Lactobacillus is a lactic acid bacterium naturally found in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina. Many strains of lactobacillus exist and are commonly used to process and ferment foods. Lactobacillus is considered a probiotic--a live microorganism that may benefit health when consumed. Benefits of lactobacillus in the diet include reduced lactose intolerance; prevention of yeast infections; control over diarrhea and symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome; prevention of cancer, allergies and eczema; improved immunity and less severe infections; and decreased cholesterol.
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Yogurt & Kefir
L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus and L. plantarum are all strains of lactobacillus used to make yogurt and kefir, a yogurt-like product originating from Turkey and Persia. Bacterial cultures are added to milk to ferment and thicken the final product. Studies published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition” and the “Annals of Internal Medicine” found that eating yogurt had the potential to lower the risk of coronary heart disease and yeast infections.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is added to milk for its probiotic properties and because it is believed to be easier to digest than regular milk for lactose intolerant individuals. There are two types of acidophilus milk: Sweet milk is refrigerated immediately after the bacteria is added, while a tart version is allowed to ferment prior to refrigeration.
Miso & Tempeh
Miso is a fermented soybean paste, and tempeh is made from fermenting whole soybeans; both are used in Asian cooking. Lactobacillus is used during fermentation to control the growth of undesirable bacteria.
Sauerkraut is traditionally fermented with naturally occurring bacteria found on cabbage; however, in commercial manufacturing, a bacterial culture is added. Sauerkraut that has been pasteurized does not contain lactobacillus because the pasteurization process kills the bacteria.
Buttermilk, Sour Cream, Cheese
Lactobacillus and other bacteria such as streptococcus are used to make some buttermilk, sour cream and cheese. The process for making these products is very similar to that of yogurt, but differs in the strain of bacteria used and the length of fermentation. Bacteria cultures used to make cheese add acid and flavor to the final product.
Lactobacillus supplements come in tablet, capsule and liquid forms. The dosage at which a supplement is beneficial is being researched, and different supplement brands may contain different strains and dosages. According to the National Institutes of Health, possible side effects of lactobacillus supplements are abdominal cramping and gas, which may be controlled by limiting the dose taken.