The New Miracle Foods
For Your Tummy continued...
Evidence: Microbiologists agree that the potential benefits of
probiotics are enormous, but as a group of experts reported at an international
conference a little over a year ago, consumers usually have no way of knowing
what they're getting in the new products. "There are many different strains
of probiotics, but only a few have been studied and shown to have a distinct
benefit," says Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., executive director of the
International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.
"Also," she adds, "products are often labeled inadequately. They
may not tell you the strain of probiotic or the levels present through the end
of a product's shelf life."
Nonetheless, there's definite promise. Several studies have shown that
Dannon's Activia speeds intestinal transit time — the hours it takes food to
pass through your digestive system — which may help if you have a problem with
Companies also claim that probiotics boost immunity. In one study, people
who ate DanActive had shorter-lasting colds. Other research, in Sweden, showed
that a certain strain of bacteria cut the number of sick days that employees
took. But that study, like most others with probiotics, was conducted with
supplements, not with commercially available foods, which don't contain enough
of the strain in question.
There is also strong evidence supporting claims that three strains of
probiotics — Bifidobacterium lactis, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus
rhamnosus GG — relieve or prevent diarrhea. But again, you won't find enough of
these microbes in any supermarket foods; you'd need to buy probiotic
supplements such as Florastor (which contains Saccharomyces boulardii ) or
Culturelle (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) in a health food store.
Shopping advice: If your goal is to just get some potentially
beneficial bacteria into your diet, use products that contain Bifidobacteria
and Lactobacilli. But you can hedge your bets still further by choosing items
that would be good for you even if they didn't tout probiotics. Kashi's Vive
Probiotic cereal is high in fiber. The yogurt, smoothies, and kefir drinks from
Dannon, Stonyfield Farm, and Lifeway all deliver calcium and protein.
Stonyfield and Lifeway also include inulin, a naturally occurring fiber that
boosts your body's absorption of calcium, report several studies.
Watch out for: Promises of weight loss, improved liver function,
healthy skin, or cancer-fighting properties — there's no substantial research
to back up these claims.