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.

Asthma

Can Prebiotics Help Asthma?

Stewart Brand, best known for his work as editor of the Whole Earth catalog once said, “If you don’t like bacteria, you’re on the wrong planet.”  It is true that, to most of us, bacteria has a negative connotation, but  lately, we are learning that the certain bacteria may be extremely beneficial.

You may have heard the terms prebiotic and probiotic being tossed around lately.  You may also know that they’re typically found in dairy products like milk and yoghurt.  But what are they?

About 100 years ago,the pioneering Dr. Matternick found that bacteria in yogurt could improve digestion.  He postulated that this ‘good bacteria’ could take the place of ‘bad bacteria’ in the human stomach.  Probiotics are now defined by the FAO/WHO as ” live microorganisms which ….confer a health benefit on the host,” and are most noted as a digestive health aid. Prebiotics are nondigestable carbohydrates.  They are the fuel of probiotics and are usually found in milk and plants and are needed to ensure optimum function of probiotics.   Recent evidence shows that consuming foods that contain prebiotics can also help relieve asthma.  Let’s look at the evidence.

Asthma
There is little doubt that asthma is a big problem in the United States.  It affects about 17.7 million adults and 6.3 million children.  Its symptoms include tightening of the chest muscles, coughing, loss of breath and wheezing caused by inflammation of the airways.

There are two kinds of asthma. Allergic asthma is caused by allergens, like dust, mold, and pollen.  Non allergic asthma is caused by illness, exercise, medications, and stress.  It is this second type of asthma that has become the focus of the new findings.

How Does this Work?
You may have noticed a relationship between the words antibiotic and probiotic.  While antibiotics cure by preventing life, probiotics cure by promote life.  The theory is that  by promoting probiotic activity in the human  body, we strengthen our immune system and enhance our health.

The Study
Investigative research was conducted by the SHAPE Department Research center at Nottingham.  It involved 18 people, 10 with EIU ( exercise induced asthma) and 8 subjects who were asthma free.  They were all given a prebiotic supplement (B-GOS) for 3 weeks, followed by no  treatment for two weeks ,and then were given a placebo for three additional weeks.  These individuals with EIU showed an improvement in lung function after taking the B-GOS as compared with the results of the placebo.

Says Dr. Williams, study leader, says, “Importantly, the level of improvement in lung function that appears after the prebiotic is perceivable by the patient and therefore clinically relevant.”

Prebiotic Foods
In light of the fact that prebiotic foods are known primarily as a digestive aid, it may not be surprising to learn of their high fiber content.  Prebiotic foods include:

  • Raw chicory root:  While available as a supplement in health food stores and pharmacies, raw chicory root can also be found in certain breakfast bars, cereal and breads.
  • Raw Jerusalem Artichoke:  Sometimes know as the artichoke, due to its high fiber content, the only resemblance the Jerusalem artichoke has to the artichokes we are familiar with is the flavor.  It actually most closely resembles ginger  Besides being a great prebiotic, it is also a source of potassium and iron.
  • Cooked Onions:  A slightly less exotic options, cooked onions are a delicious addition to soups and sandwiches and can be sautéed, fried or even caramelized!
  • Raw Garlic:   Not recommended for a first date, raw garlic has almost half the required amount of daily fiber.  Put it is hummus, pasta, or with veggies.
Jars of pickles.

Fermented Foods – Why They Are So Good for You

You’ve probably heard a lot about fermented foods or seen some for sale at your local grocery or health food store. While the name doesn’t necessarily suggest appetizing eats, fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics and aren’t as daunting as they may seem at first. Foods like pickles, sauerkraut and yogurt are all fermented foods that are easy, and delicious, to eat. But why eat fermented foods? Read on to find out exactly what you’re eating and why it benefits your body.

What are Fermented Foods?
During the process of fermentation, whether for beer or yogurt, yeast or bacteria feed on the natural sugars present in the food. These microorganisms create compounds such as alcohol or lactic acid that help in preserving the food. Fermented foods also gets filled with helpful enzymes and ‘friendly’ bacteria such as the ones found in probiotic products. This good bacteria works in a ways that “predigests” certain food compounds that your body may have difficulty with. Your body ends up better able to absorb the nutrients in foods and makes it easier to for your gut to process.

Why Fermented Foods?
Probiotics – There’s a reason that probiotics get so much attention; they are incredibly beneficial to your body as a whole. When you eat or drink fermented foods, your body receives good bacteria that goes right to work in your digestive system. As mentioned above, these bacteria aid in digestion and they also balance the bacteria levels in your digestive system.This leads to improved bowel health and helps strengthen the immune system.

Nutrient Absorption – While a healthy diet provides you with the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs, sometimes it is difficult for your body to absorb these nutrients. Properly balanced bacteria levels in your gut and the right amount of digestive enzymes significantly improves your body’s ability to absorb the vital nutrients from the foods you eat.

Weight Control – This benefit of fermented foods is not completely confirmed at this time. A study that was published in the International Journal of Obesity found that some types of probiotics promote weight loss. However, it’s best not to rely on the probiotics in fermented foods as a weight control measure because that same research also discovered other strains of probiotics actually encouraged weight gain.

DIY Friendly – Eating well can get expensive, but you don’t have to shell out tons of money on fermented foods, you can easily make them yourself. In fact, homemade fermented foods are most likely much better for you than store bought. When you make your own fermented foods, you are able to control the amount of salt that goes into the food, which is one traditional drawback of savory fermented foods. You also save money by not heading to the grocery store as much (fermented foods are an excellent way to preserve foods) and you may be able to cut out any probiotic supplements you may take.

Fermented Food List
Before you head to your local supermarket, be aware that most traditional fermented foods on the shelves, like pickles and sauerkraut, have probiotic bacteria. As Tuft’s University explains, “[m]ost fermented foods you can buy in supermarket jars or cans have been pasteurized and cooked at high heat, killing any friendly bacteria.”

Still, there are foods available that you can pick up on your next trip to the grocery store. Here are some of our favorite fermented foods.

  • Tempeh – Tempeh is made from naturally fermented soybeans and is a great source of protein for those who don’t eat meat because it contains all the essential amino acids.
  • Sauerkraut – One of the easiest DIY fermented foods, sauerkraut is made using just cabbage, water and salt.
  • Yogurt – If you choose to buy rather than make your own yogurt, be sure you are buying products labeled with “contains live and active cultures” to get the benefit of probiotics.
  • Kimchi – This fermented food is like sauerkrauts spicy brother and is a great way to add intense flavor to meals.
  • Pickles – Another easy DIY fermented food, pickles are great for a quick and healthy snack.

The idea of eating fermented foods may be a bit daunting, but starting slowly you may find you prefer eating these foods over others. Yogurt or kefir, a fermented milk drink, are great ways to start trying fermented foods. Add your own fresh fruit or whole grains for a complete breakfast. Use tempeh in place of meat or serve sauerkraut as a tasty side dish. There are tons of ways to incorporate fermented foods into your diet and your body, and you, will be glad that you did.