Think bacteria’s a bad thing? Sometimes it is, but not always. More than 500 species of bacteria live in your digestive system. Some are friendly, some are not. Your gut likes balance, and researchers believe that some digestive problems, including diarrhea and intestinal infections, are caused when the unfriendlies get out of line. You know what comes next.
Probiotics are microorganisms, including yeast and strains of bacteria, thought to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. They’re believed to keep the linings of the intestines healthy and assist in the breakdown of food. And some welcome news: probiotics may ease digestion problems, including diarrhea and inflammation of the intestines.
Probiotics may also boost immune function and treat some forms of eczema.
You’ll find probiotics in a variety of exotic and common foods, including:
The most common source of probiotics, yogurt contains several forms of beneficial bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, which maintain a good balance in your gut, and may help lactose intolerance. Look for products labelled with “live and active cultures”.
Often associated with German cuisine, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and a good source of leuconostoc and lactobacillus. They’re both friendlies that might ease digestion problems. What’s more, sauerkraut is loaded with vitamins that boost the immune system and may fight off infections. But remember to buy unpasteurized sauerkraut, as its pasteurized cousin lacks the friendly bacteria.
Ever wondered why rates of obesity are so low in Japan? They eat a low calorie breakfast for one thing, in which you’ll often find miso soup. This tasty treat is a fermented soybean paste that reportedly has more than 160 strains of bacteria and further supplemented with B vitamins and antioxidants.
Not all probiotics can survive the arduous journey through your digestive system. Fortunately, the lactobacillus found in some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, can make the journey. And cheese carries other probiotics that may help the immune system.
An ancient milk that’s fermented into a bubbly beverage, kefir is thick and creamy like yogurt, and a great source of probiotic bacteria and yeast.
An easy way to put probiotics in your stomach is to do it with acidophilus milk. This is milk that’s been fermented with lactobacillus acidophilus. You might find it labelled “sweet acidophilus milk”. Or you can just drink buttermilk – another great source of probiotics.
Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is an Indonesian patty that produces a natural antibiotic to fight unfriendly bacteria. Tempeh is loaded with protein and can be marinated and substitute for meat.
Probiotic Supplements – You can get probiotic supplements either as a capsule, tablet, powder or liquid. Supplements don’t offer the same nutritional benefits as food sources, but they’re quick and easy, and may treat digestion problems regardless. But talk to your doctor first. Probiotic supplements are not recommended for people with acute illness or problems of the immune system.