Ten years ago most probiotic-rich foods would have been described as ‘stinky delicacies’. Today, a growing interest in gut health has transformed these products into readily available culinary delights, offering many health benefits. Just look at the dairy case in any supermarket. Yogurt products take up a startling proportion of real estate, while good ol’ milk is relegated to just a sliver of the fridge.
And the probiotic craze isn’t going away anytime soon. Studies show that the gut microbiome is far more important than we ever imagined, offering protection against cold and flus, allergies, yeast infections, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, diarrhea, colon cancer and possibly weight gain . Gut flora also appears to interact with the central nervous system and impact mood, memory and cognition as well [1, 2].
What Do Probiotics Do?
By definition, probiotics are bacteria or yeast that are beneficial to us. They are often referred to as ‘good bacteria’ and have a number of functions in the human body :
Generate vitamins B1, B12, and K; folate; and biotin
Stop disease-causing bacteria from penetrating the gut wall
Make bile acids involved fat metabolism and cholesterol reduction
Produce anti-inflammatory compounds and;
Release mineral such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium from grains
Research suggests that the ideal microbial make-up varies from person-to-person, and is affected by diet, sleep, stress, infection, antibiotics and alcohol. As such, a steady supply of many different types of bacteria is your best bet for optimal health.
Best Sources Of Probiotics
Much of the hype around probiotics has been centered around supplements however they can also be found in several foods. Here are 5 delectable options that can help you get your daily dose of bacteria:
Yogurt is the most widely recognized source of probiotics, although some yogurts only contain a single strain of bacteria called acidophilus. Live cultures are responsible for transforming liquid milk into a semi-solid, protein rich form. Yogurt is a good host for bacteria because of it’s water content, short-shelf life, and storage temperature requirements. In addition to offering probiotics, yogurt is a great source of calcium, phosphorus, protein, and vitamin B12. Pick Greek yogurt over regular yogurt to stay fuller for longer. Note that yogurt labeled ‘heat treated after culturing’ contains few live cultures because they are killed by the heat.
Kefir another fermented milk product, with a tangy flavor and a creamy consistency similar to that of a milkshake. It originates in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe and is produced through the action of ‘kefir grains’; a multi-strain combination of bacteria and yeast. Kefir offers calcium, phosphorus, and protein, in addition to probiotics, and can be consumed as a healthy snack or even as a dessert. Kefir is well-tolerated by those with lactose intolerance because most of the lactose is broken down during the fermentation process.
Kombucha is fermented tea made with bacteria, tea, and sugar or fruit juice. It is an effervescent, refreshing drink usually produced through the action of one or two strains of bacteria and yeast. Although it is considered a source of probiotics, the number of bacteria present in kombucha is substantially lower than that in yogurt or kefir, and it lacks other nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and protein. With only 30–50 kcal per 1 cup serving, kombucha can be used as a healthier alternative to soda, or to complement other sources of probiotics in your eating plan. Kombucha comes in many delicious flavors including lavender, passionberry and ginger.
Sauerkraut And Kimchi.
Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented cabbage products with a sweet and sour taste. Both kimchi and sauerkraut take advantage of the naturally occurring bacteria on cabbage leaves to begin the fermentation process and as a result, each batch has a unique microbial make-up. Cabbage is rich in glucosinolates, which have been shown to clean-up inflammation and oxidative damage associated with cancer and other disease. The caveat to these cruciferous wonders is that sauerkraut and kimchi are also packed with salt, and need to be consumed in moderation if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or other medical issues.
Miso And Tempeh.
Miso and tempeh are both made from fermented soybeans. Miso is a seasoning made by combining soybeans with salt and a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. Tempeh is also made with a fungus, but is molded into a cake form and used as a meat substitute. Much like sauerkraut and kimchi, miso is loaded with sodium and needs to be consumed in moderation. A favorite in Indonesian culture, tempeh is packed with protein, and a good source of iron and calcium.
Fortify your immune system, brain, and digestive tract with a daily dose of bacteria. Long gone are the days of the ‘stinking delicacy’. The new wave of probiotics are fun, flavorful and incredibly good for you.
Check out this page for more info on probiotics and probiotic-rich recipes.
Originally published on orangechef.com.
 Exploring the influence of the gut microbiota and probiotics on health: a symposium report. Linda V. Thomas, Theo Ockhuizen, Kaori Suzuki. Br J Nutr. 2014 July; 112(Suppl 1): S1–S18.
 The gut microbiome and the brain. Galland L. J Med Food. 2014 Dec;17(12):1261–72.
 The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health.Conlon MA, Bird AR. Nutrients. 2014 Dec 24;7(1):17–44. Review.