A version of this post was originally written for and published on MarthaStewart.com.
Probiotics help support many healthy functions in the body, including digestion and immunity. Skip the costly supplements and eat your bugs instead. These six foods will help you establish a strong ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut, helping you to fight off disease and feel your best.
Sauerkraut is more than just a traditional accompaniment to sausage and is finding its way to areas outside of Europe where it first got its notoriety. Besides being part of the cabbage family, a choice category of vegetables that helps prevent disease, sauerkraut takes it to the next level because it also contains beneficial probiotics that are a result of the lactic acid fermentation process involved in transforming the cabbage. These microorganisms play a role in digestion; and help to relieve gas and bloating.
Coconut Water Kefir is a suitable alternative for those who want to enjoy the health benefits of kefir yet wish to avoid dairy and the lactose. Kefir is typically made by fermenting milk and kefir grains, which are combination of yeast and bacteria. It is often referred to as a drinkable yogurt. The hospitable organisms that live in kefir and other fermented foods can help with nutrient absorption and prevent overgrowth of disease-causing bacteria. Not only does kefir provide adequate gut-boosting probiotics but it contains minerals like calcium and magnesium — important for bone health.
Miso, a paste made from fermented soybeans, is a staple in Japan often consumed in the form of soup. Cultured foods such as miso yield various organisms which contribute to building a strong and favorable microflora when eaten. Soybeans themselves could potentially cause digestive concerns for some individuals (gas and bloating), but many believe the fermentation process that produces miso renders them more digestible.
Kombucha is a uniquely prepared beverage made from a SCOBY (a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) combined with brewed tea and sugar — creating a fizzy, vinegar-like drink. So, is this trendy carbonated brew all it’s hyped up to be? There are various types of favorable bacteria that may be present in this tea-like concoction, and will vary depending on the manufacturing process, but this delicious effervescent tonic can both help to fortify the immune system while calming the tummy during distress. And, it’s a much healthier substitute for soda!
Pickled Vegetables are one of the most convenient foods to have on hand. They make a great add-on to just about everything! Most think of cucumbers when pickles are referenced, yet this general name can refer to any type of pickled vegetable — carrots, beets, peppers, anything! During fermentation, certain carbohydrates are broken down in the vegetables and the pickled creation becomes easier to stomach. When purchasing store bought pickles, source out products that have fully gone through the fermentation process rather than ones that have simply added the vegetable to a vinegar mixture in order to guarantee optimal bacteria benefits.
Yogurt is one of the most consumed “live” foods containing lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains of probiotics. Our digestive and urinary tracts contain lactobacillus organisms and during times of imbalance or illness, replenishing these helpful bugs by eating foods such as yogurt can help to rebalance the internal flora. In addition, foods which contain bifidobacterium may be helpful in combatting both diarrhea and constipation.
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I am a nutrition educator/consultant and not a physician. As such, I do not diagnose or treat disease, rather I support lifestyle balance and health with my work. Please understand that any information provided on the relationship between nutrition and health is not meant to replace competent medical treatment for any health problem or condition.