Header of Beginner's Guide to Probiotics

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.

 

Infographic on probiotics

 

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.

Woman eating healthy salad

Habits That Help You Maintain Healthy Vision

By now most of us know: pretty = healthy. If you want pretty skin, you need to make sure we have a fully stocked beauty arsenal. If you want a rock solid body, you better make sure you’re hitting the gym and not the vending machine. If you want shampoo commercial hair, you need to make sure the hot oil treatment is on hand. The same goes for our eyes. If you want to keep those peepers clear and gorgeous, you need to keep them healthy; the only question is, how do you know whether your giving them the care they need? It might surprise you to know that there may be a few things you’re doing that are actually hurting those pretty eyes, and here are some of them. Read on to learn what not to do if you want to keep your eyes healthy for a good long time.

Sleeping in Contacts

If you heard about the woman whose eye examination revealed 27 contact lenses in her eyes, you probably know that sleeping in contacts is not such a great idea. While there are two types of contacts that the FDA has approved for overnight wear, New York optometrist, Deeba Chaudri warns that even these can be risky.  According to a study by the American Academy of Ophthamology, the risk of developing a corneal ulcer is multiplied by 10 or 15 times in extended wear contact lens users, compared to those who wear contacts only during the day.

Don’t Rub Your Eyes

Your mama always told you not to do it. The professionals concur. Says Chaudri, “Sometimes your eyes itch and you have to rub, but it’s best to keep the lid closed and only touch the outside of the eye.” Rubbing your eyes too hard can lead to inflammation and broken blood vessels, not to mention, eyes are a breeding ground of bacteria, so, “If you shake someone’s hand and then you rub your eyes, you’re transmitting those germs and there’s a good chance you can catch whatever cold he’s got.”

Get Annual Eye Exams

Even if your vision is 20/20, you should still see an eye doctor once a year. Chaudri says, “It’s about getting your overall eye health checked out: There are no pain receptors behind the eye, so if you have a broken blood vessel or a tumor back there, you would otherwise not know it until it starts to interfere with your vision, or worse.”

Staring At Devices

Looking at phones and computers is a tough habit to break, but focusing on anything for too long a time can cause eye strain and headaches. Chaudri advises following the 20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes looking at the screen, take a 20 second break, look into the distance, focus your eyes on something else, and make a conscientious effort to blink, you may have been staring for a long time without realizing it.

Applying Eyeliner to the Waterline

Even though the look may pop up in a few fashion magazines, applying liner to the inside of the lower lashes can come with a risk. According to Chaudri, “When you put liner inside your eye, you’re mixing it with your tears.” If you have contacts in, your lenses can get coated with makeup particles that prevent your eyes from getting ample amounts of oxygen. If you’re not wearing contacts, those makeup particles can bring infection causing germs into your eyes. Liquid liners are the worst offenders because the applicator tube can harbor bacteria. Soft pencils are safer because they are continually being worn down to expose a new tip.

What are you doing to keep your eyes healthy and beautiful? Let us know what healthy eye tips you swear by.

Nuclear family enjoying dinner together

The Profile Of A Healthy TV Dinner

The original frozen dinners were literal recipes for disaster. Take the fact that they were first introduced  in the 1950’s when a nutritious dinner was defined by meatloaf and mashed potatoes with pie for desert. Add to that the fact that they catered to bachelors, whose main goals of eating were to fill their stomachs. Then, consider that the food had to be preserved, which adds a boatload of sodium to the equation. Put it all together, and you get a 1,040 calorie chicken pot pie, with 62 grams of fat, 26 grams of saturated fat, 1,480 mgs of sodium, and 14 grams of sugar.

As you may have guessed, there has been an appropriate amount of backlash. With the increased knowledge of nutrition, it comes as no surprise that sooner or later someone was likely to come up with a slightly more balanced way of preparing dinner instantly. Here are some of the kindler, more gentler versions of the original enemy of the artery.

Chicken and Harissa Chickpeas

The ingredient list in this meal is so healthy, you might start feeling stronger just thinking about it.  This North African option blends chicken, broccoli, butternut squash, chickpeas, brown jasmine rice and kale, topped with harissa, a spicy paste consisting of garlic, hot chili peppers, coriander, and caraway seeds, known to blast away fat. Capsaicin, the ingredient that gives the sauce its kick, is a proven appetite suppressant and metabolism booster, and the regular consumption of the caraway seed is associated with weight loss as well.

Quinoa Bowls

You may not know how to pronounce it, but you have probably seen quinoa popping up on restaurant menus and in health food stores quite a lot recently. Why are the bowls popular? They provide an easy way to combine flavors and spices with protein, healthy grains, and produce. The South American inspired quinoa bowl mixes meat free proteins, such as black beans, and red quinoa, for a meat free answer to high protein.

The Profile Of A Healthy TV Dinner

Thai Stir Fry

With all the new super foods on the market, tofu almost seems to get taken for granted. However, its still a very healthy option and can be the basis of a smart frozen dinner choice. Try an organic heat and eat, mixing tofu with a rainbow of veggies, including carrots, cabbage, broccoli, jalapeños, zucchini, and hot pepper for a low fat, high protein boost.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ravioli in the microwave! How revolutionary! These protein and vitamin A filled ravs are stuffed with ricotta and butternut squash, and topped with kale, roasted tomatoes, and a sage garlic and lemon sauce. Wait til you tell your coworkers what was on the menu at your house last night!

Black Bean and Mango Bowl

This is an exotic combo for a frozen dinner. The entree is served on a bed of whole grain and sesame pilaf, comprised of brown rice oats rye, red wheat, barley, and sesame seeds. Top that with black beans, peppers, carrots and roasted onions, and you’ve got a bowl loaded with fiber and protein. Add some mango, ginger, and other seasonings, and you have preservatives that keeps the sodium content down for better heart health.

What is your best frozen dinner recipe? Let us know how you do health in front of the TV!

Smiling woman undergoing mammography

Guidelines For Female Mammography

You’re a big girl now. You pick out your own clothes in the morning, you make your own lunch, you go to sleep when you want to, and you book your own doctor’s appointments – but that’s not to say you have no questions about them. If you’re nearing the age of 40, you’re probably wondering if you should be booking your first mammogram, and with the conflicting information from medical groups, you may wish that someone would make the decision for you. If you’re nearing 40 and are a little confused about the issue of when to get your first mammogram, here are some guidelines that may provide some clarity.

When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?

The best course of action in deciding whether or not to get a mammogram is to check with a doctor. He will take your age, family, and other things into account to determine whether a mammogram is something you need to have done sooner rather than later.

The Conflict

If you look at the advice from medical groups, you will find a lot of conflicting information. While the American Cancer Society has been urging women for years to start having mammograms at 40, it is now recommending women to starts at 45, or 40 if the patient prefers. The American College of  Obstetricians and Gynecologist are holding fast at 40, while the US Preventative Services Task Force are saying women can put mammograms off until 50.

Who’s Right?

Therese Bevers, MD says there are pros and cons to starting early and upsides and downsides to waiting a few years. Here are some of the things you may want to consider in determining when to get your first mammogram.

False positives

A false positive means that a mammogram shows something that looks suspicious, but turns out to be harmless. This is more likely to happen in younger women. Premenopausal women tend to have dense breasts which can make mammograms difficult to read, and getting called back for another mammogram can be very stressful.

Earlier testing also means more cancers can be found. Although that may seem like a good thing, some cancers grow so slowly that there unlikely to affect you, however, doctors may not be able to tell which ones will turn to be problematic, and which will not. This can result in women seeking and receiving cancer treatment they really don’t need.

Early Detection

The biggest upside of starting your mammographies at 40 is that you are less likely to die of breast cancer, which is why Beavers still urges women to start at 40 and get checked on a yearly basis.

Weighing the Pros And Cons

In trying to decide whether or not to start your breast examinations at 40, ask yourself how you would feel if you got a false positive. One survey found that one-third of women would be willing to deal with false positives if it meant avoiding breast cancer.

Also, consider how you would feel if you ended up receiving cancer treatment you didn’t need. One study showed that as many as ten women may be getting over diagnosed for each avoided death.

You also may want to take into account whether or not there is a family history of breast cancer. If breast cancer is common in your family, you may want to start having the checks even earlier than 40.

However, even if breast cancer is not a genetic concern for you, it is still important to have mammograms done. Cancer doctor Dennis Citrin, MB, Ph.D. says, “Eighty-five percent of all breast cancers are not related to a specific gene mutation,” and adds that women who get mammograms regularly are 20% less likely to die from breast cancer.

What do you think? Should you start getting mammograms at 40, or is it better to wait?