit of B vitamin supplements (see Reuters Health story of April 23, 2010).
This latest study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at whether folic acid might stave off atherosclerosis in older adults who had high homocysteine levels but were apparently free of cardiovascular disease.
It didn't. Over 3 years, daily folic acid cut study participants' homocysteine levels by an average of 26 percent, but it showed no effect on the thickness of the inner wall of the carotid artery, or on the "stiffness" of the arteries -- which are both considered markers of atherosclerosis.
The findings "suggest that folic acid is not effective in slowing down early stages of cardiovascular disease, as measured by accepted markers of atherosclerosis," said senior researcher Dr. Petra Verhoef, who was with Wageningen University in the Netherlands at the time of the study.
More and more, Verhoef told Reuters Health in an email, researchers are thinking that homocysteine, itself, does not directly contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Instead, it may be more of a bystander, reflecting some sort of metabolic problem that is the actual contributor to cardiovascular ills -- though that, Verhoef said, is still being studied.
For their study, Verhoef and her colleagues randomly assigned 819 adults between the ages of 50 and 70 to take either folic acid or placebo pills every day for 3 years. Those on folic acid took 800 micrograms per day -- double what is generally recommended for adults.
In the end, the researchers found no difference between the two groups when it came to the rate of thickening in the carotid artery wall -- measured non-invasively with ultrasound. Nor was there any difference in arterial stiffness, which was also measured non-invasively.

Folic acid fails in another heart-health study | Reuters

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