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Paul Cotter features in “Trust me, I’m a Doctor


What are fermented foods and which are best for improving our gut health?

This is one of the questions addressed in the first episode of the new series of  “Trust me, I’m a Doctor” which was broadcast on BBC2 TV at 8pm on Wednesday 1 February.

APC’s Paul Cotter who is Head of Food Biosciences at Teagasc contributes to this episode.

The “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” team investigate home-made and off-the-shelf fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and soft cheese. Dr Adele Costabile and her  team at Roehampton University analysed the samples and Dr Paul Cotter discusses the results on the programme.

Traditionally many different cultures have used the process of fermentation to preserve foods.  In India lassi was a common pre-dinner drink, Asian cultures enjoy pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips and eggplant, kefir originated in northern Caucasus Mountains  and sauerkraut is associated strongly with Germany.  Other fermented foods include yoghurts, cheeses, sour dough bread and chutneys.  However, as well as lasting longer, fermented foods often contain a variety of ‘good’ bacteria which, if they can survive the journey to our gut, can be beneficial for our health.

Paul Cotter’s group have previously used cutting-edge DNA analysis to characterise kefir, a putatively health-promoting dairy beverage that is produced when a kefir grain, consisting of a consortium of microorganisms, is added to milk to initiate a natural fermentation. They were able to determine how specific microbial populations dominate during different stages of the fermentation process and how the flavour of the fermented milk, which can have vinegar-, buttery- or fruity-flavours, is dictated by the genes encoded with these dominant species.  Metagenomic analysis of kefir milks also provided a vast amount of additional data relating to the microorganisms present, including interesting insights regarding the presence of genes considered important for probiotics and which may explain the long held view that kefir has health-promoting properties.

Another question addressed on the programme is “Can we alter the make-up of the microbes in our gut to improve our health?”  Over £700m is currently spent annually on probiotics in the UK.  The “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” team wished to know if this is money well spent.  They carried out a small feeding study in Inverness. Paul Cotter and Aaron Walsh at Teagasc contributed to the analysis.

And Michael Mosley  investigates whether diet or exercise is a more effective way to keep calories in check.

If you missed it catch up on BBC Player ((outside ROI)

Further information at  and on BBC news