Probiotic means “for life” and probiotics are defined as living microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (that’s you!). Some of these benefits might include strengthening the immune system, decreasing inflammation, competing with pathogenic bacteria, and improving digestion.
Many people are quick to spend big bucks on probiotic supplements when in reality we can obtain similar benefits through consuming a variety of delicious fermented foods.
Certain fermented foods are natural sources of probiotics because the fermentation process encourages beneficial bacteria to flourish. Think sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
You’re likely familiar with yogurt as a source of beneficial bacteria. Not only has yogurt been shown to favorably alter the gut microbiota, but recent research also suggests that it plays a role in appetite control, weight management and protection against type 2 diabetes. Make sure to choose plain yogurt to avoid too much added sugar and unnecessary ingredients. (Reference)
Like yogurt, kefir is a fermented milk product with probiotic benefits. Recent research suggests that both yogurt and kefir might help fight H. Pylori and reduce one’s risk of developing peptic ulcers and gastric cancer, both growing issues in the United States. H. Pylori infection is a major risk factor for these diseases. (Reference)
These are just a few examples of the research to date to suggest that probiotics from fermented foods are good for us. At this point, we can’t tell you exactly how much or how often you should eat these foods, but we can offer a few guidelines. If you like fermented vegetables then start with a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut or kimchi or one pickle a day. For fermented drinks or yogurts, begin with a ¼ cup per day. See how your body reacts to these amounts, and gradually increase as tolerated. By the way, fermented vegetables (e.g. cabbage) typically cause less gas than non-fermented vegetables since the microbes have already fed on the gas-producing sugars. This is why people with a lactose intolerance can frequently tolerate yogurt and kefir.
Here are a few easy ideas and recipes to help you incorporate more fermented foods into your daily routine. Make sure to choose products that are labeled “live and active cultures.”
- Eat a few pickles as a snack or along side your salad, soup or sandwich
- Add unsweetened kefir to a morning smoothie or use in place of milk in your cereal
- Top your eggs, salads or sandwiches with sauerkraut or kimchi
- Enjoy an unsweetened yogurt as an afternoon snack-- add fermented berries for an additional probiotic boost
- Pickle your own vegetables to enjoy whenever you'd like