Tag Archives: yogurt

The Decline of Probiotics in a Germophobic World (Part 1)

In today’s germophobic world it may be difficult to understand the concept of good germs. We have become so fixated on sanitizing everything and washing our hands frequently to get rid of “bad germs” that we have forgotten about “good germs” and their benefits.

Overuse of cleaning products and antibiotics have wiped out the good germs as well as the bad1, and the result is an increasing number of people with unhealthy gut flora. Gut flora is the term used to describe the microorganisms that naturally occur in your intestine. These “germs” do not make you sick but instead help you digest your food and also provide some protection against “bad germs”.

In developed countries children receive an average of 10-20 courses of antibiotics by the time they are 18 years old and there is evidence that not only do their gut flora fail to recover completely but they may also be replaced by unwanted microorganisms1.

This doesn’t mean that antibiotics are bad. Without them we would still be living in a world where common bacterial infections were life threatening. We do, however, need to stop overusing antibiotics.

The best way to help our guts recover after taking antibiotics is to replenish the good germs in our gut with probiotics.

Probiotics have been found to reduce intestinal permeability and increase insulin sensitivity which is hopeful for future diabetes prevention and management3. Multispecies probiotics (meaning a combination of different strains of bacteria and other microorganisms) have been proven to be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome7.

There is evidence that the microorganisms in your gut also affect your behaviour and can impact stress-related disorders in either a negative or positive manner, depending on the composition of your gut flora2.

An imbalance in gut flora has also been associated with an increased susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease)6 and obesity4.

Reading all of the research related to antibiotics and altered gut flora was a huge eye-opener for me. I used to be a very healthy child who rarely needed to visit the doctor. As I got older (into my teenage years) I started to eat A LOT of junk food and less healthy food which made me more susceptible to colds and illnesses. I was prescribed antibiotics quite often (looking back I probably did not need them half of the time). By the time I was in my 20’s I started having uncomfortable stomach symptoms after eating certain foods that I could previously consume with no discomfort. Eventually I ended up becoming sensitive to dairy and will now get a stomach ache after drinking milk or eating ice cream (yogurt does not pose a problem for me).

If I had known then what I know now I would have only taken antibiotics when I really needed them (when I had something like bronchitis or a sinus infection, not just cold-like symptoms). I also would have eaten plenty of probiotic foods after each course of antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria in my gut.

So what are probiotic foods? Basically foods that have had a chance to ferment under the right conditions with or without the help of a starter culture (usually bacteria or yeast), until a different food has been created (ex. cucumbers–>pickles). The most popular and well-known probiotic food is yogurt. Other probiotic food and beverages that are popular are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kombucha (a fermented tea/tonic), kimchi (a spicier pickled version of sauerkraut), miso (fermented rye, beans, rice or barley), kefir (fermented goat milk and kefir grains), and pickles.

Store-bought yogurt and other fermented food products can contain extra sugar and sometimes other additives to enhance flavour or extend shelf life. To avoid unwanted sugar and additives it is a good idea to make your own. This may seem daunting at first but once you start fermenting your own foods it will become a breeze and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. If you would like to give it a try check out my personal yogurt recipe here.

If you simply don’t have the time to learn how to make your own yogurt then at least try to buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and/or sweeteners.

Personally I eat homemade yogurt every day and so does my toddler, but I wanted to enhance our gut health even further by adding more fermented foods to our diet. I recently tried making my own fermented applesauce (you can find the recipe that I used here), and not only did it turn out wonderful, it is kid-friendly as well (my toddler loves it!). My next goal is to try my hand at making sauerkraut.

When eating probiotic foods bear in mind the following:

1. Heat kills bacteria, even the good kind. Just as cooking food helps get rid of any undesired bacteria that could make you sick, heating fermented foods will kill the desired probiotics. If you fermented your food using sterile dishes and containers then the good bacteria that you added in should be able to ward off any bad bacteria that may try to invade.

2. If you see slime or mold in your fermented food or it looks pink, don’t eat it. Sometimes the fermenting process can go wrong and you may end up with mold or bad bacteria in your food, in which case it is harmful to ingest. So if it doesn’t smell or look right, throw it away.

3. Letting your food ferment for too long can result in alcohol formation. If you don’t refrigerate your food after it is done fermenting, the microorganisms will keep on fermenting which will eventually result in an alcoholic food or beverage. This is more likely to happen when making Kombucha so always do a taste test to make sure you have not made alcohol, especially if you are giving fermented foods to kids. Refrigeration drastically slows down the fermentation process but it does not halt it completely. So if you have had that fermented applesauce in your fridge for a month, taste a little yourself before giving any of it to your children.

4. Probiotics need prebiotics to thrive. So in addition to eating probiotic foods you also need to eat prebiotic food in order to keep your gut microorganisms happy. Prebiotics are plant fibers that can be found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

For more detailed information on the health ramifications of an unhealthy gut flora, stay tuned for part 2!


1. Blaser, M. Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature 476, 393–394 (25 August 2011) doi:10.1038/476393a

2. Cryan, J. F.; O’Mahony, S. M. The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behavior. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. Mar2011, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p187-192. 6p. 1 Diagram. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x

3. Corado Gomes, Aline; Bueno, Allain Amador; de Souza, Rávila Graziany; Mota, João Felipe. Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutrition Journal. 2014, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p82-107. 26p. 1 Diagram, 2 Charts. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-60.

4. Fukuda, Shinji; Ohno, Hiroshi. Gut microbiome and metabolic diseases. Seminars in Immunopathology. Jan2014, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p103-114. 12p. DOI: 10.1007/s00281-013-0399-z

5. Holmes E, Li JV, Athanasiou T, Ashrafian H, Nicholson JK: Understanding the role of gut microbiome-host metabolic signal disruption in health and disease. Trends Microbiol 2011, 19:349–359.

6. Luckey, David; Gomez, Andres; Murray, Joseph; White, Bryan; Taneja, Veena. Bugs & us: The role of the gut in autoimmunity. Indian Journal of Medical Research. Nov2013, Vol. 138 Issue 5, p732-743. 12p.

7. Yoon, Jun Sik; Sohn, Won; Lee, Oh Young; Lee, Sang Pyo; Lee, Kang Nyeong; Jun, Dae Won; Lee, Hang Lak; Yoon, Byung Chul; Choi, Ho Soon; Chung, Won-Seok; Seo, Jae-Gu. Effect of multispecies probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Jan2014, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p52-59. 8p. DOI: 10.1111/jgh.12322


Easy Homemade Yogurt Recipe


I learned how to make yogurt from my mom. Indians traditionally keep homemade yogurt in the fridge at all times to eat with roti. I didn’t learn how to make it myself, however, until my daughter was old enough to eat it (I made all of her other baby food from scratch so I wasn’t about to feed her store-bought yogurt!). My mother makes it the traditional Indian way (without measurements or thermometers), so I had to work backwards to get measurements and temperature readings that I could put down on paper. There are many different ways of making yogurt but this is how my mother taught me to make it:


Milk (amount is up to you)
Starter culture*

You will also need a thick glass bowl/jar with a tight-fitting lid and a thermometer. Thicker glass will retain the temperature better.


1. Heat milk on medium-high in a pot on stove until it comes to a boil (stir occasionally or keep covered to prevent a film from forming on top). Remove from heat and pour into a glass container with a lid.

2. Allow the milk to cool to about 90*C-110*F (the outside of the glass container should feel warm but not hot). Loosely place the lid on top while cooling to prevent a film from forming, or stir occasionally. If you let it cool too long and the temperature drops lower just reheat on stove until it reaches the right temperature again. Add a teaspoon of the starter culture* to the centre of the warm milk (do not stir!). Make sure the lid is on tight and place in cool oven.

3. Turn the oven light on (the warmth from the light will keep the milk warm enough to allow the fermentation process to occur). Let sit overnight or about 8-10 hours, then cool in the refrigerator before eating. If the milk does not solidify or seems runny, simply leave it in the oven with the oven light on until it thickens.

4. Remove the whey (the runny liquid floating on top of the yogurt) before refrigerating and save it for lacto-fermentation of other foods. Or discard it. But now that you’re a pro fermenter why not save it and try your hand at another fermented food 😉.

*You can buy a powdered starter culture or simply use previously made or store bought yogurt as a starter (if using store bought yogurt make sure it is plain). Each time you make yogurt, set aside a spoonful before you eat it all to use as a starter for the next batch. Or you can do what Indians usually do, and ask a relative, friend, or neighbour for a little bit of their yogurt to use as a starter. If you do not plan on making continuous batches of yogurt then you can also freeze some to use as a starter later (if using frozen starter use a tad bit more than a tsp).

Troubleshooting tips for yogurt-making:

1. Your yogurt turned out too sour. You either used too much of the starter or added the starter when the milk was not cool enough. Use less starter and make sure the milk is at the right temperature next time. If you prefer a more sour taste then use slightly more starter than stated in the recipe.

2. Your yogurt didn’t solidify. You either used too little starter or allowed to milk to cool too much. Don’t fret – just keep it in the oven with the light on (do not turn on the oven!) and let it sit longer. Use a tad bit more starter next time and make sure the temperature of the milk is right.

3. You forgot about the yogurt and it incubated for too long. Don’t worry. It simply fermented longer so it might be a little more sour than usual but it’s still OK to eat (some people incubate their yogurt for up to 36 hours).

4. You ate all the yogurt and forgot to save some to use as a starter for the next batch. This one requires a preemptive solution – freeze a little bit of your first batch of yogurt to use in emergencies when you or another family member eats it all.

5. Even after following all of the above tips your yogurt still did not form. You may have disturbed the milk too much by either stirring or jostling it, or removing the lid to check on it too frequently. Once you add the starter and place it in the oven, LEAVE IT ALONE! The more you disturb it the less likely it is to form into yogurt.

6. Your yogurt has become increasingly sour/tart over time despite your best efforts to do everything right. You need a fresh starter culture. Using sour yogurt to make more yogurt will only result in endless batches of sour yogurt.

You can eat your yogurt plain or add fresh fruit, honey, granola, or other topping of your choice.