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Is eating healthier your intention in 2009? You might want to consider adding a daily dose of friendly bacteria to your diet.

We hear plenty about Listeria moncytogense, Clostridium botulinum and that ghastly Salmonella. But other families of bacteria may, in fact, provide some healthy benefit. These friendly bacteria, called probiotics, are what you may want to add to your diet.

The term probiotic is defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization as 'live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a beneficial health effect on the host.' One of the better known strains is Lactobacillus, which we eat in yogurt, and the yeast species Saccaromyces, found in beer, bread and wine.

Probiotics occur naturally as 'gut flora' in the digestive tract, where they help promote a healthy balance, good digestion and overall intestinal vitality. They rank among the top five foods that people say they want to add to their diets according to The NPD Group, Inc., a leading global market research company.

Probiotics aren't a new discovery: We have been eating them since time began. Most common sources are fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir and fermented cabbage, such as sauerkraut and kimchi.

The Russian microbiologist Ilya Ilyich Mechnikov, winner of the 1906 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering research in the immune system, is credited with describing the effect of probiotics. He theorized that aging is caused by toxic bacteria in the gut and that lactic acid could prolong life. Based on his theory, he drank sour milk every day. He died in 1916 at the age of 71, well above the average life expectancy at that time.

Mechnikov's studies into the potential life-lengthening properties of lactic acid bacteria inspired Japanese scientist Minoru Shirota to investigate the relationship between bacteria and good intestinal health. He was convinced that a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria held the key to man's general well-being and devoted his life to isolating a strain of LAB which would pass into the intestines, and positively affect the balance of gut flora. In 1935, he succeeded in cultivating a unique bacterium, which could bypass the acidic environment of the stomach and enter the intestines directly. He put this strain into a fermented milk drink and created Yakult, still available today and almost unchanged from the original recipe.

Today's interest in probiotics is based on their perceived ability to promote digestive health and regulate the movement of food through the intestine. According to the American Gastroenterological Association (, the use of probiotics has been helpful in situations from general health and well being and restoring balance following the use of antibiotics, to infant diarrhea, lactose maldigestion, colic, bacterial vaginosis and mild to moderate irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

The benefits provided by the probiotics include:

n Boosting your immune system by producing antibodies for certain virsuses.

n Producing substances that prevent infection.

n Preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut wall and growing there.

n Sending signals to your cells to strengthen the mucus in your intestine and help it act as a barrier against infection.

n Inhibiting or destroying toxins released by certain 'bad' bacteria than can make you sick.

n Producing B vitamins for metabolizing the food you eat, warding off anemia caused by deficiencies in B-6 and B-12 and maintaining healthy skin and a healthy nervous system.

Researchers are finding that different kinds of probiotics affect different diseases. Matching up the most beneficial probiotic to the specific disease will take more studies.

Today, the product list has expanded with soy-based drinks, ice creams, chocolate, granola bars and cereal enhanced with probiotics. These products have been popularly consumed in Asia and Europe for many years and are just now starting to gain popularity in the American market. Supplements of probiotics are also widely available.

On its Web site, the AGA states that it is generally thought that most probiotics are safe, but it suggests you talk with your doctor before adding them to your diet. It is agreed that more research is needed before blanket statements of use can be made.

Probiotics are not FDA-regulated like drugs. They are not standardized, meaning how they are made will differ from company to company, and there may even be differences between batches.

Some probiotic products you will recognize on your grocery shelf are:

n Nancy's Soy or Dairy Yogurts, Activa, Danimals, Yo-Plus

n Bubbies Old Fashioned Sauerkraut

n Kashi Vive Probiotic Digestive Wellness Cereal

n Attune Wellness Cereal Bars

n Yakult available at Uwajimaya in Beaverton and Fubonn Supermarket on SE 82nd in Portland

n Chobani Greek Yogurt (it's kosher, too) at Whole Foods

n Trader Joe's and Whole Foods offer house brands of kefir and yogurts

Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and other stores all have supplements for your consideration.

Is this mind boggling? A bit. A bunch of hype? Maybe, maybe not. Be an informed consumer. Read labels, check manufacturers' Web sites and stick to well-established companies or companies you know. And in the end, perhaps all you need is a bowl of yogurt each day.

The recipes chosen for today have nothing to do with probiotics, though they are healthful. They are more spa cuisine recipes, intended to help you keep your resolve to trim down and get healthy this month and not miss a bit of flavor.

Bon Appetit! Let's get healthy!

Mediterranean Pork Chops

Makes 4 servings

4 boneless or bone-in pork chops, cut ½ inch thick (1 to 1 ½ pounds)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary crushed

3 cloves garlic, minced

Sprinkle the chops with kosher salt and pepper; set aside. In a small bowl, combine rosemary and garlic. Sprinkle rosemary mixture evenly over both sides of each chop; rub in with your fingers.

Place chops on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast chops in a 425ºF oven for 10 mionutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and continue roasting for about 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted through side of chop registers 160ºF (make sure tip of thermometer does not touch bone).

Nutrition Facts per serving: 147 cal., 4 g. total fat (2 g sat. fat), 71 mg. Chol., 288 mg sodium, 1 g carbo., 0 g fiber, 24 g.

The Sonama Diet, 2005

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mailing [email protected] .


A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less!

Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Wrap

Makes one serving

3 ounces purchased roast beef or leftover grilled flank steak thinly sliced

1 cup shredded romaine or whole baby spinach leaves

¼ cup bottled roasted red bell peppers, drained and cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese

1 8-inch whole wheat flour tortilla

Arrange the roast beef, romaine, roasted bell pepper strips, and blue cheese on top of the tortilla. Roll up, tortilla will be very full.

Nutrition Facts: 390 cal., 19 g total fat (6 g sat. fat), 46 mg chol., 775 mg. Sodium, 21 g carbo., 13 g fiber, 33 g pro

The Sonoma Diet, 2005

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