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Your digestive tract is full of living organisms that help keep you healthy--around 400 different types of beneficial bacteria and yeast strains that co-habitate in your gastrointestinal system. There are several different kinds of foods and supplements that contain these beneficial bugs (probiotics) or help keep your gut flora functioning optimally (prebiotics).
Probiotics: Beneficial Bugs Probiotics are beneficial bacteria or yeast strains that provide health benefits by crowding out harmful bacteria, boosting your intestinal health, and strengthening your immune system. Found in fermented foods and in supplement form, here's how to incorporate these health-promoting bugs into your diet:
Yogurt: This is the most common probiotic food that you're probably already eating on a regular basis. Yogurt, as long as it is made with live and active cultures, delivers a tasty dose of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Streptococcus thermophilus to your system.
Kefir: This cultured milk drink is similar to yogurt but with a more drinkable consistency. Make sure the product you choose contains live cultures. Kefir also contains some helpful yeast strains.
Fermented vegetables: The most common fermented vegetable is sauerkraut. Most sauerkraut you find in grocery stores, however, is pickled rather than fermented, but certain brands are still made the old-fashioned way, which uses salt as a preservative that creates an environment that is inhospitable to bad bacteria but perfect for bacteria like Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus plantarum. Many DIYers are now making their own fermented food products at home. (Visit CulturesforHealth.com to learn about many different types of fermented foods, along with complete instructions for fermenting vegetables at home.)
Olives: Olives that are preserved in brine contain similar strains of bacteria to other fermented vegetables like sauerkraut.
Miso: This fermented soy bean paste is used in Japanese cooking, most commonly to make a flavorful soup by the same name. Read the label carefully to make sure the miso still contains live cultures, and always add miso at the end of cooking time, as boiling kills the cultures. Beyond soup, there are lots of ways to enjoy miso. Check out these recipes!
Tempeh: Tempeh is another product made from fermented soy beans or other legumes. These beans are then pressed into a cake that can be sliced and sautéed to top salads, act as a sandwich filling or take the place of meat in many recipes. Learn more about cooking with tempeh.
Fermented soft cheeses: Cheeses like Gouda, Brie, bleu cheese and aged goat cheese can contain beneficial bacteria.
Kombucha: This fermented tea is made with a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria that eats the sugar from the tea mixture leaving behind a slightly sour, bubbly drink.
Probiotic supplements: It is important to note that each type of friendly bacteria has a specific health benefit to the body. With more than 400 different types of probiotics identified, researchers are just starting to uncover the health roles and benefits of each. If you're thinking about using a probiotic supplement, talk to your doctor regarding the type of supplement to use based on your signs and symptoms. This will help assure that you are receiving the best treatment option available. Probiotic supplements are available in a variety of forms, such as freeze-dried powder, capsules, wafers and liquids. Take note of the storage information and expiration date.
Megan Lane Patrick has been a professional writer and editor for the past 16 years, and was a chronic dieter for at least 30. A combination of weight loss surgery, mindful eating and daily exercise finally allowed her to maintain a weight loss of more than 100 pounds. As a SparkPeople editor, she’s able to combine her love of writing with her passion for health and fitness to help other people achieve their goals. When she’s not lifting weights at the gym, you can find her walking shelter dogs as a volunteer for the SPCA.
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