The fermented facts
Sandra Tonn, RHN
Milk fermented with bacterial culture has had a life-promoting reputation since the early 1900s. Today, research is validating some of the many folklore remedies and anecdotal reasons to consider cultured dairy a category of health food.
Milk fermented with bacterial culture has had a life-promoting reputation since the early 1900s when Russian Elie Metchnikoff, author of The Prolongation of Life (Putnam, 1908), suggested it as an ingredient for longevity.
Today, research is validating some of the many folklore remedies and anecdotal reasons to consider cultured dairy a category of health food.
According to Michael Murray, ND, health expert and co-author of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods (Atria, 2005), “Fermented dairy products that contain live beneficial microorganisms are especially healthful and may contribute to a longer, healthier life.”
Nutritionally, fermented dairy products are a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins, including vitamin B12. In addition to their nutritional value, fermented dairy offers a natural way to deliver what scientists call probiotics–beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria–to the intestines. Probiotic is a Greek word meaning “for life.”
Some scientists, such as Paul Lachance, PhD, Executive Director of The Nutraceutical Institute at Rutgers University, are calling fermented dairy products a functional food, which means they may play an important role in disease prevention. At the International Scientific Symposium at New York Academy of Medicine in 2000, Lachance said of fermented dairy products, “Research about these foods indicates they may play an important role in helping to reduce risk of disease because they can positively affect ‘beneficial’ bacteria in the intestinal tract.”
When bacterial cultures are added to milk the milk’s sugar (lactose) is turned into lactic acid, a natural result of fermentation, which is beneficial to intestinal health. In addition to making the milk more digestible for those who have difficulty with lactose, the bacterial cultures are also responsible for many health benefits.
Shopping for Culture
There are many delicious ways to obtain live bacterial culture. Look for high quality, organic products at health stores and better supermarkets. Ideally, the product will state that it contains live bacteria.
Yogourt is a popular and versatile health food if it is of high quality and has not been heated after inoculation (which renders the bacteria inactive). Kefir is like a thinner version of yogourt but contains many different strains of beneficial bacteria as well as beneficial yeasts. It is thought to be even easier to digest and more beneficial to intestinal health than yogourt. Cultured buttermilk and traditionally made sour cream are also options.
Try fermented dairy over fruit, cereal, in a health shake, as a dip or dressing foundation, or as a plain drink or food. There are many healthful reasons to add culture to your diet.
Some of the many benefits that science has researched about fermented dairy foods include: