We’ve all heard a ton about probiotics, but many of us don't really know what they do. Find out the five things you need to know here...
We’ve all heard a ton about probiotics, especially those found in yogurt, and how consuming foods with probiotics can help replace and replenish these good bacteria, but many of us still don’t know the basics about probiotics and probiotic rich foods, so here are the five things you need to know.
What do probiotics do? The basics: your gastrointestinal tract, aka your gut, is full of good bacteria. These bacteria perform many functions; they aid in digestion, enhance immunity (70% of the body’s immune system is inside the digestive tract!), help regulate hormone balance, and guard against food poisoning. The natural bacteria also synthesize essential nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin B12, and biotin, as well as short chain fatty acids. Medications, stress, and poor diet can affect the balance of bacteria in our gut, most often the good bacteria get wiped out. Probiotic rich foods help replenish the good gut bacteria.
Probiotic rich foods: Probiotics don’t just come from yogurt with live and active cultures or from a supplement bottle, in fact there are a variety of probiotic rich foods. Kefir: a tangy, fermented milk product very similar to yogurt; it can be made from cows, goats or sheep’s milk and is delicious in smoothies or to drink on its own. Kimchi: a traditional Korean dish made of pickled vegetables such as cabbage, green onion, radishes and seasonings – these vary by region and season. It is the most popular side dish in Korean cuisine. The vegetables in Kimchi contribute to the overall nutritional value – it is rich in vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, and iron, as well as beneficial bacteria for the gut. Miso: commonly eaten as a soup in Japanese restaurants, is rich in minerals as well as lactic acid bacteria that help with digestion. Kombucha: a tangy beverage made from, most often, black tea, the kombucha bacteria, yeast and sugar. The combination is allowed to ferment, leaving the product rich in enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants.
Probiotics may help regulate and reduce stress in the brain. According to a study from the University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, the presence of a specific probiotic in the gut altered behaviors relevant to anxiety and depression; as well as modulating receptors in the brain known to be involved in anxiety. The presence of the probiotics also reduced the stress-induced elevation in a hormone that regulates stress.
What to look for on the label? The foods mentioned above will be in the refrigerated section of your market. The label will specify that the item has not been pasteurized and that it is a live food. It may also state that it contains probiotics. Yogurts are a bit more specific, here’s what to look for on the label: “Live Active Culture,” a seal that guarantees at least 108 viable (live) lactic acid bacteria per gram in refrigerated products and 107 for frozen. Most brands will name the bacterium and health benefit. Check for the expiration date; the older the product the less live cultures.
Don’t forget prebiotics! Prebiotics are the substances in foods that promote the growth and feed the healthy bacteria. The most prevalent forms of prebiotics are soluble fibers. Our bodies cannot digest prebiotics, but the good (lactic acid) bacteria in our gut can digest them for energy. Once digested, the products are used to support the intestinal walls as well as the growth of beneficial bacteria. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are prebiotics widely available in plant foods, found in many fruits and vegetables, including: broccoli, kale, green cabbage, onions, leeks, garlic, artichoke, bananas, oranges, whole wheat, oats, barley, rye, chicory root, flax, and berries.