Have you ever heard about probiotics? Wondered how to include them in your diet when they are considered to be healthy. This post delves you through the importance of probiotics in maintaining a healthy system and the best foods to consider.
What are Probiotics?
Bacteria are often conceived as disease causing organisms and something associated with bad health. But all bacteria are not harmful. Our intestines consist of several kinds of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics refer to the beneficial gut bacteria which facilitate digestion by stimulating the digestive juices and enzymes. These bacteria are produced by the action of lactic acid, bacteria and yeast.
Functions of Probiotics:
Probiotics provide several health benefits and help maintain a healthy immune system. Their variety of health benefits include controlling harmful bacteria in the stomach, fighting chronic inflammation, breaking down sugars and carbohydrates into more digestible and healthier foods, fighting diarrhoea and boosting the immune system function.
Our intestines are a home to nearly 500 different types of bacteria. The friendly bacteria present in our intestines can be classified into 7 types namely
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgarius
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Bacillus subtilis
All these bacteria are beneficial for us in one way or the other. And indeed, it is very pleasing that some of the natural foods that we consume are rich in these living bacteria. So we can easily increase these beneficial bacteria by increasing the intake of foods rich in probiotics.
Top 17 Probiotic Foods:
Probiotic supplements are often recommended when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines gets disturbed due to infection or excess intake of antibiotics. Probiotics play an important role in improving the intestinal function. The best way to prevent intestinal problems is to get this live bacterium through your diet. Yes, you heard it right. There are certain foods which contain these beneficial bacteria. Given below are some of the foods that are the best sources of probiotics.
Yogurt is undoubtedly one of the best and most easily available probiotic foods. Opt for the yogurt prepared from raw milk or goat’s milk as it has natural sugars and other nutritional elements preserved in it which are usually destroyed in the pasteurization process. Goat’s milk is particularly high in probiotics like lactobacillus or acidophilus, thermophilus, bifudus and bulgaricus. However, one needs to be careful while purchasing yogurt. Most of the yogurt varieties are further processed by adding high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and flavours. Always go for plain yogurt without added flavours, colours or other additives.
A popular drink of Europe, kefir is prepared from goat, cow or sheep milk and fermented kefir grains. Apart from being high in lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria, kefir is also rich in antioxidants. The process of fermentation breaks down the lactose in milk to provide you with a lactose free product. Today kefir made from soy, rice or coconut milk is also available. While purchasing kefir, opt for a good organic version at your local health food stores. Kefir can be consumed alone or used as a substitute for milk in recipes.
Nowadays, certain types of milk are also available with added probiotics. However, studies have proved that probiotic milk may cause adverse effects like gas and bloating in kids and elderly people. So it is advisable to consult your doctor before making use of such milk.
4. Soy Milk:
Soy is a rich source of probiotic bacteria. Besides, some soy milk products with added live cultures are also available. So if you don’t like dairy products, you can go for soy milk for probiotic benefits. Ensure that the labels says “live and active cultures”.
5. Miso Soup:
A popular Japanese spice, miso is widely used in soups in that country. This spice is prepared by fermenting soybean, brown rice or barley with a fungus called koji. Miso soup is a traditional Japanese cuisine prepared with tofu and vegetables. It is low in calories but high in protein and probiotics. Miso is available in grocery stores and you can easily prepare the soup at home. All you need to do is add some miso to hot water. Apart from this, you can use miso in crackers or other foods in place of butter.
Sauerkraut is a German recipe prepared from fermented cabbage and some other vegetables. It is not only rich in probiotic bacteria but also helps in lowering allergy symptoms. Besides, it is a rich source of vitamins A, B, C and E. There are several sauerkraut recipes available online. To reap the benefits of probiotic bacteria and other nutrition, you can incorporate it in your diet.
Just like sauerkraut, kimchi is the Korean version of fermented cabbage. Like most Asian dishes, it is extremely spicy and sour in taste. Apart from being rich in beneficial bacteria, it is a good source of calcium, iron, beta-carotene and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. Thus, if you like to eat spicy food, kimchi is a great option to add to your diet.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product from Indonesia which is also an amazing source of probiotic bacteria. It is a cake like product prepared by adding a tempeh starter to soybeans and allowing it to sit for a day or two. You can consume it raw or boiled with miso or soy sauce. Tempeh is mostly deep fried, but frying should be avoided as it reduces its nutritional value. It is also a good source of vitamin B12. It is a good substitute for meat or tofu and can be baked, sautéed or added crumbled into salads.
9. Kombucha Tea:
This fermented tea is widely available in Asian grocery and health food stores. This dark tea has been used for centuries and has been found to increase energy, improve digestion and aid weight loss. The best part is that it is rich in healthy probiotic bacteria. You can try it hot or iced. However, Kombucha tea is not suitable for those with candida problems.
This might sound strange but the common green pickles are an excellent source of probiotics. For greater benefits, avoid the commercialized products and try preparing pickles at home in the sun. Even if you are buying pickles from outside, choose a local manufacturer who uses organic ingredients. Pickles can be a tasty treat as a side dish for your meals plus the probiotic benefits.
11. Fermented Cheeses:
Cheeses are other dairy products that are good sources of probiotic bacteria. Cheese is prepared by adding microbes to the starter product, i.e. a culture of lactic acid bacteria and allowing it to ferment. This fermentation process may take a few days or few years, depending upon the type of end product to be formed. Generally old cheeses have greater amounts of probiotic bacteria. They can be easily incorporated in your diet in the form of pizza and sandwich toppings.
12. Apple Cider Vinegar:
Apple cider vinegar also contains probiotics. It offers a host of other health benefits like controlling blood pressure, treatment of diabetes and causing weight loss. You can try drinking a small amount of apple cider vinegar on a daily basis or use it as salad dressing.
13. Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate is undoubtedly one of the most delicious sources of probiotic bacteria. The antioxidants contained in it keep your stomach healthy while satisfying your sweet tooth. You can have it almost at any time of the day. It is also a great option if you need to watch your weight.
The term ‘microalgae’ is used to refer to ocean based plants like spirullina, blue-green algae and chorella. These are considered as super foods due to their variety of health benefits. These probiotic foods can increase the amount of both Lactobacillus and bifido bacteria in the digestive tract. They are also an excellent source of energy.
Unlike others, poi is not a widely recognized probiotic food, though it contains more beneficial bacteria than yogurt. It is basically a staple food of Hawaii that is prepared by mashing cooked taro plant until its consistency turns to liquid to dough like. Though poi is packed with good bacteria, it has sparked a controversy regarding the hygiene standards maintained in its preparation in the U.S. Thus, the original poi with all its health benefits is only available at Hawaii.
Natto is also a type of fermented soybean with a distinct pungent odour. Being a Japanese staple food, it is often consumed there with rice for breakfast. It is a good source of probiotics.
17. Brine Cured Olives:
Olives are renowned for their health benefits. Brine cured olives are an excellent source of probiotics as well. Brine refers to the solution of salt in water. Always opt for organic olives and avoid purchasing them from large manufacturers selling commercial products. Also ensure that the olives do not contain sodium benzoate. Olives can be eaten by themselves as a snack or included in several recipes.
Thus, if you are frequently troubled by digestive problems, your digestive system might be lacking in beneficial probiotic bacteria. In such a case, try incorporating these food items in your diet to obtain the health benefits of probiotic bacteria!
Do not forget to share your valuable thoughts with us.