Infants often experience diarrhea as they are weaned from breast milk. One reason could be infection with ETEC, a type of E. coli. ETEC is also a common cause of the intestinal disorders that many travelers experience.
Breast fed infants have some protection against infection because human milk contains long chain sugars that prevent ETEC from adhering to intestinal cells. New research suggests that, for adults, extracts of the fermented soybean product tempeh could have a similar effect. Like the carbohydrates in breast milk, bioactive compounds in soybeans that are released during the fermentation process block ETEC from adhering to intestinal cells.
This may help explain why feeding tempeh in place of toasted soybeans reduces diarrhea in weaned piglets. Other studies have shown that extracts of tempeh inhibit ETEC from adhering to human intestinal cells in laboratory studies. The tempeh extracts may form a coating on ETEC surface that reduces its ability to latch on to intestinal cells.
For travelers, eating tempeh may be one way to reduce risk for diarrhea associated with E. coli infection.
Roubos-van den Hil PJ, Schols HA, Nout MJ, Zwietering MH, Gruppen H. First Characterization of Bioactive Components in Soybean Tempe That Protect Human and Animal Intestinal Cells against Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) Infection. J Agric Food Chem 2010.