A Beginner’s Guide to Probiotics

Probiotics have been all the rage recently, and there is good reason for this too. For those of you who are new to the world of probiotics, this beginner’s guide will tell you all that you need to know.

 

 

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are often referred to as good bacteria, and they live within your digestive tract, regulating digestion, supporting the immune system and doing so much more.

However, your gut also contains bad bacteria, and when these outnumber the good bacteria, you may experience some of these problems:

  • Digestive disturbances, such as gas, diarrhea and IBD
  • Skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis and eczema
  • Mood swings, excess stress and depression
  • A weak immune system, meaning that you easily fall ill
  • Allergies and asthma

Your gut flora should ideally contain 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria, and, even if you do not suffer from any of the above-mentioned issues, probiotics could still benefit you in a number of ways:

  • Improving digestion, allowing your body to absorb more nutrients
  • Improving immune function, protecting you from illnesses and infections
  • Giving an overall boost to your complexion and skin
  • Aiding in weight loss
  • Increasing energy
  • Reducing lactose intolerance

 

Types of Probiotics 

There are thousands of strains of probiotics out there, and each one will support a different aspect of your health. If you are seeking a general overall boost to your health, try to consume a wide variety of strains, as this will help to cover just about everything.

If you have a specific health problem you are trying to treat, there are particular probiotic strains that would be especially beneficial to you.

  • Immunity and Infections – Lactobacillus casei
  • Gas, bloating and lactose intolerance – Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Liver function and inflammation – Bifidobacterium longum
  • Neutralize toxins – Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Arthritis and Inflammation – Bacillus coagulans

You’re likely thinking…

“Those words don’t make much sense!”

Fortunately, unless you are looking to treat a specific condition, you do not need to worry too much about the various probiotic strains out there. By consuming a wide range of probiotics, you will more than likely be covered.

woman eating probiotics

 

Why Have Probiotics Become So Trendy? 

Historically, people used to have plenty of probiotics in their diet, as they would eat fresh foods, that had been grown on quality soil. Fermenting foods, in order to preserve them, was also commonplace, with the fermentation process itself creating a wide range of good bacteria.

Today, life is quite different…

The food that you eat has likely been soaked in chlorine and then processed and refrigerated, removing any probiotics. Lower quality soil also has a huge impact on this, as do the antibiotics that many foods contain, as these actually kill off any good bacteria that is already in your gut.

 

Who Should Avoid Probiotics? 

Probiotics will generally benefit just about everyone, but there are a couple of conditions that can actually be worsened by probiotics.

If you suffer from short bowel syndrome or immunodeficiency, it would be wise to speak to your doctor before beginning your probiotic journey.

 

How to Increase Your Intake of Probiotics

Now that you understand the importance of probiotics, you can begin to take a look at the many ways in which you can increase your intake of probiotics. Consuming more probiotic-rich foods is the best way to do this, and there are many options out there.

 

Milk Kefir 

Milk kefir is similar to yoghurt, although with a thinner texture, and has been consumed for over 3000 years. Just like yoghurt, kefir is slightly tart tasting, but, when it comes down to the probiotics within the two, kefir wins hands down.

Yoghurt contains between 2 to 7 types of probiotics, while kefir contains an impressive 10 to 35, as well as a number of beneficial yeast strains.

Never tried it before?

Kefir can be purchased in supermarkets and speciality shops, but store-bought versions will never quite compare to flavor that comes from making it yourself at home. Store-bought kefir will also be lightly processed, removing some of its probiotics.

If you want to try making it yourself at home, this is what you will need:

  • Fermented kefir grains
  • Milk
  • A non-metal strainer
  • A glass jar

The fermented kefir grains are mixed with the milk in a jar before being strained out the next day, with the resulting liquid being the kefir. The grains will grow and multiply with each batch that you make, meaning that it will not be long before you will be able to share them with friends and family, so that they can also make their own.

Wondering where to get the fermented kefir grains from?

Getting your hands on some grains can be tricky, unless you know someone that already makes kefir at home. If not, try ordering them online, or join a few kefir groups on social media, as there will always be people happy to post their extra grains to you.

milk kefir

 

Sauerkraut 

Sauerkraut is most commonly made from fermented cabbage, but can also contain a number of other vegetables. While sauerkraut itself does not contain a huge number of probiotics, its organic acids support the growth of good bacteria within the gut.

Just like with kefir, sauerkraut can be purchased from shops, but is far more beneficial when made yourself at home.

All you need to do is:

  1. Thinly slice or shred the cabbage, as well as any other vegetables you want to include. Beets and carrots work particularly well, and also add a beautiful pop of color.
  2. Layer the cabbage into a glass jar, alternating each layer with a sprinkling of salt, with the top layer being just salt.
  3. Cover the jar with a boiled cloth and leave it to sit for a couple of days, until a white scum appears on the top. Skim this off, replace the cloth, and then repeat this process for about two weeks. You will know that your sauerkraut is ready when no more bubbles form within it.

sauerkraut preparation

 

Kimchi 

If you have tried sauerkraut, and would prefer it to have more of a kick, then kimchi may be just the food for you.

Kimchi is often referred to as the Korean take on sauerkraut, as it is also made from fermented Chinese cabbage. However, the difference comes from the addition of other ingredients, including:

  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Red pepper flakes

The method of making kimchi is not too different from that of sauerkraut, and, just like with sauerkraut, kimchi is a fantastic accompaniment to so many meals.

kimchi preparation

 

Raw Cheese 

For those of you who love dairy products, you will be happy to know that raw cheese is a great source of probiotics, but you do need to ensure that the cheese has not been pasteurized. In particular, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk cheeses are especially high in probiotics, so try to opt for these if possible.

 

Miso 

If you are a fan of Japanese food, then you are likely already familiar with miso, which has been a staple in Japanese cuisine for more than 2500 years. Miso is a paste that is made from fermented soybeans, barley or rice, and is most commonly eaten in the form of a soup.

However, if you do not tend to enjoy the taste of miso soup, here are a few other ways in which you can use the ingredient:

  • Mixed with sesame oil and spread on fish fillets for a beautiful shiny glaze
  • Whisked into a salad dressing
  • Mashed into potatoes
  • Turned into a mayonnaise or a mustard
  • A marinade for meat
  • Caramelized into a butter

probiotic-rich foods

 

Probiotic Supplements

In addition to consuming more probiotic-rich foods, you could also look into taking a probiotic supplement. If you have already had a look at the supplements out there, you are likely thinking…

“There are far too many to choose from! How do I know which one is best?”

Here are a few tips to help you to make your decision:

  • CFU count – this is something that often confuses people, but is simply a measurement of the amount of live bacteria that a supplement contains. Try to choose one that contains between 5 to 10 billion CFU.
  • Strains – There are 10,000 different strains of bacteria within our gut, so make sure that your supplement also contains a good variety of these.
  • Packaging – Probiotic bacteria can easily be killed by everything from light to air to heat, so look for a supplement that is housed in a thick, opaque bottle if possible, or a blister pack.
  • Expiration date – the supplement industry is not required to put expiration dates on their products, but, without one, it is impossible to know how long the probiotic bacteria in your supplement will stay alive for. If a supplement does not state an expiration date, you can assume that this is because it is of a lower quality, and is best avoided.

 

Combining Probiotic-Rich Foods with Probiotic Supplements 

As mentioned above, the gut contains over 10,000 different strains of bacteria, and it is impossible for a single supplement to match this. While supplements may be convenient to take, these should ideally be supported with probiotic-rich foods in order to experience the best results.

You may be thinking…

“I don’t like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, raw cheese and miso!”

Luckily, there are so many other probiotic-rich foods out there, and there are bound to be at least a couple that you will enjoy. Here are some more ideas for other probiotic-rich foods you could try:

  • Kombucha – a fermented black or green tea
  • Tempeh – a fermented soybean patty with a nutty, mushroom-like texture
  • Pickles – make sure that these are fermented in water and salt, rather than vinegar
  • Green olives – brined in salt water, green olives undergo a natural fermentation process
  • Sourdough bread 

 

What About Prebiotics? 

Put simply, prebiotics are the food source for probiotics, and help to keep probiotics alive.

Prebiotics can be found in such a wide range of foods, such as:

  • Vegetables – garlic, onion, beetroot, green peas, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus
  • Fruits – white peach, grapefruit, pomegranate, nectarine, dried fruit
  • Legumes – baked beans, red kidney beans, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils
  • Nuts – pistachio nuts, cashew nuts

So, do you need prebiotics?

Well, it is likely that, if you have a balanced diet, you are already consuming a fair amount of prebiotics. Nevertheless, it never hurts to add in a few more, so do try to increase your consumption of the foods mentioned above.

Some probiotics, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, also contain prebiotics, making them twice as powerful. Some probiotic supplements also contain prebiotics, and this is commonly labelled as inulin, so keep an eye out for this.

probiotic foods

 

Other Ways to Boost Your Gut Health 

The health of your gut is so important, and while probiotics, as well as prebiotics, can really help with this, these on their own are not enough to guarantee a healthy gut. You should also:

  • Decrease your consumption of fast food and sugar
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Cut back on your consumption of meat
  • Regular exercise
  • Stress management

Both of these are extremely detrimental to your gut’s microbial balance, so you need to take control of this if you really want to balance out the good and bad bacteria in your gut.

healthy green smoothie

 

Take the First Step 

If you are still feeling a little confused about the world of probiotics, the best way to begin your journey is by picking a couple of probiotic foods and incorporating them into your diet as much as you can. If you make them yourself at home, you will gain a much deeper understanding of the fermentation process, but there is nothing wrong with purchasing probiotic-rich foods from a store, especially if you only want a little taster to begin with.

The Truth about Coffee: The Benefits and Harms of Your Regular Espresso

For years now, there has been so much debate on whether or not coffee is actually good for us. If you are someone that drinks coffee each and every day, here are some of the health benefits that you will likely experience, as well as a few dangers that you need to watch out for.

 

What Exactly is Coffee?

 

Coffee is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, with 83% of the population of the United States being avid coffee drinkers. Consisting of a powerful collection of biologically active compounds, many people associate only caffeine with coffee, but this drink actually contains so much more than that, and is packed with thousands of complex substances.

 

Coffee Can Boost Physical Performance

 

Coffee has been proven to be able to increase energy and boost physical performance, making this a great beverage to sip on before a workout.

 

Drinking just one cup of coffee, around an hour before you intend to work out, can improve your performance by up to 12%.

 

Why?

 

Well, coffee increases the adrenaline in your blood, which is the hormone that your body produces to help it to deal with physical exertion. An increase in adrenaline levels then increases your energy, as well as the amount of exercise you are able to do.

 

 

Coffee Helps to Burn Fat and Lose Weight   

 

While you should not depend solely on coffee if you are trying to lose weight, this beverage can definitely help you on your weight loss quest.

 

Coffee is packed with potassium and magnesium, both of which help the body to use insulin and regulate blood sugar levels. By keeping your blood sugar levels steady, you will not experience as many cravings for unhealthy foods and snacks, making it much easier for you to stick to a healthy diet.

 

But, don’t forget…

 

Although coffee can help you lose weight, you need to ensure that you are not filling your coffee with calorie-laden creams and sugars, as this will only counter the weight loss benefits that coffee can have.

 

Coffee Contains a Wide Range of Antioxidants

 

Here is a fact that will no doubt surprise you…

 

Coffee is the biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet, and outranks both fruits and vegetables combined. 

 

Coffee is absolutely packed with a wide range of antioxidants, including:

 

  • Polyphenols – key when it comes to disease prevention
  • Hydrocinnamic Acids neutralizes free radicals and prevents oxidative stress
  • Cafestol an anti-inflammatory that protects the brain
  • Melanoidins an anti-bacterial and an anti-inflammatory that also gives coffee its distinct aroma

 

So, why exactly are antioxidants so important?

 

Well, the body is constantly being attacked by free radicals, and these cause so much damage to your cells, affecting them as deeply as DNA level. Antioxidants are able to neutralize these free radicals, keeping your body healthier, as well as more youthful, for longer.

 

 

But, here’s the deal…

 

The way in which you prepare your coffee will have a significant impact on its antioxidant content. For example, roasted coffee has many more antioxidants than non-roasted coffee, so always opt for coffee that is as high quality as possible.

 

Coffee Reduces Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

 

Affecting over 300 million people, type 2 diabetes is one of the most common diseases out there, and refers to blood sugar levels being elevated due to a resistance to insulin.

 

There have been multiple studies carried out over the years that look at the relationship between coffee and type 2 diabetes, and the results have been surprising…

 

By drinking coffee on a daily basis, you will be able to reduce your risk of developing diabetes by an impressive 23-67%.

 

Coffee Offers Protection for the Brain

 

As the body ages, neurodegenerative diseases become so much more common.

 

What is a neurodegenerative disease?

 

These are brain diseases that occur due to the death of neurons in the brain. These diseases are always progressive, meaning that neurons will continue to die and the disease will only worsen over time.

 

The two most common neurodegenerative diseases out there are Alzheimer’s, which is also the leading cause of dementia, and Parkinson’s.

 

 

Fortunately, coffee can help to protect your brain from both of these…

 

  • Alzheimer’s – Research shows that coffee drinkers have a 65% lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s Studies show that coffee drinkers have a 32-60% lowered risk of developing Parkinson’s, with this number increasing with the more coffee that you drink

 

By protecting the neurons in your brain, coffee will also reduce your risk of developing dementia as you get older.

 

Coffee Improves Mood and Acts as an Anti-Depressant

 

The caffeine that coffee contains is a known stimulant, and, each time you drink a cup of coffee, the caffeine blocks the function of one of your brain hormones, known as adenosine.

 

Wondering what this actually means?

 

Well, by blocking adenosine, your brain is then able to enjoy an increase in activity, and releases several other neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.

 

Here is what this can do for you:

 

  • Improves your mood
  • A short-term boost to brain function
  • Reduces tiredness and increases alertness

 

All of these effects then work together to fight depression, with one Harvard study showing that coffee drinkers experience a 20% lowered risk of becoming depressed.

 

This also relates to suicide rates, with coffee drinkers being 53% less likely to take their own lives.

 

Coffee Can Lower Your Risk of Premature Death

 

Premature deaths can be caused by so many different factors, including all of the health issues mentioned in this article.

 

By experiencing so many health benefits, it only makes sense that coffee drinkers have a much lowered risk of dying prematurely.

 

How much coffee do you need to drink for this?

 

Studies have shown that when drinking four to five cups of coffee a day, men have a 12% reduced risk of premature death, while women have 16%.

 

However, even just one cup of coffee a day can still reduce your risk of premature death by 5-6%, showing you just how little is needed to make a difference. 

 

Coffee Can Reduce the Risk of Cancer

 

Thanks to its phenolic compounds, coffee can have a significant impact on different types of cancer.

 

Numerous studies have been carried out over the years. Here are some of the results:

 

  • A 2012 study found that each cup of coffee a day would lessen your chances of developing endometrial cancer by 8%
  • A 2011 study showed that each cup of coffee a day would reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by 4%
  • A 2011 study found that each cup of coffee a day would reduce the risk of bladder, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers by 3%

 

Here is the best bit…

 

When it comes to liver cancer, a 2007 study found that drinking two extra cups of coffee a day would lower an individual’s risk by 43%.

 

Coffee Can Help with Oral Health

 

You are probably thinking…

 

“Coffee is known to stain teeth. How can it help with oral health?”

 

While it is true about coffee staining the teeth, this is a cosmetic problem, and does not actually signify anything about a person’s health.

 

In fact, when drank straight black, the antioxidants found within coffee make your teeth less adhesive. This means that bacteria is not able to hold on to your teeth with much strength, not only keeping them cleaner, but also making them easier to clean.

 

Coffee Can Elevate Cholesterol Levels

 

While coffee does not contain cholesterol itself, it does interfere with the way in which your body produces and regulates cholesterol.

 

How?

 

As mentioned above, coffee contains an antioxidant called cafestol. While this compound does have its benefits, it affects the way in which your body metabolizes cholesterol, leading to raised cholesterol levels.

 

Fortunately, there is a way around this…

 

There are multiple ways to brew a coffee, but, if you do it in an American-style coffee pot, with a filter, then the resulting coffee will actually have quite low cafestol levels.

 

Why is this?

 

Since the coffee only passes through the grounds once, most of the cafestol is left behind in the filter. On the other hand, a French press brews coffee by constantly passing water through the coffee grounds, meaning that the resulting beverage contains quite a bit of cafestol.

 

However, even if you do like a French press, you may not need to worry too much about raised cholesterol levels…

 

Research has indicated that you would need to drink around five cups of French press coffee a day to see an increase in your cholesterol levels, so as long as you ensure that your coffee consumption does not become excessive, then you should not have a problem.

 

Coffee Can Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease

 

While coffee does not increase the risk of heart disease for everybody, it does if you have a genetic mutation that slows down the rate at which caffeine is broken down by the body.

 

Since your body will not be able to metabolize the caffeine quickly enough, this can significantly increase your chances of developing heart disease.

 

Fortunately, this does not mean that you have to completely avoid coffee…

 

Try to stick to just one cup a day, as the risks will only come from drinking two cups or more.

 

Coffee Can Be Addictive

 

If you are quite dependent on your daily coffee, then you will already be aware of the fact that coffee is quite addictive. This is due to the caffeine in coffee, with the term caffeine dependence being coined a few years ago.

 

What does too much caffeine do to your body?

 

A number of things:

 

    • Increases anxiety
    • Disrupts sleep patterns
    • Leads to insomnia
    • Increases blood sugar levels
    • Can lead to spinal bone loss if an individual is not consuming enough calcium

 

A Lowered Tolerance

 

While all of these health benefits that coffee can bring to the body may sound great, keep in mind that many of these effects are likely to only be short term. If you are someone that drinks coffee multiple times a day, then you are likely to soon build up a tolerance to its benefits, meaning that the results will not be as noticeable, and you will be more likely to experience some of the negatives that come with coffee.

 

So, how much is too much?

 

Drinking more than eight cups of coffee a day would be considered excessive, and would bring about the negative effects mentioned above.

 

So, as long as you stay below this guideline, and do not fill your coffee with sugars, flavors and creams, you will be able to enjoy nothing but the many benefits that coffee can bring to the body.

 

How to Make Your Coffee Even Healthier

 

As mentioned above, you need to ensure that you do not add sugars and other harmful ingredients to your coffee, as this negates its benefits.

 

Here are a few other tips to help you to ensure that your daily brews are as health-boosting as possible:

 

  • Coffee is often sprayed heavily with pesticides, making it worth springing for organic versions
  • For maximum health benefits, drink your coffee straight black
  • Adding a square of 70% cacao dark chocolate to your cup of coffee will give it a chocolatey edge, while bringing you all of the health benefits of the cacao too 

 

 

So, how should you brew your coffee?

 

Well, that all depends on what you are trying to gain from it…

 

  • If you want a coffee that is as “pure” as possible, opt for a French press
  • If you have acid reflux or a sensitive stomach, go for cold-brewed coffees, as these are much less acidic
  • If you have cholesterol concerns, an American-style coffee pot or an instant coffee may be your best bet

 

Do not be afraid to experiment with all of the different coffees, as well as brewing methods, that are out there. While you do want your coffee to be as beneficial to your health as possible, you still need to be able to find a brew that truly satisfies your taste buds.