Probiotics are very popular nowadays and have been added to all kinds of foods from granola bars and frozen yogurt to juice and cookies. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements, most often in a capsule form. The questions are: do we need to add probiotics to our diet and whether these products are the best way to do it.
Probiotics are living microscopic organisms naturally found in the body, mostly in the intestines. The have many health benefits: they help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates; they help the absorption of minerals; they protect the lining of the gut from harmful bacteria; they prevent the overgrowth of viruses and yeast; they boost the immune system and prevent infections.
These beneficial microorganisms have lived inside us since we were babies. However, most people’s beneficial flora is under attack from the environment in the form of antibiotics (which kill good and bad bacteria), stress, and the modern diet rich in refined carbohydrates and sugar (which feed the yeast growing in the gut). So our little gut warriors are overwhelmed and can use some help in the form of probiotic foods.
Although foods enriched with probiotics have some benefits, they are not the most natural sources. Of all foods containing probiotics, yogurt is the most commonly known and widely available in the Western world. It also seems to be the best way to deliver probiotics into the system for two reasons. Probiotics have a very short shelf life and are easily destroyed by acidic environments and heat. Dairy foods also have a short shelf life and buffer stomach acid and bile keeping the probiotics alive while they reach their destination in the intestines. Dairy foods and probiotics also have a synergy: lactobacilli feeds on the dairy which keeps it alive.
According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Some studies using yogurt, individual LAB (lactic acid-producing bacteria) species, or both showed promising health benefits for certain gastrointestinal conditions, including lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrheal diseases, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and allergies.”
Before you rush to buy the latest sweet and fruity yogurt concoction from the supermarket, consider this: some of the yogurt on the shelves has gone through heat treatment after the fermentation process which kills all the live cultures. You need to look for one with live cultures and preferably an organic and plain one. Even better, make your own fresh yogurt with one of the many yogurt starters available on the market.
While yogurt has many health promoting benefits, Ayurveda recommends consuming it in the form of lassi. Lassi is fresh yogurt blended with room temperature water. Thinning yogurt with water and blending it changes its molecular structure making it easier to assimilate. Lassi is an excellent drink to have with meals.
There are innumerable variations of lassi and you can make your own version based on your preference. Here is how to make it:
Blend 1 part yogurt with 1 to 3 parts water depending on how thick you like it. You can use a blender or just shake it in a glass jar really well. You can add honey or any natural sweeter. Rose and cardamom are two of the classic flavorings for lassi: just add a splash of rosewater or a few pinches of cardamom. It’s that easy. You have made a delicious, refreshing, probiotic drink that will aid your digestion and help maintain a healthy intestinal flora.