Probiotics, which are often also referred to as good bacteria, are live microorganisms that are very similar to microorganisms which are found in the human gut. Everyone seems to be talking about probiotics today. A few short years ago they were seldom referred to by anyone other than naturopaths and medical doctors dealing with the intestinal systems. Probiotics hold a very interesting place in natural medicine today. Most of the information available on probiotics is really anecdotal and they are not well researched in very many scientific studies. The studies which have been done seem to show them to be very beneficial, when available in proper amounts, to human health.
TERMINOLOGY USED WITH PROBIOTICS
If you are not familiar with the term probiotics, and most people really are not, then it is good to examine the words used to describe these organisms.
MICROBIOME: A community or group of organisms living in the same environment.
BIFIDOBACTERIUM: A good bacteria and a common ingredient in probiotics.
LACTOBACILLUS: A type of good bacteria found in probiotics that help to break down foods and absorb their nutrients.
SACCHAROMYCES BOULARDI: A yeast found in probiotics which helps to improve the gut microbiome.
Don’t allow yourself to become confused by these terms but be familiar with them as you will find them on containers of probiotics that are available on the open market. There are many manufacturers who have probiotics on the market and they vary tremendously in quality, strength and efficacy. One indication of the quality of a probiotic product is the CFUs (colony forming units) available in each serving or dose. Most authorities suggest that you should have a probiotic that makes available at least one billion CFUs. When selecting a probiotic it is usually best to select a brand that is well-established, does its own scientific research and carries a solid product guarantee.
SOME FOODS CAN PROVIDE PROBIOTICS
There are some societies and cultures that have for centuries used foods that can provide probiotic benefits. Here are some common fermented and probiotic foods that have been used for generations. Not all fermented foods automatically carry probiotics. Do your research to ascertain what it is that you are buying.
1. Yogurt. Be wary because many yogurts on the market have been so heavily processed that the live probiotic microorganisms are no longer living in the product. Many popular yogurts also contain large amounts of sugars. Yogurt is one of the foods that has been used for thousands of years as a source of what we now call probiotics.
2. Kombucha. This is another product that has a long history of being used to promote good gut health. Once again, there are kombuchas that have live organisms and those that been so processed that they no longer live in the kombucha itself.
3. Kimchi. Cabbage and spices such as ginger and garlic have been fermented for generations by the Koreans to give them a finished product that is both tasty and potentially beneficial as a probiotic source.
4. Kefir. Here is another potential source of probiotics. Tasty as an addition to a smoothy or used on a good cracker kefir may be a good creamy option for many.
5. Cheeses. Try to get good “old-fashioned” cheeses that have not been over processed. Cheddar cheese, feta, and Gouda can provide live cultures. If you cook the cheese, as in a grilled cheese sandwich, the heat will kill the bacteria your system needs. Some labels on the better cheese sources will tell you about the probiotics that may be in the cheese.
6. Salami. Yes, traditional curing of salami uses fermentation to preserve the food and when prepared correctly it actually can provide your gut with wonderful probiotics!
7. Olives. Some olives are prepared with fermentation and good bacteria love to live on the olives. It might require more olives than you want to eat to get enough of a good bacteria.
Probiotic foods can aid in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Always check the label of any food for live probiotic cultures. Many foods marketed as probiotic foods do not technically contain live cultures that have proven health benefits.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO PROBIOTIC FOODS?
Yes, there are many supplements on the market that qualify as probiotics. Most of these type supplements actually are listed as foods and are not classified as pharmaceutical drugs. These supplements can often help you make desired changes in your gut microbiome without substantial diet changes. Most of these supplements have few or no calories and thus may add the CFUs you are searching for without the added body weight. Many probiotic foods require refrigeration, while most probiotic supplements do not. There are some steps you can take to assure that the probiotic you choose is the most valuable to your system. First, learn to read supplement labels. Remember that food labels (most supplements) are totally different from pharmaceutical drug labels. Cheaper quality and price often go together. The higher the available CFUs in a product the more valuable it will probably be to your system, this may also mean that the price will be a little higher. In most cases stay away from products that give the bare minimum recommended CFUs. Research the company named on your product. Do they formulate their own products? Do they have a true research laboratory? Are they brand new or do they have a history behind them? Finally, what kind of guarantee do they give for their products? Having a healthy digestive system can be beneficial for your entire body. Probiotics can often support the digestive system.
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