You Have No More Excuses Not to Eat Soy Bars

It is a proven fact (by someone,
somewhere) that people will use any excuse to avoid eating something that might be good for them, particularly if it doesn't taste very good.

Soy, for instance, causes a range of intestinal discomforts, including bloating and flatulence. One could very well claim that consuming a granola bar rather than a soy bar is an act of altruism. (See: flatulence.)

But not anymore, thanks to Azlin Mustapha, a professor of food sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Over the past two years, Mustapha and her lab of graduate students have developed a soy bar that contains probiotics, which ease the pain of digestion.

"Probiotics are friendly bacteria that reside in the intestinal tract," Mustapha explains in a phone interview. "They have a postive effect on the gut of their host. They fight against undesirable pathogens and make the gut a good environments."

Studies have shown that probiotics have vanquished the evil salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Some are already available in commercial food products, including yogurt. Probiotics flourish in liquids. In order to do their work, they still need to be alive when they reach the large intestine. Mustapha and her team wanted to see if they could keep probiotics alive in dry food.

"We screened a number of probiotics and decided to use Lactobacillus acidophilus," Mustapha says. "That strain can reduce the level of sugars in the soy bar that are responsible for the undesirable symptoms."

Mustapha and her students purchased a number of soy bars at a Columbia supermarket and picked one to serve as the prototype. "I'm not going to say which one," she says. "We designed ours to look similar. None of the bars out there contain probiotics. Ours is the first."

In the lab, Mustapha encased the probiotics in liquid capsules and freeze-dried them. "They look like powder," Mustapha explains. "The probiotics are microscopic. You can't see them with the naked eye. We wondered if the capsule would give the soy bars an undesirable taste. Sometimes the capsules can taste gritty."

In a blind taste test of 50 human guinea pigs, none were able to dectect a difference in taste between a plain soy bar, one with the probiotic capsules and one with probiotics but no capsules.

Unfortunately, Mustapha has no plans to market her soy bars. "We did it for research," she says, "to show it is possible for a typical consumer to enjoy health-beneficial products -- like soy."

- Aimee Levitt

Photo: Courtesy of the University of Missouri

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