June 10, 2015

Put Probiotics on the Menu

By Editor

Probiotics and fermented foods contain good bacteria.

With the proliferation of antibacterial products, we’ve been taught to see bacteria as the enemy—but not all bacteria are bad. In fact, some bacteria are vital to a healthy digestive system. If you want to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, it’s important to include these “good” bacteria, also called probiotics.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria) that are beneficial to a host organism (you). The most common types of probiotics are lactic acid bacteria, bifidobacteria, yeasts, and bacilli. Probiotics are common in fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir. You may have noticed that yogurt labels often state that the yogurt contains live active cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus. This is a good thing.

The human digestive system contains a balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. Probiotics are similar to the “good” bacteria that occur naturally in the human digestive tract. Introducing probiotics into the digestive system helps to keep the “bad” bacteria from proliferating. Probiotics offer a variety of benefits:

  • Improve intestinal function
  • Help maintain a strong immune system
  • Reduce fat gain
  • Relieve constipation
  • Provide calcium
  • Reduce risk of high blood pressure
  • Reduce diarrhea

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics. These foods contain active bacterial cultures and carry a high nutritional value. To promote a healthy gut, you may want to consider adding some of the following foods to the menu:

  • Yogurt: Yogurt is one of the more common and widely accepted types of fermented food. Unfortunately, some yogurt is high in sugar and low in nutrition. For the best results, look for full-fat, unflavored yogurt that contains bifidus and acidophilus.
  • Kefir: Kefir is a fermented dairy product that resembles a drinkable yogurt. The thick, sour, creamy drink is an excellent addition to smoothies. Look for unsweetened kefir and instead, use fruit to sweeten the smoothie.
  • Miso: Miso is a fermented soy product. Miso paste can be used to make miso soup, salad dressings, and sauces. Most grocery stores carry miso paste—look for it in the Asian food section.
  • Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented tea that is becoming more popular and widely available. You can make your own or look for it in most grocery stores. The tea typically contains a gooey strand of culture called the “mother.” Don’t be deterred by this glob—the tea can be quite tasty. In fact, the fizzy drink serves as an excellent, healthy replacement for soda.
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi: Raw, fermented vegetables—also referred to as sauerkraut and/or kimchi—are loaded with vitamins that help boost the immune system. Most sauerkraut that you find in the grocery store is pasteurized, meaning that the active beneficial bacteria have been killed. Look for products that are labeled as having live, active bacteria. Or better yet, make your own. It’s simple and delicious.

Supplementing

If fermented foods aren’t your cup of (kombucha) tea, probiotics also come in supplement form. Look for products that are refrigerated and contain a variety of active bacteria strains. Probiotic supplements come in capsule, powder, and liquid form—and some people believe that the powdered supplements are the most potent and beneficial.

Probiotic supplements are not recommended for everyone. Check with your health care provider to determine whether they are right for you. Probiotics are never a good idea when you are taking antibiotics—think about it, you’ll just be flushing good money down the toilet, as antibiotics are designed to kill all bacteria, good and bad. Instead, wait until you have finished your course of antibiotics—and then consider using a probiotic to help rebuild the healthy bacteria in your gut.

 

 

Tags: Nutritional Know-How

CONDITIONS OF THE GI TRACT