published Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Side Orders: Probiotics good for health

For years we've been hearing the benefits that yogurt has on the digestive system. But health experts have found that the probiotics found in yogurt have other healthy benefits, too.

"Not only is yogurt an excellent source of calcium and protein, but it can protect us with probiotics, which are live and active cultures that aid in digestion and can boost our immunity by fending off harmful bacteria," says registered dietitian Laura Marbury, nutrition affairs program manager for the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association's Tennessee and Kentucky divisions.

But it goes beyond boosting immunity. According to medicalnewstoday.com:

• Researchers at UCLA found that brain function improved among healthy women who regularly consumed probiotic-containing yogurt.

• Research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in 2012 showed that probiotics help reduce blood levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

• Scientists at University College Cork in Ireland reported that probiotics may also have benefits for patients with psoriasis and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Marbury adds that a study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted that regular consumption of probiotics can also shorten the common cold by two days and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Probiotics are also found in:

• Kefir

• Aged cheeses

• Kimchi

• Sauerkraut

• Miso

• Tempeh

• Some soy beverages

If you eat yogurt on a regular basis, though, you know how expensive some brands can be for the little amount you get in those small individual containers. Yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt, runs more than $1 per cup and, if eaten on a daily basis, that adds up. So lately I've been making my own with substantial savings. But first, I needed a yogurt maker.

There are several brands out there. Mine is made by VitaClay and costs around $35 at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Use one of the store's frequent 20 percent off coupons and you can get it for under $30. It's the most-affordable yogurt maker out there.

The ingredients for yogurt are few: Milk and plain, unflavored Greek or regular yogurt, plus honey, jam, preserves or fresh fruit if you want to sweeten it. Heat the milk on the stove top to 180 degrees, then cool it to 110 degrees, add a few tablespoons of the yogurt, put it in the yogurt maker and let it cook for 8 hours. When the cooking is finished, you have yogurt.

Adding another step, putting it in cheesecloth and allowing the liquid whey to drain off results in a nice, thick Greek yogurt, which has twice the protein of traditional yogurt. And the taste, when some of summer's fresh fruits such as peaches, blueberries, strawberries or blackberries are mixed in, is amazing.

And one more benefit ... you know exactly what went into making it. No added ingredients. Use whatever strength of milk you want. I use 1 percent.

My total expense runs under $4, and I have enough yogurt to last for a solid week. Buying it premade in the store more than doubles that amount.

Whether you make your own yogurt or buy it already made, here's a delicious way to make it into a meal. It's a new recipe from seriouseats.com that will also help use up the zucchini that may be overloading your garden this summer, too.

Zucchini-Goat Cheese Tart

Crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut in 1/4 inch dice

2 tablespoons ice water

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Topping

2/3 cup goat cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon milk

1 zucchini, cut into paper-thin slices (preferably with a mandolin)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or other good-quality sea salt)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

To make the crust, place flour, butter, yogurt and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until butter is in pea-sized pieces, about 10 pulses. Add ice water and pulse until flour is incorporated and dough comes together in a ball, about 1 minute. Cover dough in plastic wrap and let chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into approximately an 8-by-11-inch rectangle. Note: This tart is meant to be rustic, not perfectly shaped.

Sprinkle dough with sesame seeds and lightly roll with rolling pin to embed seeds into crust.

Place dough on a baking sheet. Prick dough all over with a fork. Cover dough with another piece of parchment paper and line with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove pie weights and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine goat cheese and milk. Whisk until goat cheese has a creamy consistency. Spread goat cheese evenly over crust. Lay zucchini over goat cheese, overlapping slightly, until completely covering crust. Sprinkle with thyme and fleur de sel. Drizzle with olive oil right before serving.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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