November 2017: 5th Yogurt Summit ICN 2017, Buenos Aires, Argentina Science corner

Research Advocates for Adding Fermented Foods to Food Guide

Yogurt-fermented foods-food guide

Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, … and of course, fermented milks like yogurt are growing in popularity, propelled by health claims and increasing knowledge about the gut microbiota. Several researchers around the world want Health Organizations to add a new category to the National Food Guide, that is fermented foods. Seppo Salminen (University of Turku, Finland) held this position.

Bacteria are an essential part of our environment and food. Beneficial bacteria  are notably present in fermented foods which have a long history of safe use. If you look at the history of fermented foods, they have been around humankind for as long as we can remember. Fermentation served firstly as a way of improving shelf-life but it also enhances nutritional quality and palatability and provide metabolites, enzymes (e.g. lactase) and flavor components. A lot of traditional foods are in fact made with fermentation around the world and as a consequence, we eat a lot of microbes every day. But how much we eat may vary from diet to diet and meal to meal.

Healthy Diet Has the Greatest Exposure

We are now beginning to know the impact of ingested microbes on the intestinal microbiota and the extent to which dietary microbes may impact human health. To date, some studies have shown that consuming yogurt could have an impact on certain diseases or disorders involving the gut microbiota, such as type 2 diabete, cholesterol, weight control, brain activity, allergy and cancer. Thus, consuming microbes could have health benefits.Yet, a comparative study introduced by Salminen characterized the microbiota of three different dietary patterns : (1) the Average American , mainly composed of convenience foods  ; (2) USDA (US Department of Agriculture) recommended, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, lean meat, dairy (yogurt and cottage cheese), and whole grains and (3) Vegan excluding all animal products. Based on plate counts, the USDA meal plan (which includes yogurt as a snack) had the highest total amount of microbes at 1.3 × 10 9 CFU per day, followed by the VEGAN meal plan and the AMERICAN meal plan at 6 × 10 6 and 1.4 × 10 6 CFU per day respectively. Thus, a  dietary pattern  that doesn’t follow the USDA recommendations doesn’t provide enough microbes and yogurt appears to be a perfect snack to fill this gap !

Yogurt Is the Best Source of Key Bacteria

Yogurt and fermented milks are part of the most significant sources of viable bacteria (1 Cup of Yogurt = 10 8-10 bacteria). Despite the impact of fermented foods and beverages on the gut microbiota, their many health benefits or recommended consumption have not been widely translated to global inclusion in world food guidelines. In Europe, only one health claim (EFSA, 2010) has been approved for beneficial microbes: live yogurt cultures improve lactose digestion. The microbes contained in yogurt may also affect the function of the resident gut microbiota, even if they do not affect its composition, as it has been suggested by numerous yogurt feeding studies. Indeed, the health benefits associated with the consumption of yogurt are more and more studied, and the importance of yogurt cultures Lactobacillus and Streptococcus in health promotion, by strengthening the intestinal mucosal barrier for example, have been recognized.

Why Fermented Foods Should Be Represented in Food Guides

A European research revealed that five EU member states (Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain) have national nutrition guidelines or recommendations that include either probiotics or fermented milks containing live bacteria. This supports that some EU member states recognize the health benefits associated with the consumption of live microbes, even if commercial marketing claims are not authorized.

Other countries include yogurt (as part of dairy products) in their food-based dietary guidelines. It is the case in Switzerland, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Russia, Argentina, India and Portugal. In this case, yogurt is recommended, not for the live microbes it contains, but for its nutritional value.

The idea that consuming live microbes through fermented foods should be recommended by official governmental channels is maturing, as observed by Salminen. In Canada, Western scientist Gregor Reid is further trying to get fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut added as a daily portion to the Canadian Food Guide, because the fermentation process gives the foods added benefits for health.

Therefore, Salminen concludes that knowing the general benefits of traditional and supplemented fermented foods, consuming live microbes through fermented foods should be recommended by official governmental channels. Yogurt is one of the most readily available fermented foods, which can help to fill the gap in the current exposure of live microbes.