Normally when we think of bacteria, we surely don’t think about nutrition. In fact, we conjure up all sorts of bad images of parasites, fungi, disease or worse. But wait!! The truth is that having too little of the “good” or healthy bacteria is what can be dangerous. Studies show that it has been associated with not only intestinal disorders, but obesity, depression, and overall decreased immunity. Go figure. So while the idea of “live” bacteria or yeast may seem strange at first, read more on how probiotics, the “friendly” bugs, can improve your health, and balance your “bacterial act.” There’s more research emerging everyday on using probiotics to treat or prevent certain illnesses.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, i.e., “friendly” bacteria, usually lactic acid bacteria, that are available in supplements and foods. After all, we take antibiotics and use antibacterial substances to fight bacteria, right? So that is why many times the balance of bacteria becomes disturbed after an infection, or after taking antibiotics. So probiotics — literally meaning “for life” — continually improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines. These same friendly bugs may also help fight off diarrhea-causing organisms, help skin irritation, and even reduce bad breath.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Some of the probiotic benefits that have been shown by research so far:
- To prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract.
- Cholesterol: Probiotics can raise the level of HDL — the good cholesterol.
- Provide a source of calcium to those individuals who are lactose intolerant and unable to consume most dairy foods.
- Colon Cancer: Probiotics help maintain a healthy intestinal microflora and promote a healthy intestinal environment.
- Constipation: Probiotics help shorten long intestinal tract transit time and can improve regularity.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Probiotics help restore the balance of bacteria and can eliminate the abdominal pain, gas or constipation.
- Immunity: Probiotics help strengthen the body’s natural defenses by providing regular bacteria for the intestinal tract, where 70 percent of the body’s immune system is located.
Let’s head to the supermarket:
Yogurt—Probably the best known healthy bacteria food, but not all yogurt contains probiotics. Look for low calorie, low sugar varieties that contain lactobacillus, bifidus, and acidophilus to get the best benefit, as well as the “Live Active Culture” seal.
Kefir—Kefir is a fermented milk product that is a natural probiotic. Dating back centuries ago, kefir has long been used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially for those who are lactose intolerant. Look for kefir in health food markets, or get your own starter. Good news for dieters– kefir is considered to be a “flat belly” food.
Sauerkraut—It’s true. This fermented cabbage contains lactobacilli plantarum and has been shown to give your immune system a big boost. Like yogurt, the fermentation process makes cabbage healthier and more digestible than the plant in its original form. Another ‘bonus’ of eating sauerkraut is that it is higher in B vitamins than cabbage, making it a perfect food for vegans. Another favorite is kimchee, the traditional Korean dish made with fermented vegetables.
Miso— Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barleyand/or soybeans, with salt and the funguskōjiki, the most typical miso being made withsoy. The result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats. If you are a fan of Asian food, you have no doubt enjoyed miso soup. You can buy miso paste at your supermarket and try making your own soup. Check out this video.
Tempeh–Tempeh is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm vegetarian burger patty. Available today in most markets, it can be sliced into strips and used in curries, grilled, or try a TLT sandwich. Don’t forget the avocado.
Are probiotic supplements safe?
Most probiotics are similar to what is already in a person’s digestive system. As with any dietary supplement, be aware that probiotic supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs. Tell your doctor about everything you are taking, including the specific bacteria in your probiotic supplement.