How often have you heard the expression “you are what you eat”?
This is partially true. However it goes deeper than this and I’d say that you are what you absorb. All the great food in the world doesn’t mean a lot if your body is not digesting and absorbing it properly. Today we’re looking at how important gut health is not only for digestion but your overall health and immunity, and what natural probiotics you can include in your diet to have a healthy gut.
Probiotics and your gut health
Your gut or microbiome, is a collection of bacteria that are critically important for how your body functions. The majority of the DNA in your body is actually taken up by these gut bugs and by definition, you are technically more bacteria than you are human. These gut bugs are keeping you alive along with protecting you against germs, breaking down food to release energy, making vitamins and even controlling your mood.
When the balance of good to bad bacteria gets out of whack, then you can be looking at issues like:
- Excess internal gas
- Chronic diahrhhea
- Bad breath
- Bloating and cramping
- Development of food intolerance
Your immune system will also be suppressed leading to easier sickness. Your gut balance can be thrown off by things like sugar, antibiotics, alcohol, lack of physical activity, smoking and not getting enough sleep among a bunch of other things.
So, how to improve your gut health? Probiotics can help.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can improve your gut health when consumed in adequate amounts. There are a lot of different types and getting a wide range is very beneficial. They also promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system.
Top 10 Natural probiotics to include in your diet
Since you want as many good gut bacteria as possible, here are the best food sources to find them in:
Kombucha is a fermented beverage that is filled with probiotics. It’s made from sweetened black or green tea. Many brands now include other healthy ingredients in it such as ginger, chai, or a greens extract.
Kombucha is extremely popular right now and easy to find. It’s best to start with 4 oz a day and can be consumed on an empty stomach in the morning or at any other points in the day.
Kefir is similar to kombucha in which it’s a fermented beverage but this time coming from milk. This does sound a bit weird but is very healthy. It’s made with ‘kefir grains’ which are strains of bacteria that give the milk its probiotic content and gives a light carbonation. It’s also full of a ton of nutrients, protein and looks to be a better probiotic source than yogurt.
You can use it as a marinade, salad dressing and even in baking.
Yep, the Snooki favorite! You’re looking at cucumbers that get pickled in salt and water and left to ferment using their own lactic acid bacteria. Pickles made with vinegar don’t contain probiotics but traditional pickles do. They will also give you Vitamin K and are low in calories. Remember not to go with the deep fried variety though.
The Japanese sesasoning is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji. It’s turned into a paste and is popular for use in soups. Besides probiotics, miso is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
This is probably the main go-to food choice for probiotics but you want to be sure of a few things first.
Many commercial varieties of yogurt are more deserts than a health food especially the ‘fruit on the bottom’ types. Most of these colorfully packaged yogurts contain so much sugar that you’re probably taking a few steps backward.
Go for natural, unflavored and make sure that it says on the package what it contains. If the package doesn’t indicate clearly its nutrients and ingredients, there’s a good chance that a lot of the good bacteria was destroyed during processing.
Don’t wait for Oktoberfest and a beer stein the size of a Buick, sauerkraut is good all the time! Similar to pickles, sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that is fermented by lactic acid and bacteria. It’s easy to make and can last for months in the fridge.
Along with probiotics, it contains vitamin C, vitamin B and antioxidants. It’s easy to use on said sausages or hot dogs, can be a side dish, in sandwiches and even in stews. (And no a hot dog is NOT a sandwich.)
Kimchi is like the Korean sauerkraut. It’s made from cabbage but can also include other vegetables and is seasoned with things like garlic, red chili flakes, ginger and salt etc. The lactic acid bacteria in kimchi helps make it great for digestion and contains vitamins, minerals and iron.
8. Dark chocolate
Yes, this is actually a probiotic source. Dark chocolate contains fiber and your gut bacteria is able to break down and ferment this and other compounds and also creates anti-inflammatory effects that boost your health.
You want to make sure that you’re consuming dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao in it and not a Toblerone that’s the size of your head. A square or two a day can provide you with some great health benefits.
9. Green olives
Salt water brined olives undergo a natural fermentation. Since olives contain lactic acid bacteria, this helps give them a good probiotic content. There are two different strains of live cultures associated with olives that are helpful to combat bloating and helpful for people with irritable bowel syndrome. (And no it’s doesn’t count if you get your olive content from happy hour martinis!)
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is made with a yeast starter which gives it a bit more of a meaty, tender bite to it. It’s why you find vegan meat and bacon alternatives made from it. It’s a great probiotic source that is very versatile to use but also contains a lot of protein. In a 3-ounce serving, you’ll get around 16 grams of protein.
Wrapping it up
We are learning more and more about how important it is to keep our microbiome as healthy as possible. Luckily it’s not hard to include great sources of probiotics that can help boost your gut health and with that your overall health with it.
Try the above suggested natural probiotics, include them in your daily meals and you’ll gradually see improvement in your gut health!