To make kefir, it takes a team. A team of microbes.
That’s the message of new research from EMBL and Cambridge University’s Patil group and collaborators, published in Nature Microbiology today. Members of the group study kefir, one of the world’s oldest fermented food products and increasingly considered to be a ‘superfood’ with many purported health benefits, including improved digestion and lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels. After studying 15 kefir samples, the researchers discovered to their surprise that the dominant species of Lactobacillus bacteria found in kefir grains cannot survive on their own in milk — the other key ingredient in kefir. However, when the species work together, feeding on each other’s metabolites in the kefir culture, they each provide something another needs.
“Cooperation allows them to do something they couldn’t do alone,” says Kiran Patil, group leader and corresponding author of the paper. “It is particularly fascinating how L. kefiranofaciens, which dominates the kefir community, uses kefir grains to bind together all other microbes that it needs to survive — much like the ruling ring of the Lord of the Rings. One grain to bind them all.”
A model for microbial interactions
Consumption of kefir originally became popular in Eastern Europe, Israel, and areas in and around Russia. It is composed of ‘grains’ that look like small pieces of cauliflower and have fermented in milk to produce a probiotic drink composed of bacteria and yeasts.
“People were storing milk in sheepskins and noticed these grains that emerged kept their milk from spoiling, so they could store it longer,” says Sonja Blasche, a postdoc in the Patil group and joint first author of the paper. “Because milk spoils fairly easily, finding a way to store it longer was of huge value.”
To make kefir, you need kefir grains. These can’t be artificially made, but must come from another batch of kefir. The grains are added to milk to ferment and grow. Approximately 24 to 48 hours later (or, in the case of this research, 90 hours later), the kefir grains have consumed the nutrients available to them. The grains grow in size and number in this time and the kefir process is complete. The grains are removed and added to fresh milk to begin the process anew.
For scientists, however, kefir provides more than just a healthy beverage: it’s an easy-to-culture model microbial community for studying metabolic interactions. And while kefir is quite similar to yogurt in many ways — both are fermented or cultured dairy products full of ‘probiotics’ — kefir’s microbial community is far larger than yogurt’s, including not just bacterial cultures but also yeast.
Learning from kefir
While scientists know that microorganisms often live in communities and depend on their fellow community members for survival, mechanistic knowledge of this phenomenon has been quite limited. Laboratory models historically have been limited to two or three microbial species, so Kefir offered — as Kiran describes — a ‘Goldilocks zone’ of complexity that is not too small (around 40 species), yet not too unwieldy to study in detail.
Sonja started this research by gathering kefir samples from several places. While most samples were obtained in Germany, they’re likely to have originated elsewhere, since kefir grains have been passed down over centuries.
“Our first step was to look at how the samples grow. Kefir microbial communities have many member species with individual growth patterns that adapt to their current environment. This means fast- and slow-growing species and some that alter their speed according to nutrient availability,” Sonja says. “This is not unique to the kefir community. However, the kefir community had a lot of lead time for co-evolution to bring it to perfection, as they have stuck together for a long time already.”
Cooperation is the key
Finding out the extent and the nature of the cooperation between kefir microbes was far from straightforward. To do this, the researchers combined a variety of state-of-the-art methods such as metabolomics (studying metabolites’ chemical processes), transcriptomics (studying the genome-produced RNA transcripts), and mathematical modelling. This revealed not only key molecular interaction agents like amino acids, but also the contrasting species dynamics between the grains and the milk part of kefir.
“The kefir grain acts as a base camp for the kefir community, from which community members colonise the milk in a complex yet organised and cooperative manner,” Kiran says. “We see this phenomenon in kefir, and then we see it’s not limited to kefir. If you look at the whole world of microbiomes, cooperation is also a key to their structure and function.”
In fact, in another paper from Kiran’s group in collaboration with EMBL’s Bork group, out today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, scientists combined data from thousands of microbial communities across the globe — from soil to the human gut — to understand similar cooperative relationships. In this second paper, the researchers used advanced metabolic modelling to show that the co-occurring groups of bacteria, groups that are frequently found together in different habitats, are either highly competitive or highly cooperative. This stark polarisation hasn’t been observed before, and sheds light on evolutionary processes that shape microbial ecosystems. While both competitive and cooperative communities are prevalent, the cooperators seem to be more successful in terms of higher abundance and occupying diverse habitats. Stronger together.
Materials provided by European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Original written by Ivy Kupec. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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Echelon Fitness Offers Workouts with ProFootball Alums – PRNewswire
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Jan. 19, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Echelon, the connected fitness company revolutionizing the way people move, is offering an exclusive series of live, in-studio connected bike rides with former professional football players.
Now through February 13, 2022, former professional players join Echelon instructors on an interview-style ride and include alums from the Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The rides take place at 6:30pm EST with the following schedule:
1/3/22 – Martín Gramática (now-On-Demand)
1/10/22 – Dorsey Levens (now-On-Demand)
1/17/22 – Ricky Watter (now-On-Demand)
1/24/22 – Fred Taylor LIVE!
1/31/22 – Reggie Wayne LIVE!
2/7/22 – Jevon "The Freak" Kearse LIVE!
"We are thrilled to continue to bring motivating athletes and content to our members. Our special guests boast 17 championship wins among them," said Kevin Custer, Chief Content Officer, Echelon Fitness. "We know how competitive these guys are, even off the field. We are excited to see how they will use their reputations and competitiveness to pump up members to support their favorite teams and players."
The rides will be live and also available On Demand on the member app. For more information about Echelon Fitness go to https://echelonfit.com/.
Echelon has revolutionized at-home fitness since 2017 with a range of smart exercise equipment and an immersive membership experience. What began as a mission to make healthy living accessible to all has evolved to a thriving, global brand. Echelon empowers everyone to experience the feeling of elation and accomplishment after achieving their fitness goals. Members connect their Echelon smart bikes, rowers, treadmills, or fitness mirrors to the Echelon Fit app for access to live and on-demand workout classes filmed at Echelon studios around the world and led by professional instructors. Through the app, members track performance and progress in real-time, compete on the interactive Leaderboard and explore more than 2,000 off-equipment workouts to keep them motivated and inspired. For more information, visit echelonfit.com.
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The 13 Best Healthy Snacks in 2022 – Eat This, Not That
We’ve consulted with our team of licensed nutritionists and dietitians to bring you informed recommendations for food products, health aids and nutritional goods to safely and successfully guide you toward making better diet and nutrition choices. We strive to only recommend products that adhere to our philosophy of eating better while still enjoying what you eat.
With a ton of restaurants closed, cooking fatigue still going strong from 2020, and nothing else to do but curl up on the couch and binge-watch yet another TV show, snacks became much more than comfort food during 2021. Snacks were one of the primary ways Americans nourished themselves.
While many of us gravitated towards childhood favorites (think sugary cereals or neon-colored chips) to satisfy our cravings, others were on the lookout for some more health-supporting options. Thankfully, food brands were on the same page—so much so that a whopping 100 new healthy snacks that launched nationwide between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 on grocery store shelves were nominated for the 2022 Eat This, Not That! Food Awards.
In the end, 13 snack products stood out from the rest with their impressive nutrition and great taste. Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board member Lauren Manaker, MS, RD, CDN, helped rate the products and choose the winners, then we taste-tested each one. Read on for our honest reviews—and to see where you can buy the winners!
Watch out taste test video and check out how each winner ranked below.
A meal in a bar, this keto offering is billed as “curry without the rice.” It’s made with cauliflower, coconut, nuts, spinach, prebiotic fiber, and a blend of Indian spices.
The expert’s take: “A savory bar allows for awesome flavor without having to worry about added carbs. Made with all-natural ingredients like real cauliflower, spinach, and nuts, these bars are a perfect on-the-go option that isn’t loaded with artificial sweeteners that can sometimes be hard to tolerate,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “The complexity of flavors here is unmatched by any other snack I’ve ever tried, but the earthiness threw me off based on what my brain has been primed to expect when eating a meal bar,” says Senior Editor Olivia Tarantino.
Instead of kettle corn, try kettle sorghum! This ancient grain is a fraction of the size of corn, which delivers tiny pops of crunchy deliciousness in every bag.
The expert’s take: “Sorghum is an ancient grain that is naturally packed with antioxidants. And if you are a popcorn lover but you hate those little kernels that get stuck in your teeth, popped sorghum is your best bet. Plus, the sorghum is a natural source of fiber, making it a snack that also supports gut health,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “I’m not usually a fan of anything ‘caramel’ flavored—and that’s because it’s typically done with fake flavors. You’ll find none of that here. The flavors are pure and crisp, but the super tiny size of each of the kernels makes this snack a little bit harder to eat than a big bag of popcorn,” says Tarantino.
These crackers are a gluten-free, grain-free dupe of that childhood classic square cheese crunch. Rather than being made of wheat and cheese, they use a blend of cassava flour and green banana flour that utilizes otherwise wasted bananas and turns them into flour.
The expert’s take: “Using green banana flour in these crackers gives this snack some natural prebiotic fiber, which can help support a healthy gut microbiome. These gluten-free crackers are made with natural ingredients to offer a simple option to accompany snacktime,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “I didn’t expect much cheese flavor based on the brown color of the cracker, but boy, was I surprised. These thin squares are mighty flavorful and tasty without needing any dairy—the ‘cheezish’ flavor comes from a balanced blend of yeast extract and spices,” says Tarantino.
Chosen Foods thought, “Everyone likes guacamole and salsa, so why don’t we combine them?” And we were subsequently in awe of their genius. This avocado-based salsa combines perfectly-ripe Haas avocados with tomatillo, jalapeño, lime juice, sea salt, garlic, onion, cilantro, and that’s it—absolutely no synthetic preservatives!
The expert’s take: “This salsa is only made with natural ingredients and no preservatives. And since we are all going avocado crazy these days, it is nice to see real avocados as the first ingredient listed on the food label,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “If you like green salsa but are always slightly disappointed that you can’t get more of it on your chip because it’s just a little too thin, then you need to try this version. The avocado provides integrity (and healthy fats) to this tomatillo salsa, making it perfectly dippable,” says Tarantino.
Just before you thought cauliflower couldn’t turn into another type of snack food, REAL FOOD FROM THE GROUND UP said, “Hold my drink.” Cauliflower pairs with gluten-free cassava flour as the base for these low-fat, veggie-packed potato chips.
The expert’s take: “Some cauliflower-based snacks totally miss the boat when it comes to flavor. But REAL FOOD FROM THE GROUND UP Sour Cream and Onion Cauliflower Potato Chips nail it in both the taste and the nutrition department. Made with real cauliflower and a veggie blend that contains spinach, broccoli, carrot, tomato, beet, and shiitake mushrooms, noshing on these crispy snacks is a great swap for potato chip lovers (and who isn’t a potato chip lover?). Not only that, this Sour Cream & Onion flavor is dairy-free, so the snack is entirely plant-based and vegan,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “Wow, can you say, ‘healthy Pringle?’ The sour cream and onion flavor is spot-on for what I was expecting, but the cassava and cauliflower give this chip a much more delicate texture compared to potato-based Pringles, which is extremely refreshing,” says Tarantino.
You’ve never had energy bites quite like this before. Malua’s bites are made with a blend of prebiotic green banana powder and superfoods to nourish your microbiome: a community of trillions of bacteria that exists in your gut and supports many aspects of your health, from your immunity to your mood.
The expert’s take: “This snack is made with nourishing ingredients like peanut butter and cocoa. And while many protein snacks double as a sugar bomb, these only contain 3 grams of sugar per ball. Using date syrup helps make these snacks a good choice, as this sweetener is considered to be a lower glycemic option vs. table sugar, potentially helping prevent blood sugar spikes. With no preservatives and nothing artificial, these snacks are a good-for-you option that packs a punch in the nutrition department,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “Nothing super-crazy is happening texturally here. The bites have the texture of a chewy fig bar, and they are perfectly portioned,” says Tarantino.
There’s no gelatin, glucose syrup, or artificial ingredients here. These organic gummies contain only two ingredients—mango and vitamin—for a simply sweet whole-food-based snack.
The expert’s take: “These snacks are made with natural mango that is naturally sweet—eliminating the need to add any sugar to this snack. The individual snack size bags make them easy to enjoy on the go and even pack in a child’s lunch box. And since they are made with only two ingredients, nobody has to question what they are putting into their body,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “If you’re a mango fan, you’re going to love this snack because it tastes of pure mango. Unlike dried mango strips that are a bit hard and fibrous, Solely’s bites are tender with a light chew that will help slow you down so you don’t down the entire pouch in one handful (which is very possible based on how tasty they are!),” says Tarantino.
Gone are the days of deep-fried potatoes. Say hello to the best innovation in crunchy snacking: Bada Bean Bada Boom. These crunchy bean snacks are made from whole broad beans that are baked and then dusted with a crispy layer of flavor-packed seasoning.
The expert’s take: “Everything but the bagel seasoning goes well on just about everything—including fava beans! Having a snack that is packed with plant-based protein, natural fiber, and antioxidants is important when trying to tackle hunger. And with the satisfying taste of everything but the bagel seasoning included in this snack, noshing on them can make snack time both enjoyable and nourishing,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “To me, nothing is as satisfying as a crunchy snack, and these broad beans certainly fit the bill. While they’re not a perfect dupe of your favorite bagel, notes of garlic and onion do come through for an umami-rich bite. The bag may be small and the calories low, but your stomach will be full and happy once you’ve polished it off (thanks to it being a great source of protein and fiber),” says Tarantino.
This is going to be your new favorite flaming hot cheese snack! These cheese crisps are made of 100% baked cheddar cheese and simply seasoned with a blend of spices reminiscent of everyone’s go-to bar food: buffalo wings.
The expert’s take: “Hot and spicy usually also means fried when it comes to snacks. But Whisps’ Hot & Spicy cheese crisps, baked with 100% cheddar and spices, have 9 grams of protein and only 2 grams of carbs per serving, making these a craveable yet healthy snack,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “Whisps are a cheese snack that knows how to balance crispy and buttery. These cheddar cheese crisps don’t break into a million pieces upon first bite—there’s a solid amount of integrity that makes it easy to eat each crisp in two bites (but you probably won’t have to be concerned with that after finishing your first one). This high-protein, low-carb snack is tangy, yet packs a little less heat than I expected. Alas, it makes polishing off the entire bag much more enjoyable than eating through it with your mouth feeling like it’s on fire,” says Tarantino.
Biltong is like jerky—but better. Specifically, biltong is a process for preserving meat by air drying that uses no sugar, MSG, gluten, nitrates, or preservatives.
The expert’s take: “Meat snacks can make for a great choice for people who are focused on eating protein-rich snacks without a ton of carbs. But unfortunately, many options can be loaded with nitrates and nitrites—ingredients that have been linked to some unsavory health outcomes. This biltong uses vinegar as a preservative instead of what we commonly see used in jerkys and other meat snacks, making this option a safer choice when supporting your overall health,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “The meat is thinly sliced, making it mouth-meltingly tender but also somewhat crispy (in a good way). The peppered bag should be a go-to for anyone looking for a solid protein snack, but it might be lacking for those in search of a flavor bomb,” says Tarantino.
CORE Bars need to be refrigerated because they’re made with real food (not preservatives). This bar contains prebiotics and probiotics for an all-in-one gut health solution that supports healthy digestion and a satisfied stomach, thanks to 6 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per bar.
The expert’s take: “Enjoying these bars makes it simple to support gut health, thanks to the prebiotics and probiotics they contain. And thanks to the addition of ingredients like roasted peanuts and chia seeds, these bars also contain a boost of healthy fats that our bodies need to function properly. These bars are a great solution for busy people who tend to skip probiotic-rich foods like yogurts, kefir, and other fermented foods,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “If your favorite candy as a kid was an Almond Joy, man do I have the snack for you. This is like a grown-up version of the classic coconut candy that isn’t cloyingly sweet. Unlike other meal replacement bars that either fall apart after one bite or take forever to chew because they’re mostly dried fruit, CORE Bars strike the perfect balance of bite-worthy texture and incredible flavor,” says Tarantino.
These aren’t your average chocolate-covered nuts. Somehow, Skinny Dipped has figured out a way to delicately coat these cashews with a thin, velvety layer of rich chocolate that tastes like the finest truffle you’ve ever had.
The expert’s take: “I love how these snacks contain plant-based protein to help promote satiety. And these Skinny Dipped snacks have just enough chocolate to satisfy cravings without going overboard. Dark chocolate is a natural source of antioxidants and contains important minerals like magnesium and copper. So, enjoying these sweet treats also gives your body some important nutrition,” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “These cashews have a chocolatey taste that rivals any high-end chocolate you’ve been gifted for Valentine’s Day. They’re perfectly crunchy, slightly salty, and sweet enough to satisfy any sugar cravings,” says Tarantino.
Toodaloo brought trail mix into the 21st century. This nut and seed blend is made with healing, adaptogenic herbs and real superfoods like roasted chickpeas, nuts, and seeds.
The expert’s take: “Some nut mixes can be packed with ingredients like sugar and unhealthy oils, but this mix contains no added sugars and is loaded with natural flavors like lemon peel and chiles. Plus, the adaptogenic ingredients are an added bonus to help people keep their ‘chill’—and who doesn’t need that these days?” says Manaker.
Our tasting notes: “Goodbye my sweet, sweet BBQ potato chips! This trail mix boasts the same addictive flavors of my favorite bag of chips but with an incredible textural complexity thanks to a blend of five different nuts, seeds, and legumes. I literally eat these by the handful,” says Tarantino.
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