A significant number of the world population is the victim of malnutrition. The perils of malnutrition has not made a distinction and has engulfed within it children and elderly alike. The children are the worst affected in the developing and under developed countries. Among the malnutrition cases, protein associated malnutrition is the most common. In the Indian subcontinent ~1/3 children suffer from the after affects of lack of protein in their diet which causes severe damage to the developmental progress in the age group. It is not that only the poorer section of the society suffers from such incomplete nutrition but a lack of knowledge about their diet makes the people from across society to face similar consequences. Lack of protein has been associated with the deficiency in innate immune responses like the ability to produce cytokines.
The traditional Indian fermented food curd (dahi) is formed by the coagulation of the milk protein casein through the activity of lactic acid producing bacteria. Through ages the general practice of curd preparation has involved the use of a batter with starter cultures containing strains of Lactobacillus. However, with the commercialization of the food product nowadays curd has even been prepared by the use of artificial compounds like rennet or other acidic compounds which reduces the beneficial effects as well as efficacy of the product. Nevertheless, with all its beneficial effects curd can definitely be used as a good probiotic food product with the application of knowledge based introduction of probiotic strains other than the ones which are already used as starter cultures.
Is the natural curd technically a probiotic product?
The production of curd involves a number of different probiotic bacteria which are quite beneficial for the maintenance of human health as is evident from ancient times. There are stories of the ancient sages in India consuming curds to maintain their health and longevity. However, the curd produced through traditional means cannot be called a probiotic product according to the guidelines of WHO. In order to be called a probiotic product the bacterial strains providing the probiotic effect should be mentioned.
Curd contains a number of such bacteria like Lactococcus lactis, Lactococcus lactis cremoris, L. acidophilus, etc. Therefore, the exact knowledge about the different strains that exist in curd is lacking. A report was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggests that the type of useful bacteria present in curd vary considerably between places. It was also demonstrated that the Indian curd contains nearly 250 different strains of Lactobacillus. Each of the probiotic strains possess specific characteristic and useful traits which can be exploited under specific context of the usage of the product which is not possible without a thorough knowledge about the exact probiotic composition of the food product.
The number of strains available in the food products like curd is far less at present which becomes another hurdle in the way of their inclusion as a probiotic product. The beneficial bacteria in order to render their probiotic effects must complete successful passage through the stomach into the GI tract and colonize there to produce long-term benefits.
However, if the initial count of the strains remain very low, this possibility becomes a rarity. A precise knowledge about the type of the bacterial strain present with their beneficial effects, the viability of the strains and proven record of the health benefits through clinical trials can lead to the inclusion of the fermented food product into the category of probiotics. The home made curd at present lacks both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of a true probiotic product.
Probiotic-like health benefits with the consumption of curd:
Curd is often provided to individuals suffering from diarrhoea which seemed to significantly improve the diseased condition. According to the published report in the European Journal of Nutrition, curd was found to be useful in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhoeal cases. Moreover, people suffering from lactose intolerance who lack the β-galactosidase enzyme to digest the sugary component of milk benefit significantly from curd consumption as in addition to the beneficial microflora present within the milk product, most of the milk lactose has been converted to lactic acid in curd. According to the findings of recent studies, the systemic consumption of curd can reduce incidences of dental caries.
It has been found that the L. Acidophilus present in curd can inhibit the growth of the pathogenic villain in these cases, Streptococcus mutans. Consumption of curd was associated with a decrease in pH of the saliva which interfered with the growing potential of the pathogen. There have also been instances of reduction in Salmonella enteritidis infection with the regular use of curd in the diet. In this study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, it was found that the inhibition in the infection was due to the production of cytokines by the probiotic inhabitants of the curd.
In addition, curd due to the probiotic activities of the beneficial bacteria contains good proportion of minerals like phosphorous and calcium as also proteins and vitamins further highlighting their efficacy as potential good probiotic products.
The possibility of regulated fermentation of curd:
Therefore, curd contains all its needs to become a good probiotic product but loses out in the technical front to be claimed a true probiotic food. So, is there a possibility to overcome these drawbacks and make curd a probiotic product according to the set of WHO guidelines? Indeed, it can be a reality. The fermentation of curd can be regulated with the application of specific known probiotic strains in the batter culture. There is also a good possibility to enumerate the viable counts of the bacterial cells. Once these aspects are controlled, curd can be called a probiotic product.
At present great value is drawn to the consumption of the traditional dairy based fermented products which are said to possess probiotic-like health benefits in the maintenance of our health. A proper standardization of the manufacturing protocol of these traditional food products to include the right balance of the probiotic strains and in the proper numbers can make them more precise and effective in their usage.