Green Eyes On: New Non-Dairy Probiotics and the Future of Food


Photo: Hans Neleman/Getty Images

After a weekend of fireworks, barbecues, and cuisine that may contain more than one hot dog or Jell-O fruit mold, we turn our attention to the gut. And a new breakthrough in probiotics.

"The gut?" you ask. Um, yes. The gut.

Sometime shortly before the holiday weekend I spoke with Steve Demos, a man I’ve known for quite some time and someone my dad, Tim Redmond, has known for quite a few more, since they were both pioneers in this industry of natural and organic foods.Steve was the mastermind behind Silk Soymilk. You’ve most likely come across this product in stores -- if not used it on your cereal. Or you've seen the commercials -- cows dressed in people's clothes begging people to drink milk from a bean instead of milk from an udder. The commercials, I believe, started after Steve took a much needed but short-lived retirement from running a company that had grown as large as his.

A Healthy Stomach Makes for a Healthy Body
During these few years of 'retirement,' Steve traveled, spending his days talking to doctors and healers. Along the way, he discovered what he now believes is key to preserving health: protecting the gut.

Let’s back up. Believe it or not, our body houses more bacteria than cells. But these bacteria aren't all bad guys. There are charming, good guys too that keep us healthy. In fact, according to Healing Daily, 15% of the bacteria in your lower intestine may be bad -- but 85% of these guys are good. They help make sure we don’t get things like salmonella or E. coli poisoning. They also help make sure we’re digesting properly and efficiently. Without the good bacteria, you can get constipated, bloated, gassy...all things that add up to general unpleasantness in the gut, and eventually, bigger problems.


Photo: GoodBelly non-dairy probiotics
Probiotics Add Good Bacteria to the Stomach
So here’s where probiotics come into play. Probiotics join ranks with the good bacteria (being of the good-guy sort themselves) and they work to prevent the harmful bacteria from taking over, helping improve digestion and the absorption of minerals and nutrients, and lowering cholesterol. They even lower high blood pressure. That's one action-packed cure-all.

Now back to Steve. So the doctors and healers he spoke with told him the secret to health lay in the gut. Not the skeletal system or the circulatory system, the gut. Steve took this seriously and searched and found a patented probiotic that was being used in a hospital in Sweden to accelerate the recovery of patients. This bacteria didn’t just flow through the digestive track, it colonized there and went to work.

The thing that really set Steve’s finding apart was that he found he could grow the bacteria on a different protein than what most probiotics in the U.S. depended on. Instead of dairy, he would grow it on oats. While the dairy industry has us convinced that probiotics are only found in yogurt, and those of us who don’t or can’t do dairy have despairingly resigned to mixing probiotic powders into our juice, Steve threw some bacteria at oat milk and founded a colony.

GoodBelly, the First Non-Dairy Probiotic
And so GoodBelly was born, and brings to market what Steve coins a "Next Food (PDF)." A food that answers a call and a need. Not just another flavor of strawberry or another slickly packaged same-old, but a food that will actually solve a problem.

Steve predicts the next generation of foods will battle the problem: How do we best maintain our body’s ecosystem? The answer is through the gut.

Sara Snow is green lifestyle expert, and a regular contributor to TreeHugger via her Green Eyes On columns. She can also be seen on CNN.com on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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Tags: Bacteria | Drinks | Sara Snow | Vegetarian