A Gut Feeling: Why Take Probiotics Jennifer Musser October 24, 2014 Be Healthy, Be One with Nutrition Hippocrates said that all diseases begin in the gut. A great way to prevent disease and keep your gut healthy is a clean diet and probiotics! Bacteria don’t just make us sick –other types can be very beneficial for us. Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria that are similar to the good flora in our gut. While it’s becoming common knowledge that some types of bacteria are beneficial for gut health, researchers are discovering many other benefits that these little buggers hold. Probiotics help reduce our risk of other infectious diseases by combatting the harmful bacteria in the GI tract. They also aid in nutrient absorption, maintain the integrity of the lining of the gut, support healthy digestion, and boost immunity (which makes sense given that approximately 80% of our immune cells are in the GI tract). Studies have shown that probiotics may also help treat and prevent obesity and have a positive impact on our mental health. That’s a lot of power in your little yogurt cup. Many of us have impaired gut health due to past years of consuming too many processed and refined foods, sugar, and stress. Overuse of antibiotics can also cause dysbiosis, by taking them or by consuming conventionally raised meat. Increasing probiotic intake is a fantastic way to restore the proper balance of bacteria in your GI tract. So what’s the best way to get your daily dose of probiotics? Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, consuming more of them is an easy way to replenish our good bacteria. Don’t turn your nose up at fermented goodies! From fish to beans, people have been fermenting their food for hundreds of years. It’s an inexpensive way to preserve food and add a distinct flavor. Most people are already familiar with yogurt and sauerkraut. If you can tolerate dairy, try adding more yogurt to your diet. There are an overwhelming amount of options out there, so look for a label that says “with live and active cultures.” If there are multiple strains listed in the ingredients then it has a wider variety of benefits. Get plain yogurt and mix in your own berries and fruit if you need to add some flavor. Most of the flavored yogurts sold in supermarkets are nothing but creamy junk food with extra sugar and other questionable additives. Greek yogurt, which is made by draining out the excess water and whey, yields a richer tasting product and has much more protein. I make my own Greek yogurt at home, but if I need to buy some for a new “starter” I like Nancy’s Organic Whole Milk Probiotic Greek Yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt is also a great substitute for sour cream in recipes and for dipping. Get creative with your yogurt! Another type of fermented dairy product is kefir, which is made with different bacteria strains and yeast. Compared to yogurt it has a thinner consistency and more sour taste. If the plain flavor turns you off, try using it instead of milk for smoothies. If you are sensitive to dairy, there are water based kefir drinks available which sort of taste like champagne (a giant plus). Kombucha, a carbonated drink made from fermented tea and sugar is also becoming more popular and many brands offer many different great tasting flavors (citrus, gogi berry, ginger, the list is now endless). Some types of fermented plant foods include tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi which are also rich sources. Since different probiotic strains and foods offer different benefits, it’s good to consume a variety fermented foods. Some may choose to use probiotic supplements. In order to get the full benefit be sure to follow the manufacturers’ instructions on storage, as many of these need to be refrigerated after opening. Consume within the expiration date. Labels will indicate how many billions of viable cells are in single dose – however check the fine print and make sure the potency is the same if consumed within the expiration date and not just “at the time of manufacture.” Most importantly, probiotic foods and supplements will NOT compensate for a poor diet that is high in processed foods, sugars, and other refined carbohydrates. Eating a clean diet with whole foods, adequate protein, and nourishing fats with minimal added sugars will help keep your insides happy and healthy.