Friday, March 12, 2010
Vegan Yogurt, Probiotics, Fiber, and Digestive Enzymes
Probiotics, or live bacterial cultures, are found in virtually all yogurts on the market. They are found to support peristalsis, which is the muscular contraction that moves food and waste through our digestive systems. I have also seen it suggested that they reduce inflammation and improve mineral absorption. But, primarily, probiotics are believed to fight off some infections and help with certain forms of diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Digestive enzymes help improve digestion by breaking down foods into smaller molecules. They reduce toxicity in the intestines and colon, improve elimination, and alleviate constipation. Enzymes also help prevent gas and bloating. Some yogurt brands now have digestive enzyme supplements in them. So, it's very possible that the digestive enzymes are working towards your colon health instead of or in addition to the probiotics.
It should also be noted that if you are making other dietary changes those changes could be playing a part in your situation. For example, simply reducing the amount of refined or processed foods (low fiber) you are consuming or increasing your water intake can both rehydrate the colon and make elimination easier. And if you are increasing your fiber intake, there is a good chance that the added fiber is helping create any 'clean dumps' you might be experiencing. As a vegetarian, I assume you are getting a decent amount of fiber in your diet already. But I have no way of measuring your fiber intake pre- and post- happy eliminations to be sure that any added fiber isn't what is doing the trick. The reason I mention this is that while yogurt is not generally known to be a fiber rich food, there are certain yogurt brands that have added fiber supplements. If you are choosing those brands it could easily be the added fiber helping you out.
The point is that any combination of these things (fiber, digestive enzymes, probiotics) that are now commonly found in yogurt could be helping you acheive regular and happy waste disposal. And just replacing the yogurt's probiotics may or may not do the trick without knowing what the actual trigger is.
The reason it is important to ascertain the trigger is also related to which products I refer you to. I'm going to assume that the probiotics are the crucial ingredient, and that a simple vegan probiotic source will do the trick. If it doesn't work, don't give up on the non-dairy products. Just try adding some digestive enzymes and/or bulking up on the fiber.
1) storebought non-dairy yogurt options (soy-based, coconut-milk-based, rice-based, nut-based)
2) homemade non-dairy yogurt
3) fermented foods
4) probiotic supplements
HOMEMADE NON-DAIRY YOGURT
Homemade non-dairy yogurt is definitely cheaper, but depending on how you make it, could require an upfront investment in materials (soymilk maker machine, blender, yogurt maker machine, or alternatives). It's possible to make both non-dairy milks and yogurts without the fancy equipment, but I just don't have the experience to know how much of a hassle it can be either way. There are tons of recipes for non-dairy yogurt online (complete with live cultures), you just have to be willing to go through the effort of making it. If you are a yogurt lover and will eat it regularly, this might be a good option.
*Bryanna Clark Grogan has a yogurt recipe and an in-depth tutorial. She does a great job of explaining how to make soymilk and yogurt without having the fancy equipment that I mentioned above.
*Fat-free Vegan Kitchen also has a soy yogurt recipe.
* Small Footprint Family has a coconut milk yogurt recipe.
*Freckle-Faced Mama's Recipes also has a coconut milk yogurt recipe.
Fermented foods also have the healthy bacteria we are talking about. In order to get the bacteria and enzymes of fermented foods, the products must be unpasteurized. The pasteurizing process kills off all the healthy bacteria and enzymes. Some typically vegan, fermented food examples:
A. Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented with lactic acid, also called pickling. Lactic acid does not necessarily come from dairy sources, but it can. Sauerkraut has a sour, tangy taste that comes from the fermented sugars.
D. Kombucha – Kombucha is a fermented tea used mostly for medicinal purposes. Kombucha contains both bacteria and yeasts in a symbiotic relationship. Kombucha is usually made with sugar and black tea, but can also be found as green tea. [Mayo Clinic's Caution]
E. Miscellanea- There are alot of other fermented foods out there. Some are vegan and some are not due to animal product flavoring, it just depends on how they are prepared, which can really vary. You'll want to research the food itself, how it is traditionally prepared and then you'll need to double-check the specific brand you are interested in. Often, fermented foods are regionally different ethnic foods, and some are acquired tastes.
More fermented food examples: natto (Japanese fermented soy beans), Douchi (Chinese fermented black beans), Doenjang (Korean fermented soy bean paste), barszcz (fermented beet beverage), kimchee (Korean pickled vegetables), tamari (similar to soy sauce but thicker), sourdough, beer, shoyu (aka soy sauce), pickles, rejuvelac (fermented liquid to aid in digestion), nut cheese, seed cheese, raw apple cider vinegar, and coconut milk kefir or almond milk kefir from water kefir grains. Many of the store-bought versions of these products are pasteurized, however, and therefore lacking in enzymes and healthy bacteria.
One way to ensure your fermented foods are vegan and unpasteurized, well, you can make your own. There is an entire cookbook devoted to fermenting foods, Wild Fermentation. Have fun with that!
Supplements are a great alternative. They can ensure you regularly consume probiotics without worrying about your day to day diet. Some of the supplements have soy products, you'll just have to decide if the amounts in the product are ok with you. I did not review the supplements to see which ones are soy-free.
VegLife Vegan Plantcreatin
Rainbow Light Advanced Enzyme System
Rainbow Light Everyday Fiber System
As you can see, I listed a fiber-specific supplement, but I really don't think you need this with a balanced vegan diet. Your food should be supplying plenty of fiber. Check out this chart of high fiber foods. If you still want additional fiber, I'd say get it from a combo product like those listed below.