What characteristics should be taken into account when choosing healthy foods

The incursion of the pandemic in the world generated important changes in our daily lives. With the isolation measures and new work modalities, people began to spend much more time at home.

In this new context there were two very noticeable trends in Argentina: the return to the kitchen and attention to one’s own immune system.

The first of them was evidenced through a study carried out by a private institute with more than 1,100 respondents, where “Cooking” was ranked in the fifth hobby of Argentines during the pandemicwhen years ago it was not even on the radar.

In parallel to this, the coronavirus led many to wonder if their immune system would be able, or not, to defend itself against the virus. Given that numerous scientific investigations have already shown that nutrition plays a fundamental role in the proper functioning of the immune system, healthy eating has gained a predominant role in daily life.

More than 70% of the cells of our immune system are in our intestinewhere billions of microorganisms also live, known as the intestinal microbiota”, warns Gabriel Vinderola, doctor in Chemistry and principal investigator at CONICET and professor at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral.

Within the category of foods that provide a plus to the health of the population, dairy products are usually the ones that receive the most attention, especially yogurts, since they allow the incorporation at the same time fermented and probiotics to the daily diet.

Now, it is worth asking if these two foods are the same and why they are beneficial to health. First of all, fermented foods and probiotics are two very different things.

The benefit of probiotics in a healthy diet.  (Credits: Getty)
The benefit of probiotics in a healthy diet. (Credits: Getty)

The former are foods processed from microorganisms identified and defined (yogurt, beer) or by a consortium of undefined microorganisms (kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha) while the latter are well-defined microorganisms that can be added to certain foods, or food supplements.

“The intestine is a ‘complex’ place, where the cells that make up the wall of the intestine, the bacteria of the microbiota, the cells of our immune system and the food coexist during its digestion. A sophisticated network of interactions occurs between all of them, and this translates into chemical signals that impact our health, for better or for worse. These interactions can be enhanced and influence each other, positively, through ferments, fermented foods and probiotics”, explains Vinderola.

but many times fermented foods are often confused with probioticsand the truth is that the latter are not usually ferments or fermented foods, but are microorganisms with very defined characteristics.

This category of microorganisms was born in Argentina when the World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a group of international experts gathered in Córdoba to analyze whether certain microorganisms would be capable of conferring a beneficial effect on health when consumed in adequate amounts”, says the professional.

A year later, in 2002, the WHO defined probiotics as “live microorganisms that confer a beneficial effect when administered in adequate amounts”.

“Yogurts have been the most widely used fermented foods as vehicles for probiotics and they are the most popular in our country”, concludes Vinderola.

Health benefits

For nutritionist Jacqueline Schuldberg (MN. 1770), consultant in Pediatric Nutrition and coordinator of the AADYND Pediatric Nutrition Study Group (Argentine Association of Dietitians and Nutritionists Dietitians), Both the consumption of fermented foods and probiotics have extensive health benefits.

Yogurt consumption may provide anticancer and antihypertensive effects.  (Credit: Getty)
Yogurt consumption may provide anticancer and antihypertensive effects. (Credit: Getty)

“In the consumption of probiotics it is possible to mention the reduction of cholesterol levels, the modulation of the immune system, the decrease in constipation, the increase in mineral absorption, anticancer and antihypertensive effectsamong others,” reported Schuldberg.

Schuldberg also clarifies that fermented foods do not have to have a specific health benefit associated with them, while a probiotic, by definition, must have it.

“One way to start including fermented foods and probiotics simultaneously is by incorporating the custom of consume yogurt with added probiotics”, concludes the specialist.

For some specialists, the benefits are so remarkable that even specialized researchers on the subject have proposed adapting its consumption to the concept of Daily Reference Value (DRV), as pointed out by the Nutrition graduate María Elena Torresani (MN. 936), doctorate in the area of ​​Nutrition (UBA) and director of the Clinical Nutrition Specialists Career of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires.

“This VDR is the average amount of a certain nutrient that a healthy person should ingest daily to maintain a correct state of health. In this context, one could speak of a ‘VDR of microorganisms’, in the same way that one speaks of macronutrients, vitamins and trace elements. This would help combat the erroneous perception that when we talk about food, the only good microorganism is the one that is dead”, says the specialist.

“A healthy and varied diet that includes fermented foods and fiber, exercise, contact with nature, vaginal delivery and breastfeeding, as well as the rational use of antibiotics, are the most favorable strategies for the maintenance of a microbiota strong intestinal, which is essential for our health”, concludes Torresani.