The benefits of probiotics are all over the media and in all types of conversations lately. “Take this supplement! Improve gut health!” So many taglines have been endorsing taking pills containing gut-benefiting bacteria to optimize health. Yes, the addition of probiotics to one’s diet may be helpful, but you can actually combine the benefits of probiotics with fiber and micronutrients in delicious whole foods.
So what are probiotics? Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that have proven benefits for gut health. Human digestive systems contain thousands of bacteria strains that help with digestion and immunity. Probiotics decrease the amount of “bad” bacteria in the intestines and replace it with “good” bacteria that is useful for the gut (1). Probiotics have been studied for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, several forms of diarrhea, Eczema, and allergy prevention (2).
Including probiotic-rich foods in your diet can provide similar benefits to supplements, while increasing your intake of highly nutritious foods at the same time. Below are examples of delicious ways to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your diet:
Kefir: This fermented dairy beverage contains several microorganism species, including Lactobacillus, noting it to be a beneficial natural probiotic source. Several studies have identified anti-carcinogenic effects and stimulation of the immune system from Kefir consumption (3). Combine plain Kefir with greens and a cup of fruit in a smoothie, for a nutrient-dense, gut-loving, on-the-go meal.
Kimchi: This Korean dish – consisting of fermented cabbage, carrots and radishes with spicy and sour flavors – contains fiber, Vitamin C, Beta-carotene and phytochemicals increased by the fermentation processing (4). One study noted Kimchi to have beneficial effects of lowering serum cholesterol in young healthy adults (5). Kimchi makes a great side dish or condiment – try it rolled up in collard greens along with tofu.
Poi: The taro plant is widely valued in Hawaiian culture, with poi often used as an infant cereal for its easy digestibility, suitability for allergies, and probiotic features (6). Poi is made from boiled taro root mashed with water to create a paste that self-ferments from the yeast and lactic acid bacteria naturally found on the plant. Try making your own for an adventurous South Pacific compliment to roasted vegetables or fish.
Sauerkraut: This traditional European fermented cabbage provides Vitamin K, Vitamin C and Magnesium. A Chinese study noted several bacterial strains in sauerkraut that showed cholesterol lowering properties (7). Sauerkraut makes an excellent addition to cold and warm sandwiches.
Yogurt: Yogurt is likely the best known probiotic food consumed by people worldwide. Probiotic-rich yogurt comes from live cultured dairy naturally containing Lactobacillus strains. A fairly recent double-blind placebo study noted that Type 2 Diabetic patients who consumed 300 grams of probiotic yogurt each day for six weeks found improvement in fasting blood glucose and antioxidant status (8). Be sure to buy unsweetened yogurt for your probiotic fix.
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4. Cheigh HS, Park KY. Biochemical, microbiological and nutritional aspects of kimchi (korean fermented vegetable products). Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1995;34:175–203.
5. Choi IH, Noh JS, Han JS, Kim HJ, Han ES, Song YO. Kimchi, a fermented vegetable, improve serum lipid profiles in healthy young aduls: randomized clinical trial. J Med Food 2013; 16(3): 223-9
6. Brown AC, Valiere A. The medicinal uses of poi. Nutr Clin Care 2004; 7(2): 69-74.
7. Ejtahed HS, Mohtadi-Nia J, Homayouni-Rad A, Niafar M, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Mofid V. Probiotic yogurt improves antioxidant status in type 2 diabetic patients. Nutrition 2012;28: 539-543
8. Yu Z, Zhang X, Li S, Li C, Li D, Yang Z. Evaluation of probiotic properties of lactobacillus plantarum strains isolated from Chinese sauerkraut. World J Microbiol Biotechnol 2013; 29:489-498