The truth is that probiotic foods have the potential to affect your nervous system, mood, immune health and more!
Simple fruits such as bananas or fancier foods like spirulina all have a place in improving gut health and boosting your vitality.
What’s a Probiotic?
Probiotics are bacteria that live in the digestive system which can promote digestive function and support healthy gut-bacteria balance.
We know that food is more than fuel. Food provides information to the brain and body.
The majority of the body’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s a highly sophisticated and active component of human health. This is where the majority of cell signaling occurs to every other body system. Probiotics interact directly with our gut lining cells and immune cells.
Immune cells in the digestive tract communicate with local beneficial bacteria. Probiotic foods (and supplements) have the capacity to alter genetic immune functions. This makes probiotic foods a powerful therapeutic agent, right in your own home!
Benefits of Probiotic Foods
The consumption of probiotic foods has several health benefits. According to the research, some of these include:
- Reducing the effects of type 2 diabetes
- Reducing the risk of heart disease
- Irritable bowel disease
- Supports healthy weight and BMI
- Supports respiratory health
- Improves lactose and carbohydrate absorption
- Enhances the immune system & reduces allergy severity
Foods such as yoghurt have probiotics (cultures) added. In some fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, the fermentation process is initiated by microbes present in the foods themselves.
Some Common Probiotic Strains
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii (ssp. bulgaricus)
Prebiotic or Probiotic: What’s The Difference?
The term prebiotic and probiotic is often used interchangeably in health articles. To make it clear, a prebiotic is the food or substrates which bacteria feed off (e.g: acetic acid, butyric acid) and a probiotic is the actual bacterium itself (e.g: Lactobacillus ssp.). Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that provide a food source to bacteria.
Naturally, prebiotics help the ‘good bacteria’ in the digestive tract to multiply.
The administration of probiotics (as supplements or foods), is one aspect of addressing digestive issues. The environment in which probiotic species live needs to be suitable for their survival. To multiply and colonize the digestive tract, probiotic bacteria need food to survive and an acidic pH to thrive.
Prebiotics influence the microbial activity in the intestine, the absorption of minerals and can stimulate the immune system. Addressing digestive pH levels, stress, toxins, and providing prebiotic foods is a well-rounded way to ensure any probiotic bacteria have a beneficial effect in the body.
Here’s 10 amazing probiotic foods that can help you achieve optimal health from the inside out.
10 Best Probiotic Foods
Apples contain around 100 million bacteria, all of which actively influence the gut microbiome. Apples are naturally high in pectin, which becomes a food source for beneficial gut bacteria. Research suggests the polyphenols in apple skin also increases the immune effects of probiotics in the colon. This applies to dried apples as well.
Yoghurt is made from milk fermented by lactobacillus, bifidobacteria and streptococcus thermophilus strains. Yoghurt is one of the most accessible, cheapest and best sources of probiotics on the planet. Yoghurt is also naturally high in calcium, protein and minerals.
All of these nutrients help with development and make a wonderful first food for babies and kids. The lactose in yoghurt is also partially broken down by the probiotic strains, making it a gentle option for those sensitive to lactose or dairy products.
Under-ripe bananas (green bananas) are a fantastic source of prebiotic fibre, which help promote bacterial growth. Green bananas are full of a type of prebiotic fibre called resistant starch.
Resistant starch is a unique dietary fibre that specifically feeds good digestive bacteria. It is indigestible to humans and travels to the colon where it has physiological benefits. Resistant starches increase short-chain fatty acids, such butyric acid. Butyric acid is the most common fuel source of intestinal cells.
Resistant starch from green bananas has several health benefits, including reducing the incidence of bowel disease, constipation, diverticulitis, improving insulin sensitivity and healthy weight maintenance.
Parmesan cheese is a ‘functional food’ due its biological effects on human health. Aside from being a robust source of protein and calcium, parmesan cheese has special prebiotic and probiotic activity.
The insoluble fibre in hard cheeses such as Pecorino and Parmesan cheese provide prebiotic fuel for gut bacteria. These fibres stimulate the growth and activity of various bacterial populations. Research shows that 12-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains. This strain has mood-stabilising properties and can help settle upset tummies.
Sauerkraut may be one of the most well known probiotic foods. Steeped in European culture, sauerkraut is a sour, tangy fermented cabbage dish, loaded with health benefits. High in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants and of course probiotics for gut health. Sauerkraut, like most fermented or preserved foods, was traditionally eaten during winter months when nutritious food was scarce.
The sauerkraut fermentation process preserves much of the insoluble fibre, prebiotics and other nutrients. Traditionally made with caraway seeds, sauerkraut can also be used as a digestive aid, supporting the digestive system and liver in breaking down rich, fatty meals.
Kimchi is a fermented cabbage and vegetable dish local to Korean cuisine. Similar to sauerkraut, kimchi is full of probiotic strains, including lactobacillus species. Kimchi is often made with other immune-boosting foods, including ginger, garlic, onion. This gives kimchi an added anti-inflammatory therapeutic edge!
There are many reported health benefits of kimchi in the scientific literature. Kimchi has anticancer properties and promotes healthy bowel function. Kimchi also reduces cholesterol levels, reduces inflammation and supports skin health.
Among the most researched probiotic foods is kefir.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink using grains, which originally hails from regions surrounding Russia. Kefir is almost like a drinkable yoghurt, with probiotics that break down lactose in milk. This makes kefir an easily digestible and highly nutritious drink.
Kefir, however, confers many health benefits which are supported by several scientific studies. One randomized trial confirmed that kefir is useful in resolving helicobacter pylori infection.
Kefir contains more than 50 species of probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeast species which improve several areas of human health. These benefits include supporting weight loss, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and relieving constipation. Other studies confirm that kefir has anti-cancer and anti-allergy properties. Kefir is a great probiotic functional food for many different health conditions.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste, using salt and koji (beneficial yeast). Miso is at the heart of many Japanese dishes and provides a salty, ‘umami’ flavour which tastes delicious! Traditionally used in miso soup, with wakame and firm tofu, miso is also great as a base for dressings, stews and marinades. Miso paste is rich in vitamins B, K and E and of course probiotics.
Miso contains millions of beneficial bacteria, with the species ranging in diversity from each variety of miso that’s made. Many studies suggest that soy products, including miso, can support cardiovascular health.
Miso may reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and triglycerides according to the research. Miso could also protect against the negative effects of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
The key component of balsamic vinegar in relation to gut health is the acetic acid. Research shows that acetic acid is a precursor food (prebiotic) for beneficial bifidobacteria. Digestive and immune health are supported by balsamic vinegar consumption, as these two systems work synergistically in the body.
Balsamic vinegar (and all vinegars) retain their polyphenol content, which further provides anti-diabetic, antioxidative, and antihypertensive effects.
Spirulina is a bit of a curve ball here. It’s not something usually associated with gut health but it’s one of the most nutritious foods nature provides. Spirulina is an edible blue-green algae, full of nutrients including probiotics. In vitro studies have established the effects of spirulina on microbes in the gut. Spirulina appears to modulate and enhance their immune activity of endogenous gut bacteria.
This is my ultimate prebiotic and probiotic support recipe. It’s perfect for addressing microbiome imbalance and digestive issues. It’s delicious warm in colder months, and just as delightful cold served with yoghurt on a summer morning. Enjoy!
- 6 red delicious apples (or any organic apple preferably)
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup preservative-free sultanas (optional)
- 2 tsp. Cinnamon
- Dice the apples, skin on (very important for optimal prebiotic support)
- Place all the ingredients in a covered, heavy-bottomed pan and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Cook until soft. The colour should be slightly brown from the cinnamon.
- Enjoy warm, or cold. I suggest making up as many individual portions as needed for the week.
- Serve with greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt for added probiotic benefits and digestive support. Add nuts, seeds and natural honey as desired.
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