According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive disorders.
In addition, digestive disorders cost the U.S. over $100 billion per year. These statistics are important because your digestive health affects every other system in your body. Optimal digestive health begins in the gut and involves balancing out the good and bad bacteria in your gut. One important way to do this is to consume probiotic-rich foods and/or probiotic supplements.
What is a probiotic? The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host”. Probiotics are bacteria that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. There are actually 10 times as many probiotics in your gut than cells in your body!
Your gut contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria. Digestive experts agree that the balance in your gut should be approximately 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad bacteria.
If you don’t have enough good bacteria (probiotics) in your body, the side effects can include digestive disorders, skin issues, candida, autoimmune disease
, and frequent colds and flus. Some of the things that can kill off good probiotics in your body are toxins and stressors such as prescription antibiotics and medications, chronic emotional stress, genetically modified foods, chemical exposure, and refined sugar.
Adding more probiotic foods into your diet provides the following benefits:
- Stronger immune system
- Improved digestion
- Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
- Better breath because probiotics destroy candida
- Healthier skin, since probiotics naturally treat eczema and psoriasis
- Reduced cold and flu
- Healing from leaky gut syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
- Prevents and treats urinary tract infections
Below are 6 probiotic foods to improve gut health:
- Kefir – is a fermented dairy product. It is similar to yogurt but because it is fermented with yeast and more bacteria, it contains more probiotics. It is thicker than milk and thinner than yogurt and can be used in smoothies, cereal, or quiches. Coconut kefir is the dairy free option, but it is not quite as high in beneficial probiotics.
- Fermented vegetables – the most popular are sauerkraut and kimchi. Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables. It is high in organic acids that support the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Kimchi is very similar to sauerkraut, but is spicier and is primarily made with Chinese cabbage and other veggies and spices, such as red pepper flakes, radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, onion, sea salt and fish sauce. Both products are found in the refrigerated section of stores as they contain live bacteria.
- Natto - is fermented soybeans which contains the extremely powerful probiotic bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health, and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto can also contain vitamin B12 and is one of the best plant-based sources of protein.
- Yogurt - is made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep that has been fermented with “live cultures”. Yogurt is one of the most beneficial probiotic foods if it comes from raw, grass-fed animals. When buying yogurt, it is recommended to look for four things: 1) that it is low in sugar; 2) that it is grass-fed; 3) that is not pasteurized after manufacture; and 4) that it is organic. Make sure the yogurt says “live cultures” on the label or lists the names of the bacteria species.
- Miso – is made from fermented soybeans, rice or barley. It comes in a yellow, white, or red and is a paste with a buttery, salty taste. It is used primarily in soups and stews, but can also be used in salad dressings, as a seasoning to replace salt or soy sauce, or whipped with butter to serve over vegetables. Miso cannot be heated above 120° or the beneficial microorganisms will be destroyed.
- Kombucha - is an effervescent fermentation of green or black tea and its primarily health benefits include digestive support, increased energy and liver detoxification. It comes in many different flavors and is a healthy alternative to soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
There are different strains of probiotics. The probiotic benefits experienced with one probiotic strain may be completely different from the health benefits seen from another probiotic. Certain strains of probiotics support immunity, others digestion, and some even help burn fat and balance hormones. You can consume a wide range of probiotics by eating probiotic rich foods. Or, if you want to use probiotics to help with a specific health concern, it’s important to select the right probiotic supplement for the right condition. Probiotic supplements are sold in the refrigerated case at the natural food stores to preserve their potency. The key to buying the best supplement is to read the labels. Here are the most important things to look for when choosing a probiotic supplement:
- High Colony Forming Unit (CFU) count - Purchase a probiotic brand that has a high number of probiotics, from 15 billion to 100 billion.
- Strain diversity - Search for a probiotic supplement that has 10–30 different strains.
- Date - The fresher the better since probiotics contain living organisms.
- Living vs. dead – Probiotics that have “live and active cultures” are better than those that are “made with active cultures.”
It is important to note that probiotic foods and supplements are safe for most people, but some people with immune system problems or other serious health conditions should not take them. It is best to talk to your doctor first to make sure they are recommended for you. Also, the possible side effects with probiotic foods or supplements are that they may cause diarrhea, bloating, or gas if you take too much too fast. It is best to start off with a small amount like one tablespoon of Kefir, a few sips of Kombucha, or one probiotic capsule a day, to see how your body tolerates them, and work your way up.
In conclusion, you have the power to control the diversity and balance of beneficial bacteria in your body with the foods you choose to eat. A diet that includes lots of fiber-rich vegetables, along with probiotic-rich foods, will support and enhance the good bacteria and keep your gut healthy. Also consider eliminating toxins, excess stress, antibiotics, processed foods, omega-6 oils, and sugar to preserve the good bacteria you have. If you have additional questions or need recommendations contact a nutritionist.
Article by: Lynn Tandler, Nutrition Consultant
Cherry Creek Wellness Center – Wheat Ridge
303.333.3493 ext. 2