The Health Benefits of Probiotics
When it comes to making healthy choices about food and lifestyle, there are three excuses that come up again and again as to why not.
1 – I don’t believe it’s really that important.
2 – I don’t have the time or energy.
3 – I can’t afford it.
Probiotics are one of those choices. The health benefits of probiotics are undeniable…so no more excuses!
Allow me to explain why probiotics are so important.
We have become a germ-o-phobic culture. We use antibacterial soap at most sinks, ultra-pasteurize our food, and even disinfect our shopping carts before we touch them. It’s not to say that hygiene is bad, but when it comes to food and our digestive tracts, the presence of good bacteria is essential to good overall health.
In the olden days our food was harvested locally – fruits and vegetables were dug out of the earth or picked off of a tree and rinsed before cooking or eating. Now our food is sprayed with bleach or worse (even the organics, folks!) before shipping thousands of miles to sit on a shelf before we buy it. The methods used to keep food fresh longer eradicates nearly all living micro-organisms – good and bad – from our food.
Before refrigeration, our ancestors used traditional methods of culturing and fermenting that not only preserved food, but also cultivated rich probiotics served at every meal. Now even our pickles are devoid of natural culture and our dairy products are pasteurized to the point of containing no beneficial strains of bacteria.
The only remnant of cultured food is yogurt which is inoculated with acidophilus and other healthy strains. But yogurt alone is not enough to save our imbalanced gut flora that is overrun by bad bacteria and yeast.
For these reasons, probiotics are one of the few daily supplements that I recommend for just about everyone. There are several ways to get your daily dose, and you can choose based on time, money, and the needs of your body.
The easiest way to ensure that your body is populated with good strains of bacteria is to take a high quality probiotic. Probiotics come in different forms from fruity chewables for kids to enteric coated capsules for adults.
The main downside to probiotic supplementation is the cost – while you can buy cheap probiotics, you usually get what you pay for. Most probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated, so it also takes an extra effort to remember to take them each day.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, you want a high potency (usually in the 10’s of billions) and a diverse strain – unless your practitioner has advised that you limit certain strains. The following are a few good ones available either in health food stores, online, or at your practitioner’s office:
MegaFlora by Mega Foods
Be sure to note what the other ingredients are in the supplement – some, like Jarrow, contain dairy and therefore should be avoided by those with sensitivities to dairy.
Store-Bought Cultured Foods
In many health foods stores these days, it’s easy to spot bottles of kombucha, yogurt, and naturally fermented veggies (such as Bubbies sauerkraut and pickles and traditional kimchi). This option will save you time but costs more money than when you make these foods at home.
Homemade Cultured Foods
Many of these foods are not nearly as complicated or time consuming as you may think. They require very little equipment, and will save you loads of money as compared to the other two options. Here are just a few ideas:
Drinks such as kombucha, beet kvass, cultured lemonade or root beer, or kefir sodas
Cultured dairy (use milk from grass-fed cows) including homemade yogurt, kefir, cultured butter, and homemade cheeses
Cultured Veggies – traditional sauerkraut, kimchee, pickled beets, ginger carrots, and many more
Cultured condiments including mustard, mayonnaise, salsa, and my Practically Perfect Ketchup
You can find tons of great recipes online, and Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation is a great resource that explores the fun and delicious world of cultured foods. Find starter cultures for yogurt, kombucha, kefir and more here.
Besides cultured foods, aim to buy as much of your food as possible direct from your farmer, and ask him or her how it is processed before you buy them. If you’ve got a green thumb, grow your own fruit and veggies using organic methods.
When You Need More
If you have digestive issues (acute or chronic), allergies, asthma, skin issues, emotional imbalance, a history of antibiotic use, or you just don’t feel well, it is a good idea to take a probiotic supplement in addition to eating cultured foods daily. All babies consuming formula should supplement with an infant probiotic – like this one – at the very minimum.
Sometimes, probiotics alone may not be enough. A special elimination diet such as the GAPS diet can help to heal your gut flora and even reverse food allergies including lactose intolerance or wheat sensitivities [source]