Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Healthy Gut Microbes May Prevent Celiac?

Intestinal Microbes Health Help YOUR Health

Those Beneficial "Bugs" In the News Again

I was just reading an article discussing studies by Oregon State University researchers into how gut microbes are closely linked to proper immune system function and other health issues. This may not be "news" to many readers, but it is further confirmation of the importance of maintaining a healthy GI tract — and it sure makes me wonder even more about the potential ill effects of using antibiotics to treat conditions, especially when not needed (since, antibiotics kill off the "good" bacteria in your gut as well as the "bad" bacteria in your body).
[Note: my next closely-related article is about Probiotic Levels in Yogurt and Kefir (billions and trillions of those beneficial bugs!)]
I have written here in the past about other studies connecting antibiotics and celiac disease, and this latest study deepens my concern. As quoted from the article I am referring to,
"In a healthy person, these microbes in the gut stimulate the immune system as needed, and it in turn talks back," Shulzhenko said. "There's an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation [the "crosstalk" between gut microbes and our immune system and metabolic processes] is breaking down."
And, it is not just antibiotics that are brought into question in this study.  How about dirt... or, should I say our lack of exposure to dirt?  Yes, we (modern humans) are probably making things worse by being TOO "clean":
"Appropriate sanitation such as clean water and sewers are good. But some erroneous lessons in health care may need to be unlearned -- leaving behind the fear of dirt, the love of antimicrobial cleansers, and the outdated notion that an antibiotic is always a good idea. We live in a world of "germs" and many of them are good for us."
Our immune systems have developed over the course of human history to function optimally by adapting to natural exposures to varied bacteria (in things like dirt) that modern sanitizing products wipe out (externally).  And, antibiotics are essentially "sanitizers" that wipe out internally-present bacteria (including the plethora of "good" ones that we need to function properly).

Celiac and Other Conditions : the Role of Gut Microbes

The article mentioned Celiac Disease (i.e., autoimmune gluten allergy that requires us to be on a gluten-free diet) as well as other conditions where there is an interplay of gut-microbe-crosstalk and our bodies:
"An explosion of research in the field of genomic sequencing is for the first time allowing researchers to understand some of this conversation [between gut microbes and our immune / metabolic systems] and appreciate its significance, Shulzhenko said. The results are surprising, with links that lead to a range of diseases, including celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Obesity may be related. And some studies have found relevance to depression, late-onset autism, allergies, asthma and cancer."
Seems like more and more evidence is piling up that should make us want to avoid things that destroy the optimal natural internal gut-microbe balance.  And, perhaps (my opinion), we can improve things in the near-term by introducing probiotics into our gluten-free diets and avoiding anything that will further negatively impact our systems.

I like how the article concludes with forward-looking thoughts about probiotics and such:
Once researchers have a better idea of what constitutes healthy microbiota in the gut, they may be able to personalize therapies to restore that balance. It should also be possible to identify and use new types of probiotics to mitigate the impact of antibiotics, when such drugs are necessary and must be used. 
Such approaches are "an exciting target for therapeutic interventions" to treat health problems in the future, the researchers concluded.
Sounds like a good course of research to me!  And, while these people study their "bugs", I will personally continue to avoid antibiotics and antimicrobial products while at the same time enjoying my "bug-filled" (probiotics) in things like kefir, yogurt, etc.  In addition, I think my beneficial bugs much prefer a highly vegetable-laden diet :)

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Gluten-Free Health Warrior Chia Bar Review

Health Warrior Brand Gluten-Free Chia Bars Review

Chia Seeds meet Snack Bars : a great combination!

For any of you that have read my blog for any length of time, you have noticed I have written a few articles about recipes and baking with chia seed and/or product containing chia.  And now I am writing about a nice snack bar product line — each simply labeled "Chia Bar" of various flavors —  from a company called Health Warrior.

Health Warrior brand gluten-free chia bars
Health Warrior ( Chia Bars

I have been a fan of chia seed (salvia hispanica) for years now, having used them quite regularly since 2008, as chia sees have a wonderful nutritional profile in addition to making a great gluten-free baking ingredient. Chia seeds provide a nice balance of fiber, healthy fats (Omega 3's), and protein. I am used to using them in their hydrated form in my various homemade drinks and recipes, but this time I am enjoying them in as they appear in these commercially-available Health Warrior Chia Bars.

Health Warrior brand gluten-free acai berry chia bar
Health Warrior brand gluten-free acai berry chia bar (close-up and full of chia!)

Pleasing Taste and Texture from Innovative Ingredients

The first bite into the acai berry chia bar variety instantly reminded me of some favorite sesame-seed snacks I have had in the past — the texture was quite similar, and I am not quite sure how much of that is from non-hydrated chia.  As you can see in the close-up photo, it sure looks like sesame-seeds in a way too, and I am not sure if what I am seeing is perhaps all due to white-chia-seeds, or if some of what I see is also the gluten-free-oats used in the formula (yes, they contain oats); sure seems like it is mostly chia seeds I feel and see.  They also employ cashew-butter in the base-formula shared across all the bar varieties from what I see on the labels too.

The oats almost prevented me from trying this product, since I have not had oats (even "certified gluten-free" ones) in years; I have found I can tolerate small amounts on occasion, but generally just avoid them.  But, I decided to make an (oats) exception and try this interesting chia bar product, and I am glad I did.

My wife and I both enjoyed it and found that the flavor was pleasing as was the texture: it was not too sweet, not artificial tasting in any way, but just about spot-on with regards to the berry-centric flavor and the sweetness (sugar level) was just about where I like it (not too sweet, and a reasonable net carbohydrate load reflects this in the nutritional facts printed on the label: 15g total carbs of which 4g are fiber and 5g sugar).  I can definitely detect some nutty flavor from the cashews, but it too blends quite nicely with the other flavor-contributors in the recipe: things like cranberries and strawberries (of which there are certainly more of than of than the featured "acai berry" highlighted on the label for its buzz-factor and popularity) and vanilla.

The bars are rather small (just under 1 ounce), and that is one reason I actually gave them a try even with the GF oats included (I figured it would be a very small dose of oats for me); and, I am delighted to report, the oats had no ill-effects on me either.  Regardless, the size is about right for a quick small snack while keeping the carbohydrate intake down (and, getting 3g of protein thrown in along with Omega 3's for good measure).  I think these bars will come in handy when out for a long bike ride or walk where I want a nice nutritionally balanced snack with me that also tastes good and transports well.

Bottom line: my impression is that this is a quality snack product with a taste and texture I quite enjoyed and can enjoy more in the future.  It was a nice alternative to many of the much sweeter date-based bars, and it is also soy-free and 100% vegan (given I eat ZERO soy, this was a great fit for me too!)  I still need to try the other varieties (as shown in the picture), but I expect they will be similarly enjoyable and welcome in my gluten-free diet snack-repertoire.

A related thought: I would welcome a sugar-free version of these bar if Health Warrior could create a stevia-sweetened version and replace the brown-rice-syrup.  This bar, due to its diminutive size, has a reasonably low-carb / low-sugar profile, but it has the potential to be a very-low-sugar option with some minor tweaks.  I have my own ideas for a recipe that could perhaps yield my desired super-bar outcome: use stevia and perhaps (though breaking with the dairy-free status) use some whey-protein as a "binder" of sorts (perhaps in combo with some hydrated chia); this idea may not work commercially, but I plan to play with the idea for kicks since I enjoy recipes and baking quite a bit.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.