What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria present in the digestive (GI) tract. Probiotics are often referred to as “good” or “friendly” bacteria in the gut because it assists the body in proper digestion, detoxification, immune support, energy production and other important functions.
The word “probiotics” literally means “for life.” The prefix “pro” is derived from the Latin preposition which means “for.” “Biotic” is a Greek word which means “life.”
How Probiotics Increase Immune Function
The digestive tract is one of the largest disease fighting, immune systems in your body. Beneficial bacteria in the colon enhances the production of disease-fighting white blood cells. In addition, probiotics produce a barrier, like a protective shield preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to and being absorbed by the colon walls. So it’s no wonder that a healthy gastrointestinal tract (digestive system) rich in probiotics greatly impacts our ability to ward off illness.
What Affects the Body’s Ratio of Good-to-Bad Bacteria?
Chronic emotional stress, a poor diet, and environmental toxins such as chlorine in the water, and other chemicals you breathe or ingest, weakens the immune system making you susceptible to illness. Prescription antibiotics cannot differentiate between good and bad bacteria. When you take antibiotics, not only does it kill harmful, illness causing bacteria, but it also kills the good bacteria in the GI tract. If you’ve taken antibiotics, it is especially important to reintroduce health enhancing probiotics back into your system to boost immune function.
How to Increase Probiotics in Your Diet
Besides those present in the digestive system, probiotics can be added to the body daily through the consumption of fermented foods or supplements. To promote healthy immune function consume cultured or fermented sour foods at least once a day. As you’ll read, cultures around the world have long enjoyed the flavor and benefits of eating fermented foods.
Probiotic foods containing live beneficial bacteria help balance gut flora, and improve immune function. These foods include:
- Sauerkraut is a favorite German food made by souring grated cabbage and salt. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C. In a Finnish study, research manager, Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, Ph.D. reported, "We are finding that fermented cabbage could be healthier than raw or cooked cabbage, especially for fighting cancer.” It is sold commercially in jars and can be substituted for coleslaw. Try fermenting your own sauerkraut.
- Kimchi (also spelled kimchee or gimchi) is a traditional Korean dish that is made by fermenting cabbage, scallions, radishes, and other vegetables and seasonings using the same method as sauerkraut.
- Apple cider vinegar, unpasteurized, organic with the mother of vinegar in it is valued as a home remedy and health tonic for its medicinal properties. Incorporate this versatile, probiotic rich vinegar into your diet daily by adding it to water and drinking it before meals, use in marinade recipes, salad dressings, sauces, ketchup, and to season cooked greens.
- Kefir is popular in Scandinavian countries, much of Europe, and is gaining attention in the USA. It is a tart, fermented dairy product containing live, probiotic cultures. It is made by adding milk or a milk substitute to kefir grains. The mixture is then fermented. The end product is a lactose-free beverage. Kefir is thinner than yogurt and is consumed as a beverage, often in smoothies. It is available in grocery stores or you can make your own.
- Kombucha is a tangy, fizzy fermented beverage, usually made with black tea. A live scoby starter is a necessity when making kombucha. Scoby is an acronym for a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It is similar in concept to the “mother of vinegar” and is essential to the fermentation process. Scoby can be ordered online. Kombucha drinks can be purchased where health foods are sold.
- Miso soup is a staple of Japanese cooking and is often served in popular Japanese restaurants in the USA. The soup is made using miso paste, a probiotic-rich seasoning typically made from fermenting a mixture of soybeans, barley or brown rice and salt with the fungus, koji.
- Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food that is made from cooked and fermented soybeans formed into a firm patty or cake. Tempeh contains as much protein as beef, and is thus favored in vegetarian cuisine around the world. When purchasing soy products, choose organic, non-gmo.
- Yogurt is a popular food throughout the world. It is made by heating milk, allowing it to cool and then adding in a yogurt culture. Non-dairy milks can also be used. The latest trend in yogurt making utilizes dairy-free coconut milk. The bacterial fermentation imparts live, active cultures into the yogurt. To obtain probiotic rich yogurt, check the labels, and choose varieties containing lactobacillis acidophilus and other live, active strains. Yogurts containing large amounts of sugar cancel out the benefits of the probiotics it may contain. Sugar feeds the harmful bacteria (yeast/Candida) in your gut. For yogurt to be a truly health enhancing probiotic rich food it is best to make your own from dairy-free or raw, unpasteurized milk. Sweeten plain yogurt with stevia instead of refined sugar.
About the Author:
Deborah Tukua is the editor of Journey to Natural Living and the author of the healthy, fresh from the blender recipe book, Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. Check out Lowell and Deborah's super sturdy and handsome DIY Gardening Potting Bench Plans. Deborah is a freelance writer for the Farmers' Almanac and Chiropractic Economics magazine and author of the book, Marketing Strategies for Chiropractic Success.