A new dairy-free probiotic drink claims to help digestive health in just 14 days. Editor Anna Magee – whose bloat always got worse after eating certain foods – put it to the ultimate test
Type ‘bloating’ into Google and you’ll get a staggering 50 million hits. In fact, a quick quiz around the women in my office asking ‘What bloats you?’ revealed the replies:
‘Broccoli, lentils, cauliflower…’
‘Carbs – all carbs – especially bread, rice and pasta.’
When I pushed on what other digestive symptoms they suffered at the hands of these innocuous sounding foods, I got more:
‘Wind, stomach aches – actually, I sleep with a hot water bottle whenever I eat a big meal because my gut can feel so uncomfortable.’
I know what they mean. While I wouldn’t classify myself as one of the 15 per cent of Brits that have full-blown Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the symptoms of which also include constipation, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps after eating, I do get bloated, sometimes crampy, after eating certain foods.
Bread, almost always. And despite loving them, lentils, beans and pulses are always tricky. For someone trying to cut back on meat, that’s a problem.
Then there were chick peas. Forget about chick peas. I absolutely love nothing more than a huge lunch of chickpeas, rocket, mixed seeds and a pesto vinigarette. But did it love me? Not a chance. Like clockwork, by 3pm I would be bloated, uncomfortable and dare I say it, kind of wind-y.
The bloated facts
My colleagues and I are not alone – in fact, we’re a nation of bloated, cramping, wind-sufferers and according to the NHS, some 40 per cent of consumers suffer from at least one digestive symptom.
What’s more, almost 70 per cent of us see gut health as essential to our overall health.
As a fully paid up member of the probiotic pill-popping brigade, I’m definitely one of those and have been as conscious of my gut flora, my microbiome, my good bacteria – call it what you will – in the last few years as the next person. But nothing seemed to shift the bloating and cramps I got after eating.
70 per cent of us see gut health as essential to our overall health
Indeed, some gut experts had advised me before to opt for fermented food sources of healthy bacteria instead of pills, claiming they need to be in a food source to proliferate and grow.
But when it comes to dairy, I can’t even sniff the stuff without suffering symptoms, so pumping yoghurt or the trendy kefir fermented milk or even regular probiotic drinks into myself were not an option either.
Kombucha, another trendy fermented drink has a barley base but I haven’t yet found one that didn’t taste like drinking off cider. I do love fermented cabbage – sauerkraut – but how much of that can one woman eat?
So, when a new dairy-free probiotic drink called Biomel, that was also completely dairy-free, crossed my desk, and promised to help improve my gut health in 14 days, I was intrigued.
According to Biomel’s co-founders, Janett Lozano and Steven Hegarty, who manufacture the drinks in their state of the art production centre in West London, the 14-day test had worked on many of their test subjects who swore by the stuff.
So, I would try it myself for two weeks.
Then I would put it to the ultimate test – bread, chick peas and that other great bloater, ever-present in my life, stress.
Stress constricts the gut and takes energy away from digestion and sends it into the muscles, preparing your ‘fight or flight ‘response. Trouble is, most of us are sat at our desks and stressed out non-stop, so that response has nowhere to go, we don’t fight anything or flight anywhere, we just sit there frozen at our desks – or is that just me? Thus, stress affects our digestion, leaving us bloated and crampy.
Healthy bacteria that tasted like a dairy-free, low-sugar milkshake
I’ll be honest, I was excited by the idea of Biomel.
First of all, it’s totally dairy free and comes in flavours that are delectably tempting, such as Dark Chocolate, Natural Coconut, Pure Vanilla and Natural Almond.
Second, rather than having a base of milk, like virtually every other probiotic drink I had ever seen, its base is either coconut or almond milk, depending on the flavour you choose.
Third – and for me most important as so many probiotic drinks on the market are high in sugar – Biomel are all low in sugar.
In fact, even the sweetest flavour contained below the government guidelines for sugar, which is 5g per 100ml.
For example, Biomel’s dark chocolate and pure vanilla flavours contained 4.9g per 100ml (that’s compared to say, Actimel Strawberry flavour which contains 12.9g per 100ml.
Each 125ml bottle contains 1-2 billion live cultures – three different types, which experts tell me is essential
The natural coconut flavour contained only 1.5g sugar per 100ml, from the actual coconuts used and a little grape extracts.
Moreover, each bottle contains around 27-45 calories and 2g of fat.
Lastly, they tasted incredible. Like a milkshake; just sweet enough to feel like a treat in the middle of the afternoon without tasting sickly – and with nothing artificial.
Each 125ml bottle contains 1-2 billion live cultures – three different types, which experts tell me is essential. For the anoraks amongst you (and I know there are a lot) probiotic doses are measured as ‘colony-forming units’ or CFUs, and manufacturers have to test their products rigorously to ensure the cultures in them are not only live, but also present at the amounts they claim to be.
That’s because, a bit like a garden, you need to ingest a variety of live healthy bacteria and have it grow in your gut in order for it to have beneficial effects on your immune health and to help improve your digestion.
And it can take a remarkably short time to see a difference when it comes to improving your gut bacteria.
So, did it beat my bloat?
After about ten days of drinking Biomel religiously either first thing in the morning or around 4pm when I fancied a sweet treat, I was heartened by the fact that I simply wasn’t bloated after my standard lunches of veggie soups or salads, despite facing a typically stressful day.
But then, I hadn’t had my main trigger foods.
Two days after that, I did the chick pea test – an entire can of the delicious blighters, paired with my beloved rocket and pesto vinigarette and guess what? No bloating. Zip. Nada.
Two days later I even tried bread. Crude, white, gluten-filled bread and again, absolutely no wind and no bloating, afterwards.
Three weeks after starting my one-woman trial, and though it is still early days, I’ve been able to eat lentils, beans and yes, chickpeas and bread with abandon.
While I can’t say whether this is a permanent fix for my tummy or not, I can certainly report that I am sticking with my dairy-free 4pm sweet treat. With more benefits than a square of chocolate and nothing artificial or processed, it beats off cider any day.
Biomel is stocked everywhere – from national supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and more recently M&S, to health food shops such as Whole Foods and Planet Organic. You can also purchase bulk orders of the probiotic drinks on the brand’s website.
4 gut-friendly lifestyle changes to make for life
These tiny changes will help you build a healthier gut bacteria, says Healthista Nutritional Director Rick Hay.
1. Rethink your plate: Make each meal two-thirds plant foods (vegetables and/or fruits) and one third protein. Variety is key to a healthy microbiome, so aim for at least 30 different types of vegetables, herbs, and fruit per week.
2. Fast for 12 hours overnight: If you eat breakfast at 7am, eat dinner no later than 7pm. A study from the Salk Institute in California found mice restricted to eating in specific windows of time absorbed less calories from food and had more diversity of bacterial species.
3. Relax and chew properly: This stimulates acid and enzymes for digestion and the renewal of cells in the gut lining which you need to absorb nutrients from food and prevents a skewed microbiome.
4. Avoid snacking: Sticking to regular meals helps you tune into your ‘full’ and ‘hungry’ signals and avoid over eating.
For more information about Biomel, visit: biomel.life/