How are probiotics good for us? Let me count the ways!
Well, they're almost too numerous to count, but we'll get to that in a little bit.
Many people opt to take a dietary supplement, but the best sources of probiotics are in healthy foods, and they're really not all that difficult to find. We'll take a look at some of the best sources of natural probiotics.
Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria
The GI tract and skin are both organs of detoxification. There needs to be a healthy microbiome in the gut to break down food, absorb nutrients, and eliminate toxins. There are actually good bacteria that live in your digestive system, and studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria is linked to overall health or disease. When things are out of balance, there are too many bad bacteria, and not enough good. A variety of things can contribute to this imbalance like illness, medications like antibiotics, poor diet, and more. This can lead to digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity, and chronic inflammation, which is a cause of acne and several other skin problems.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements. They're the good bacteria. Probiotics help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked with many health benefits. They restore the balance again. There is a list of probiotic benefits that runs about a mile long, and they have far-reaching benefits all over our body, not just in our digestive tracts. That's because so much of our body's defense system against inflammation, infection, and other problems begins with the gut. If you have an unhealthy gut, problems will certainly follow.
Where's the Best Place to Find Probiotics?
You can find probiotics in fermented foods; foods that benefit from having a live bacteria culture present. Taking a probiotic supplement is not the same as eating these foods, as fermented foods offer health benefits you don't necessarily get from probiotic supplements.
The fermented foods seed your gut with a variety of bacteria species, but a probiotic supplement has a very limited number of the species. While companies that make these supplements try to use the bacteria species believed to be most beneficial, that's not the whole picture. There's a ton that we don't know about probiotics, so we have no way of knowing if the supplements out on the market really contain the "best" ones.
Research shows that you need between one hundred million and one billion bacteria per serving of food to take advantage of the health benefits. In general, fermented foods do offer this quantity of bacteria per serving, usually more. However, Consumer Lab conducted an independent assessment of a variety of probiotic supplements, finding not all probiotic supplements contain the quantity of organisms listed. In addition, when products sit on the shelf, some of the bacteria can die over time.
A huge benefit of fermented foods over a supplement is that these foods contain non-digestible carbohydrates which serve as "prebiotic," meaning they feed and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. That gives the good bacteria the nutritional support they need to thrive.
In What Foods Can You Find Probiotics?
So just where can you find these cultures of bacteria? The answer is almost anywhere you look. They're not difficult, though some of them may take some getting used to!
Chances are, you've probably heard of the benefits of probiotics in yogurt. It's no lie! Watch out, though. There is a large variation on the quality of yogurts on the market today. Not all yogurt contains live probiotics, even if they used live cultures to make it. Be sure the label reads "active cultures" or "live cultures." You're also better off choosing organic, grass-fed, and read the label, watching out for high amounts of added sugar.
Kefir is an even more potent source of probiotics than yogurt. It contains anywhere from 10 to 34 major strains of friendly bacteria and yeast, making it a potent and diverse probiotic. It's been consumed for over 3,000 years, and the term 'kefir' originated in Russia and Turkey and means "feeling good." It's a fermented milk drink made by adding kefir grains to cow's or goat's milk. If you're avoiding cereal grains, have no fear. Kefir grains aren't cereal grains, but cultures of lactic acid bacteria and yeast.
Pork and sauerkraut is a New Year's staple in some areas of the country, but you've probably never considered where it comes from. It's finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. Not only is it full of probiotics, it's rich in fiber, as well as vitamins C, B, and K. Pasteurization kills the live and active bacteria, so be sure to choose unpasteurized sauerkraut when shopping.
Kimchi is sauerkraut's cousin and comes from Korea. Cabbage is usually the main ingredient, but it's made with other vegetables too. It's flavored with seasonings like garlic, ginger, chili pepper flakes, and scallion. It can give a flavor kick to most foods. Mix it with brown rice, or eat it by itself. It contains Lactobacillus kimchii, as well as other lactic acid bacteria, and is high in vitamins and minerals like vitamin K, B12, and iron.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean protein product with a flavor described as nutty, earthy, or similar to a mushroom. The fermentation process lowers the amount of phytic acid typically found in soy, so that your body can absorb more minerals. The fermentation also adds vitamin B12. Try adding it to stir-fries with veggies and healthy grains like brown rice.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning in the form of a paste. It's typically made by fermenting soybean, barley, or brown rice with a fungus called koji. It's commonly used to make miso soup and is a good source of protein and fiber, and is high in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds.
The culture is known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It's been around for over 2,000 years and provides digestive support, increased energy, and liver detoxification.
Pickled cucumbers brined in salt water use their own naturally present lactic acid bacteria, making them sour. They are low in calories and are a great source of healthy probiotic bacteria, which can improve digestive health, though they tend to be high in sodium. They're best when coming from a smaller food manufacturer that uses organic products. It's important to note that cucumbers made with vinegar do not contain live probiotics. While there are some sources of reliable probiotic supplements, getting them the natural way is the best thing you can do for your body. That way, you're sure to get the variety of healthy, live cultures that you need. It's fun to experiment with trying different tastes and foods. Especially if it means your giving your body exactly what it needs to help it work efficiently, fight infection, and eliminate inflammation.