Probiotics are live microorganisms, also known as beneficial bacteria, that help nourish our gut – the epicentre of our immune system & overall health. Their main focus is on supporting regular digestive function and in turn supporting many key body processes. If our gut is not performing optimally, chances are our absorption is also suffering. Our gut health also affects the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin. It’s obvious to see how important probiotics are in achieving optimum health. As Hippocrates states nearly 2500 years ago “all dis-ease begins in the gut” and still today we see that good health starts with a healthy gut.
Did you know there are 10 times more bacteria in the digestive system than there are cells in the body and this internal ecosystem weighs up to two kilograms.
Some of the benefits of probiotics include:
- Preventing certain bacteria from sticking to the gut lining
- Supporting the immune system & helping to modulate inflammation
- Easing both constipation & diarrhea while having an affinity for IBS & leaky gut
- Healing skin disorders such as acne & eczema
- Influencing metabolic function
- Regulating the nervous system of the gut and the whole body
Factors that affect probiotic function include our genetics, diet, and gut microbiome.
Consuming plenty of probiotic-rich foods is one of the best things you can do for overall wellness. Foods naturally high in probiotics include the following…
Kimchi – a traditional Korean food made by fermenting vegetables with lactic acid bacteria. Goes well with brown rice, veggies, and your favourite protein.
Sauerkraut – similar to kimchi but is traditionally made by fermenting cabbage. Works well on just about anything savoury!
Miso – a smooth, salty soybean paste used frequently in Asian cooking. It’s made by fermenting soybeans, barley, and brown rice along with other grains with Aspergillus oryzae. Use miso paste in dressings, sauces, and marinades, soups or as an alternative to stock.
Tempeh – a soybean product that’s fermented using a mix of live mould. It has a firm texture and slightly tangy taste. Cut into piece or strips and brown in a skillet or bake it, to enjoy as a protein option for all kinds of dishes.
Natto – a traditional Japanese breakfast food made by soaking and then steaming or boiling whole soybeans and then fermented. It’s also a great source of protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
Cultured yoghurt – a great source of both protein and naturally occurring complex carbs. Avoid sweetened varieties to save yourself the negative effects of sugar and other additives & opt for a dairy free alternative.
Kefir – a fermented product with a thinner consistency than yoghurt. It’s great for drinking, adding to smoothies, or enjoying with cereal, overnight oats, or chia puddings as a substitute for milk.
Kombucha – an increasingly popular fermented tea beverage which is full of probiotics and is a great alternative to soft-drink. Just be sure to check there is no added sugar when buying store-bought.
Sourdough – fermented using lactobacillus cultures and traditionally contains mostly whole wheat and live yeast, which means that it may stay fresh longer than white bread or other bread made with dried yeast—no preservatives required.
Dark chocolate – considered a prebiotic food, meaning that it provides fibres that act as food for the probiotic bacteria to feed on. Studies have also shown that cocoa can benefit the microbiota similarly to other probiotic foods. A couple of squares of high-quality dark chocolate makes a great addition to your day.
Probiotics also require prebiotics which act as a food source to keep them functioning at optimum levels. Prebiotics are found in asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, beans, chickpeas and supplementary fibres such as psyllium husk, pectin, guar gum and slippery elm. Be sure to introduce a nice selection of both pre & probiotics to your diet to harness the benefits.
If you are wanting to super-charge your probiotic intake, there is a wide range of supplements available from all health food stores. They do vary in their form & function so it is best to consult with your local naturopath to advise which option would serve you best.
It takes a variety of strategies to create a robust ecosystem in your gut. Probiotics are certainly one of the key tools you have at your disposal and are a great place to start.