Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Healthy Vegan Bellies

There are two really fun things about my job.  The first is that if I can make the time, I have the opportunity to listen to world-class scientists talk about their work.  It’s always such a treat to listen to a good speaker talk about a topic in which I am interested!  The second is that I’ve been schooled in what makes for good science.  I can articulate why I think a particular study has something valuable to tell us.  Likewise, when science is bad, inadequate, or even just overstretching the limits of its own results, I can describe, with some rigor, why I think a paper sucks.  With a science PhD comes a certain amount of power.  I like it.

Nutrition is my “hobby science,” meaning that I don’t study human nutrition formally, but I am interested in it for personal reasons.  And within that area, I am really interested in gut bacteria or “intestinal flora,” to put it more nicely.  It seems that there is an emerging consensus within the scientific community that intestinal flora are really important, but we’re really just scratching the surface in our understanding of them.  I try to go to as many talks about this subject as I can, most of which are centered around the role of gut bacteria and inflammation.

I’m prone to belly troubles every once in a while, and it seems to be linked to gut bacteria and probiotics.  Eating yogurt tends to help my belly troubles.  Last week, I noticed some intestinal distress (as my friend Asmodeus might put it), though I’m pretty sure my distress was not from drinking wine!  I didn’t make the belly distress-probiotics connection right away, but I figured it out in time for my weekend grocery run.

Vegan Probiotics Round One

Here’s a funny thing: I can’t remember ever reading an article, on-line or in print, about vegan probiotics!  I find this hard to believe, considering my voracious reading appetite.  But it’s true, so I had to go with my gut (har har!) when picking out some vegan products with live cultures.  Let’s take a stroll through the shopping aisle together, shall we?

Synergy Kombucha 

* Synergy Mystic Mango Kombucha.  I confess, I am not crazy about kombucha.  It can be pretty sour.  I think it may be a bit of an acquired taste, but I do like this mango flavor.  It’s got some nice carbonation like pop (soda for the non-Michiganders out there), but it’s pretty low in sugar and it’s got live cultures!  The mango flavor is subtle but nice.  I would buy this again.

So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk

* So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk.  This beverage is a pourable coconut yogurt.  It is surprisingly glossy and somewhat viscous, like canned coconut milk.  It’s a little sweet and a little tart, and the coconut flavor is understated.  I’ve been using this on my morning bowls of oatmeal, and I like it.

Bubbies Sauerkraut

* Bubbies Sauerkraut.  In my family, we are crazy about Bubbies sauerkraut and cucumber pickles.  They’re totally delicious and taste exactly as you’d expect pickled vegetables to taste.  I think they are a nice change of pace from the slightly sweet kombucha and cultured coconut milk—pickles take you in a savory direction.  (And side note: my brother likes to stuff sauerkraut into his grilled cheese sandwiches, and they’re terrific.  If you have a meltable vegan cheese you like, it might be worth adding some Bubbies it!)

The good news is that all these probiotics seem to be doing the trick: my belly is much happier this week.  I’ve been eating at least one cultured food each day and sometimes more than one—for example, I’ll have the yogurt at breakfast and sauerkraut with lunch or dinner.  A healthy belly is a happy belly.


a said...

I remember weeks of intense intestinal distress when I became vegan years and years ago--probably some probiotics would have helped. It's great that you know enough about your body and nutrition to make yourself more happy, healthy, and comfortable!

Nicole said...

A question: Vegan eating doesn't exclude live cultures? So where is the traditional vegan line of acceptable consumption of live creatures? I'm thinking about distinctions such as Animal vs. Insect vs. Plant vs. Bacteria/Virus, etc. Obviously, vegan eating includes no Animal and yes Plant. What about other live creatures? Just curious... I suppose one's motivations for being vegan probably play into these choices (e.g., morality, environmentalist, personal distaste, etc.).

Rosiecat said...

Oh, no! I'm so sorry to hear that, my dear a. An unhappy belly is no good. But I'll admit that a few years ago, I wouldn't have known enough to self-medicate with probiotics. Some things do get better with age :-)

Great question, Nicole! One of my work colleagues asked the same question recently. Generally, my rule of thumb is that I don't eat animals or anything that requires their death to obtain (such as meat-based soup stock). Right now I'm also not eating dairy or eggs. The organisms used for culturing foods are usually fungi (like yeast) or bacteria, and I have no trouble eating those. They don't have nervous systems, and they aren't raised in horrific conditions on factory farms and CAFOs.

One cool thing that I realized when thinking about your question is that when we eat probiotics, we aren't killing them--we're just moving them to a new home in our guts :-) Fun, no?

A final thought, which I'm stealing from Matt, who is happy to eat the bacon that I won't eat: human beings are consumers. We have to eat *something* that was once alive. So I think the best we can do is try to minimize the damage. I try not to wring my hands over every decision, and I don't expect perfection of myself.

Shannon said...

love the trilogy kombucha :) not a huge fan of saurkraut, but the idea of stuffing it into a grilled cheese is intriguing!!