You don’t have to be a health nut to enjoy the benefits gained from eating probiotic foods. The world is full of bacteria, some good, some bad. Probiotics are the helping bacteria. Most of them live in the intestinal tract where they absorb nutrients from the food and beverages you consume.
Probiotics are also known to fight infection and bolster the body’s natural immune system, which stops diseases before they start. In fact, the medical community today endorse probiotics not only to promote gut health but that of the whole body.
There are as many gut bacterial organisms as cells in the body. If bad bacteria take over the lining of the gut, small wonder that other parts of the body become unwell from the biochemical imbalance.
Not getting enough probiotics can produce serious medical conditions, including:
- Digestive disorders
- Skin issues
- Candida (yeast infection)
- Autoimmune disease
- Frequent colds and flus
This is where probiotics step in, to counteract the bad bacteria throughout the entire body, but mostly in the digestive system.
People who swear by the health benefits of probiotics say it has helped with:
- Stronger immune system
- Improved digestion
- Increased energy from vitamin B12 production
- Better breath because probiotics destroy candida
- Healthier skin, since probiotics improve eczema and psoriasis
- Reduced cold and flu
- Healing from leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease
- Weight loss
Up until very recently in human history, fresh foods grown in soil rich with life-giving micro-organisms and then fermented to prevent spoilage gave us all the probiotics we needed for a healthy gut micro-ecology.
But with the advent of refrigeration as a food preservative and harmful agricultural practices such as soaking foods in chlorine, the probiotic count in modern food is next to nothing – or, in some cases, nothing.
In fact, most foods commercially grown today contain antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies. This is the opposite direction from where we want to go with our bodies and our health.
Probiotics may be taken as a supplement, available online or in a vitamin shop, but getting nutrients from food sources is generally preferable to resorting to pills or shakes. Still, taking a supplement is far better than doing nothing to improve the condition of your gut -which is really a biological environment, teaming with living micro-organisms.
Below are seven types of do-good bacteria available to improve your intestinal fortitude. Each one provides a different health benefit:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgarius
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus subtilis
Whether you take supplements or eat a high-probiotic diet – or both – health experts advise mixing up the probiotics you ingest and eating a variety to gain all the benefits all the seven different probiotics offer.
It turns out that fermented foods are a natural source for probiotics. Fermentation is a chemical process whereby molecules such as glucose (blood sugar) are broken down anaerobically (in an environment with no air).
Probiotics already live in the food before it is fermented. But the process of fermentation causes them to multiply. More is better.
By contrast, pasteurization has the opposite effect: it kills bacteria indiscriminately, both good and bad. Consuming large quantities of highly pasteurized foods and beverages (dairy products, for the most part) can lead to a gut imbalance favoring the antibiotics produced when native probiotic counts go down.
Below are the Top 5 high-probiotic foods that are easy to find and won’t break your bank account:
I was introduced to kefir many moons in the past. It is thick and creamy fermented milk product, basically a drinkable yogurt – but yogurt on steroids, as it were. It comes plain or flavored, usually with fruit. The taste is tangy and tart, slightly acidic.
Depending on the brand, the probiotic content can range between 10 to 34 different strains. Kefir is a staple in Asia and the Middle East, having its roots in Russia and Turkey.
Yogurt is probably the best known probiotic food on the market. Live cultured yogurt or Greek yogurt made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep have especially high probiotic contents but any yogurt made from unpasteurized milk of grass-fed animals should be considered pro-gut.
Plain, unsweetened, unflavored yogurt is sour-tasting. Some people love it, others (like me), not so much. But there is no question that yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. It is made from fermented milk and is laced with gut-friendly living organisms, notably lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
Does your family have a secret sauerkraut recipe? Take some finely shredded fresh cabbage, add some salt to a water bath, seal the cabbage so no air can get in, and let fermentation happen. Fermented cabbage also promotes eye health with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin it provides.
The lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut makes it taste sour and the salt makes it taste (wait for it) salty. Once prepared, it can be stored in an airtight container for months. If you buy from a store or online, select unpasteurized sauerkraut.
Miso (MEE-so) is fermented soybean paste and is quite popular for breakfast in Japan. High in protein and low in calories, it can be cubed and baked, broiled, grilled, put in salads, or made into soup.
Miso is a favorite of vegans and vegetarians. It is high in B vitamins and protective antioxidants.
The probiotic content of sourdough bread is thought to aid digestion. Sourdough bread is fermented from a starter culture. The origin of this bacterial culture, in terms of climate and native micro-organisms found in the air, water, and soil, dictates the flavor and aesthetic appeal of the finished loaf.
San Francisco, California and St. Louis, Missouri, bake some of the best-tasting and nutritious sourdough bread products available in the U.S.
There are so many great and natural probiotic foods in the world that I couldn’t possibly list them all so do your own research. Figure out which probiotic sources appeal to your palette and incorporate those gradually, over time. Each time you shop for food, try a new food.
Hey, you might like it – and your gut certainly will!