THE IMPORTANCE OF PROBIOTICS
Billions of friendly bacteria live in our digestive tract and each of us has a bacterial flora that may be as unique as fingerprints. Friendly bacteria help us digest our food and absorb nutrients effectively. We don’t actually digest many components of our food — the bacteria digest it!
In our gut, good bacteria can displace bad bacteria and influence overall health, metabolism, digestion, production of nutrients, immunity, body composition, and more!
Unfortunately, the health of our intestinal bacteria can be compromised. Some common causes of poor gut health are:
– medication use (eg. antibiotics)
– poor diet (eg. excess consumption of sugar, alcohol, processed foods, overeating, inadequate fibre intake, and more)
– aggressive medical therapies (eg. radiation or chemotherapy)
Probiotics as supplements?
Although probiotics are available as dietary supplements, it is not necessary to use special pills to incorporate probiotics into your diet. Furthermore, the supplement industry isn’t regulated the same way as the food industry. What’s on the label of a supplement might not necessarily be what’s inside!
Probiotics from food
Most often, probiotics in our food are created via fermentation as this environment provides a place for the bacteria to grow. Probiotic products must be cooled during storage. If heated, they won’t survive.
Note: while pasteurization is an important aspect of food production (by killing harmful bacteria), fermented foods that are pasteurized won’t have naturally occurring probiotics since high heat destroys them.
I recommending increasing your intake of probiotic through food over supplements. Probiotic foods have additional nutritional benefits such as being high in protein or micronutrients (eg. calcium). So even if adding probiotic foods doesn’t help your digestion, it certainly won’t hurt.
Try adding 1-2 servings of a probiotic food per day!
Plain Greek yogurt
Producers add cultures of bacteria after milk has been pasteurized to ensure the bacteria survives. The plain Greek yogurt is lower in added sugars but tastes tart! Try flavouring the plain yogurt with berries, flavoured protein powder, cinnamon or mix it half and half with your favorite flavoured yogurt.
Bonus: Greek yogurt is high in protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer!
Kefir is a fermented yogurt beverage. Try the unflavoured version to reduce added sugars. You can blend it with fruit to make a smoothie, use it as a base for salad dressing (see this recipe), or enjoy it with granola. You can find Kefir at most grocery stores with the yogurt.
Bonus: Kefir is a source of calcium
Purchase ‘unpasteurized’ saurkraut to ensure the probiotic properties are retained. I have found it at Co-op or Sobeys in the vegetable section. There is also a beet saurkraut by a brand called Wildbrine available in the natural foods section of Superstore. All you need is 2-3 tbsp to count as a serving of probiotics.
Kombucha is a fermented tea that is available at grocery stores, health food stores, and even Costco. Choose the option with the least amount of added sugar per serving. My favorite is the Gingerade by the brand “GT’S.”
Kimchi is a Korean side dish prepared with fermented vegetables like cabbage, cucumber, and radish. Try it in our recipe for Bibimbap. I enjoy the brand Wildbrine (Natural Food Section of Superstore) or Grimm’s (Co-op). Again, choose the unpasteurized version to retain the probiotic properties.
Bonus: since it’s mostly pickled vegetables, kimchi is a great low-calorie source of fiber.
Sourdough bread is alive! It is produced from fermented flour (wheat, rye, barley or a mix of grains).
Bonus: Sourdough is lower on the glycemic-index, it will keep you full for longer instead of causing a short-lived energy spike and subsequent crash.
Produced from fermented soybeans, tempeh is a firm, white block that’s frequently used as a protein-packed meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians (similar to tofu).
Soybeans are fermented to make miso which is a flavourful and salty seasoning paste that can be used in soups, sauces, marinades and salad dressings. You can find Miso in the Natural Food Section of Superstore.