Naturally Probiotic Foods (Part 2)

I was a bit surprised by the number of e-mails I received about Naturally Probiotic Foods. It seems that a lot of people are having the same problems as me with our highly processed foods today. One of the main questions I was asked is whether I feel that pasteurization is a bad thing to do. That’s a loaded question. Most food questions come with trade-offs. Pasteurization helps the milk last longer and kills potentially harmful bacteria. When you get raw milk, you must consume it within 7 to 10 days, which is a much shorter time than pasteurized milk. In addition, people with compromised immune systems aren’t good candidates for raw milk because bacteria that would never cause a problem in a healthy person could cause problems with someone who doesn’t have a fully functional immune system. You must also know the farmer or store from which you get the milk. It’s way too easy for raw milk to contain substances that will make you sick. All this said, a lot of people the world over have drunk raw milk literally for centuries and we’re still here. There is a definite trade-off to consider though, so when getting raw milk, shop smart.

Many other items you buy are also pasteurized. For example, it’s entirely possible that the eggs you buy from the store are pasteurized to kill any bacteria on the surface of the egg. When you buy fresh eggs from a farmer or a store that provides such eggs, you do take a small chance of getting sick. The same can be said of any other unpasteurized product you buy. However, to be human is to risk getting sick and you can’t avoid all contact with bacteria. Society has become increasingly germophobic over the years and even that choice creates trade-offs. For example, it’s now thought that a lack of exposure to various germs and bacteria are actually causing problems with children in that they’re exhibiting symptoms like additional allergies. The point is that you must make a smart choice based on your own personal needs—I truly can’t tell anyone whether raw products, such as milk and eggs, are going to cause problems or will help with specific needs.

A number of people have asked what I think about homogenization. I know that when I was growing up, the milk I bought from the store would separate. It was possible to see cream at the top of the glass bottle at some point (often scooped off for coffee and so on). Today, milk doesn’t separate in most cases because of homogenization. Logic tells you that if the milk normally separates (breaks down) and now it doesn’t, that your body is probably going to have a harder time digesting it as well. A number of articles online bear out this fact. However, homogenized milk can cause other problems. For example, a number of sources claim that it can promote cancer. Because I’m not a researcher into this kind of information, I can’t verify these claims, but in reading the information, it does tend to make sense. Over-processing food has certain negative effects and you need to think about the pros and cons of buying it. I found other sites that state the contrary, that homogenization makes milk more digestible. My personal experience doesn’t bear this claim out. In drinking milk that is just pasteurized, I still experience fewer digestive problems than when the milk is also homogenized. However, I’m not you and you are the one who needs to make the required test.

A number of people also asked about alternatives, such as goat’s milk. I personally love goat’s milk as long as it’s cold and not over five days old. After that magic five day mark, the goat’s milk develops a “goaty” taste, some people call it a musky taste. Theoretically, goat’s milk (at least) is more digestible than cow’s milk. At least, that’s the case for me. I can drink goat’s milk without using Lactaid (or a similar product). Again, you need to know the source of your goat or sheep milk in order to be certain that it’s safe to drink. Unlike cow’s milk, goat’s milk actually freezes really well, so when I’m drinking goat’s milk, I keep only enough in the refrigerator for three days and freeze the rest.

Raw foods, those that haven’t been processed, can contain natural probiotics that make them easier to digest. Humans have been consuming these foods for centuries without problem and our bodies are naturally attuned to them. However, processing does have benefits and you truly can’t ignore these benefits. For me, I find that the raw foods work best because of the probiotics they contain. Your experience is likely to be different from mine. Keep those e-mails coming to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods

As I’m getting older, I’m finding it helps to have a little assistance in digesting food. Given that I’m into self-sufficiency and tend to look for natural ways of accomplishing what I need to do, I started looking into probiotics. Probiotics can help with things like lactose intolerance, bloating, gas, and other unfortunate (and uncomfortable) digestive ills. Of course, you can get probiotic pills, but in reading the labels, I found that these pills vary greatly in quality and that the best pills tend to cost quite a bit. I also like to save money when I can, so I looked for an alternative. However, before we look at probiotic foods, you need to know that certain foods host certain helpful bacteria and that a specific food may not help your specific problem. If you you truly need a blanket cure for your woes, then you need to get a high quality probiotic pill that contains as many different kinds of helpful bacteria as possible.

The naturally probiotic food that most people know about is yogurt. Unfortunately, not just any yogurt will do. There are actually three kinds (or levels) of yogurt: the kind that doesn’t have any live culture (which is most of them), the kind with live culture (always marked on the label), and the kind that has added digestive aids added (usually only available at health food stores). The kind that most people get, the one without the live culture, doesn’t have any probiotic benefit and won’t help your digestion. The best option to get for the money conscious is a yogurt that is marked as having live culture. I currently have yogurt, instead of milk, with my breakfast cereal, and find that it has gone a long way toward solving certain digestive ills.

It turns out that sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented cabbage dishes have probiotic features. However, what you may not know is that heat kills the helpful bacteria that help with digestion. The only way to get the probiotic effect of sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented cabbage dishes is to eat them fresh (which means making them yourself). That jar you buy in the store isn’t actually fermented in the first place (they use vinegar to simulate fermentation) and it also has been canned, so it doesn’t contain any probiotics.

Fermentation is one of the keys in finding a natural probiotic food in many cases. For example, Japanese miso soup (made with fermented soybean paste) is also naturally probiotic. However, you’re again looking at getting the soup fresh. It’s important to note that many of these foods also contain antioxidants and tend to be high in B vitamins.

Some probiotics don’t actually survive the digestion process in some people without a carrier. You may find that the expensive probiotic pill you buy doesn’t do much because your digestive tract destroys the beneficial bacteria before they actually get to your intestines. If your probiotic pill doesn’t use an enteric coating, you may as well not take it Cheese is a helpful carrier food for probiotics. However, like many other foods, cheese comes with a caveat—you must find a cheese that is made with raw, not pasteurized, milk. Fermented cheeses commonly made with raw milk include Gouda and aged cheddar. Always check the label though to determine whether the cheese is made with raw milk (either goat or cow milk works fine).

If you want to gain the benefits of helpful bacteria and yeasts, then you should look at a beverage such as kefir. Like all of the other foods described in this post, you need to get kefir made from raw, not pasteurized milk. The kefir can act as a carrier to ensure that the helpful bacteria and yeasts survive the digestive tract. Ingesting helpful yeasts can help with a variety of problems, including certain allergies (which is part of the reason that I also use locally obtained honey for some needs—it contains yeasts and pollen that serve to keep allergies low).

Not all cooking techniques destroy probiotics. One such exception is sourdough bread. I wasn’t able to find a lot out about this particular option, except that it must be made with naturally occurring yeasts. In other words, you need a bread that relies on fermentation to obtain the effect as far as I’ve been able to determine from my research, but I’d love to hear from someone who has more details.

Buttermilk and acidophilus milk both have probiotics in them. In this case, someone adds the probiotics to the milk. Theoretically, the milk acts as a carrier for the probiotic to help it get past the digestive tract. My research hasn’t verified what sort of buttermilk you need at this point, nor have I been able to determine whether there are differences in acidophilus milk brands, so this is one of those options that you need to try to determine whether it works for you.

Brine pickles, those made in a crock and left to ferment, contain probiotics. Like other fermented vegetable products, you need to eat this one fresh and not canned. If your pickle recipe calls for vinegar, the result won’t contain any probiotic benefit. Brine pickles, like sauerkraut, rely on salt and water to start the fermentation process.

You can find a host of other food choices, such as tempeh, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes that contain probiotic qualities. Each of these options will likely include different helpful bacteria that may or may not make it past your digestive tract. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to know which foods will work best for you because everyone is different. Experimentation is the best way to determine which foods will work best. The big thing to remember is that these foods are less expensive than pills, generally provide some level of nutritional benefit, and can contain other healthful benefits in addition to their probiotic qualities. Let me know about your favorite probiotic foods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

My mother was a good, old-fashioned home cook.  She also never learned to drive.  Since we lived in the country much of the time, she knew how to make do with the ingredients and tools that were already on hand.

If she didn’t have spaghetti on hand, she would use flat noodles with Marinara, meat and cheese.  She flattened out chicken breasts with a frying pan (and worked off some frustration with her kids, I think).  A favorite recipe in our house is still a Chili Sauce that uses apples as well as tomatoes for a sweet and spicy addition to ground beef.  Mom usually had a pot of soup on the stove made out of oxtails, ham bones, turkey carcasses or whatever meat she had on hand.  (As kids, she didn’t dare tell us what was in the soup.  We only knew that it was good!)  She graduated eventually to be become restaurant cook but she still did her best work without the fancy gadgets that have become standard in many modern kitchens.

I don’t have my mother’s skills when it comes to cooking, but I have learned her respect for good, simple tools.

  • Knives should be kept sharp and safe.  A magnetic strip on the wall above the counter will keep metal knives safe, dry and conveniently at hand. These magnetic strips can be picked up at most hardware stores as they are commonly used for tool benches.
  • A good variety of large spoons, ladles and spatulas is a must.  Many can be picked up very reasonably at thrift stores or garage sales.  Watch for brand name items at a bargain.
  • Multiple cutting boards mean less chance of cross contamination.  Sterilize cutting boards regularly.
  • Old tools don’t need to be tossed out just because there is a new version, unless it is broken.  If there is room to store them, multiples can make prep work more fun!  It can become a contest between siblings or a chance to sit and visit with your spouse.  “Show and tell” works especially well with kids when they have their own tool that won’t be taken away if they are “too slow”.

Here are also a few favorite adaptations learned along the way:

  • Keep a clean pair of paint stirring sticks in the kitchen drawer.  When rolling out cookie dough, position the stir stick so that they raise the rolling pin and ensure the same thickness cookie with each cut. When the thickness is uniform, the cookies will bake evenly and you won’t end up with doughy middles and crispy edges.  If the paint stirrer gets grungy, toss it out and head to the hardware store.

    Paint Stirrers, Chopsticks and a Variety of Apple Peelers.  I am ready for making gingerbread Christmas Ornaments.
    Paint Stirrers, Chopsticks and a Variety of Apple Peelers. I am ready for making Gingerbread Christmas Ornaments!
  • A pair of chopsticks is a great way to poke nice round holes into the tops of gingerbread (and other) cookies so they can be hung with a ribbon.
  • A 10 or 12 inch Fry Pan lid can be used as a “giant” cookie cutter for pie dough. It will create a perfectly round piece of dough for the top crust.  This will give a neat edge to turn when finishing the top crust.

As you can tell, good tools are an inexpensive way to make cooking fun, social and sustainable.  If you have other tips and or adaptations that you have tried in the kitchen, I would love to hear from you.  Please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Costs of Rushing

I read a blog post entitled, “Could You Speed That Up a Little?” written by my friend, Bill Bridges yesterday with great interest. In this case, Bill is discussing a book entitled, “Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.” I haven’t personally read the book, but I could readily identify with a number of Bill’s comments about the motive for writing such a book. We live in a sound bite society. Nothing goes fast enough—everything must be compressed and people multitask to satisfy an ever increasing need for speed. Bill focuses on the book for the most part, but the inspiration for this post comes near the end of his post where he says, ‘I was amazed to learn that some microwave users, told to zap something
for 90 seconds, have learned to fudge by hitting the “8” button twice,
thus saving the nanosecond involved in going from “9” to “0.”’

Something in me disdains the saving of a nanosecond for the inaccuracy for cooking something for two less seconds. Of course, people take shortcuts all of the time. In many cases, these shortcuts don’t result in any serious negative effects. I don’t imagine that cooking something two seconds less in a microwave is going to cause a problem unless you’re performing some sort of exotic experiment or cooking something that’s especially sensitive. However, the inaccuracy remains.

The post caused me to think about the whole business of rushing everything. If our society is changing due to all of this rushing about, what sorts of side-effects might we expect? Where will our society go? How will everyone be affected? I wrote down a list of the things that we might see changed as a result of living in a sound bite world.

 

  • Stress Related Health Problems will Increase: Rushing causes stress. Constant stress causes certain physiological changes. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be affected, but when you’ll be affected. In order to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to learn how to slow down and relax a little.

  • Small Inaccuracies Tend to Accumulate: Anyone involved in any sort of technical field needs to consider the effect of rushing, of taking shortcuts, on the accuracy of output. Every article I’ve read on the subject of improving accuracy focuses on the need to set aside additional time up front to reduce errors that cause delays in the end. However, the effects of shortcuts can affect anyone. Drivers often find out too late that a seemingly reasonable shortcut results in an accident. Even the environment is affected by bad decisions that come from rushing. The most prominent effect of rushing and the resultant inaccuracies is that you’ll spend more money to obtain less worthwhile results.

  • Reduction of Personal Pleasure: It doesn’t matter how you’re rushing or in what environment you rush—when you rush you reduce the pleasure derived from that activity. The sad fact is that rushing affects everything from eating a delicious meal to making working meaningful. Multitasking makes matters worse because now you’re not even paying full attention to the activity. When the world goes by in a blur, it’s hard to define what you’ve done, why you’ve done it, and what you’ve gotten out of it.


There are probably other negative side effects, but even considering these three side effects should make you think twice about the world we’re creating. When was the last time you were honestly able to say that you fully enjoyed an activity? When was the last time you finished a task (personal or business) and were able to take pride in the results? Whether you’re writing code, playing with your pets, or taking time with your sweetie, consider focusing on that single activity and spending the time required to participate in it fully. Yes, you’ll find that you get fewer things done, but you’ll also find that the tasks you do complete are more enjoyable and done better. Let me know your thoughts about our sound bite world at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.