Good bacteria: it’s a thing!
When you think of microorganisms, “health” might not be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, we’ve been taught our whole lives that germs make us sick. And while some bacteria do promote disease and infection, others can be quite good for us. Enter: probiotics.
Probiotics are the “good bacteria”—live microorganisms that have special benefits for our bodies. You may have seen packages at the grocery store touting the probiotic content of certain foods; so, what are these products and what can they do for us?
Have you had your kombucha today? This fermented tea is served cold and lightly sweetened. It is made using a colony of beneficial yeast and bacteria. The result is cultured goodness, with a slightly fizzy, cider-like taste. Kombucha comes in many different brands and flavors and can easily serve as a healthier alternative to soda or beer.
Kefir is another beverage to keep an eye on. Made similarly to kombucha, it is a fermented milk complete with live cultures. Kefir is available in different flavors and tastes like liquid yogurt.
Prefer to mix your probiotics in with some granola and berries? Plenty of yogurts today are made with active cultures—just don’t forget to check the sugar content! Your best bet is to choose a plain variety, then sweeten it with fruit or honey.
If you prefer savory flavors, why not try some fermented veggies? Kimchi and sauerkraut are loaded with the good stuff and are an easy way to spice up sandwiches and salads. For a plant-protein powerhouse, try tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans.
Are these drinks and foods not your cup of tea? Although we promote the “food first” approach, probiotics are also available in supplement form. If you choose a supplement, look for one with 10-20 billion live CFUs (colony-forming units), as this dose has shown most beneficial in clinical trials. Always look for live cultures. Heat and pasteurization tend to kill the bacteria, which means your body will not reap the benefits. Refrigerated probiotics have a shelf life of about three to six weeks. Selecting a probiotic with a variety of strains is also important, as different strains provide special benefits. Three well-researched and important strains to look for include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
No matter how you decide to consume your probiotics, please keep in mind: although probiotics don’t usually have side effects, if any new food or supplement causes you gastrointestinal distress, discontinue it. Remember—listen to your body; foods affect everyone’s digestion differently!
Food for Thought
Now that you know where to find probiotics, you may wonder, what can they do for my health? The science shows that these cultures may be helpful at alleviating unpleasant symptoms of digestive disorders (namely diarrhea), enhance digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, provide oral health benefits, and perhaps even prevent viruses like the common cold by enhancing immune function.
Although most people can benefit from the use of probiotics, they can be especially important if you struggle with any of the following:
- Antibiotic use
- GI dysfunction or discomfort – this includes but is not limited to bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
- Weight management
- Low energy
- Mood disorder, like depression or anxiety
- Weak immunity
- Skin conditions
- Inflammation – this study suggests that probiotics can be used to treat a disturbed gut microbiome, which in turn decreases inflammation leading to depressive disorders
Choosing to consume probiotics is a healthful way to nourish your body—whether you have a history of digestive issues, are using antibiotics, or just want to promote general wellness, show your gut some love!
*Contributed to by CVwellbeing Intern Stephanie Zahares