What are Probiotic Foods?
The bacteria cultures in our body are much more than the total count of our body cells, outnumbering it by 10:1. We’re composed mainly of good and bad bacteria and whatever we do, we will not be free of bad bacteria. Our colon needs to be slightly acidic, to avoid the growth of undesirable bacteria like Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli. The best way to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut is to create acidity, which promotes the growth of various good bacteria like lactobacillus bacteria-the ones with well-known beneficial effects. That’s just part of how the human body works. But what you do want to make sure is, that you have more good bacteria than bad bacteria.
Sometimes, bad bacteria (such as yeasts, viruses, fungi, etc.) outweigh the good kind, you get sick, develop yeast infections, jock itch, catch cold and flu, get fungal overgrowth and have symptoms like acne, have chronic digestive complains, food cravings, weight gain, a number of food allergies, and can even develop depression since good gut bacteria directly influence brain health. Our body keeps a balance of good and bad bacteria. This unseen stability makes us all well and healthy, but the fact is- bad bacteria are also important in keeping vital processes on. Problems only arise when bad bacteria overpopulate the good ones.
With this in mind, it is very important to keep the numbers of good bacteria at its peak at all times. Signs that bad bacteria are winning against the good are the development of infections from yeast and fungus. Conditions such as acne, jock itch, cold, flu, and acne are signals that the body has more bad bacteria. Serious conditions linked to bacteria imbalance are sudden food cravings resulting in weight gain, allergies, chronic digestive issues, and depression.
What are PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics are live bacteria in fermented foods that help supplement the number of existing good bacteria in our gut. Most often it is prescribed to patients being treated with antibiotics. However, it can also be taken every day as metabolic maintenance. Care should be taken when buying probiotics as these living organisms are sensitive to heat and stomach acid. Make sure that what you buy contain strains that resist stomach acid, and be careful also not to mix it with hot liquid or food. Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are examples of strains known to be acid-resistant. Fermented foods are so vital in our body in making sure the bacteria population is in check.
Examples of fermented food items that are also fortified with vitamins and minerals are as follows:
- Dark chocolate which is 70% made of cacao or cocoa is a good source of probiotics. This is far different from the ordinary milk chocolate which contains a limited amount of cacao. Cocoa is the refined form of cacao after harvesting and processing. The higher the amount of cacao or cocoa, the healthier the chocolate is. Dark chocolate has a slightly bitter taste. For this reason, manufacturers add sugar to sweeten it. But this process takes away the health benefits. Choose dark chocolate that’s organic, low in milk and sugar. The reason why dark chocolate is so healthy is that aside from vitamins and minerals, it contains friendly gut bacteria that reacts with chocolate compounds creating anti-inflammatory effects.
- Yogurt is a nutritious fermented product of milk that humans have eaten for hundreds of years. It helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis due to its high calcium content. It’s good for persons who want to be slim. It’s made from all types of milk, fat and non-fat. Some are sweetened and with artificial flavors. Aside from calcium, yogurt is high in vitamin B12 and riboflavin, essential vitamins for protection of heart disease. It is also rich in magnesium, potassium and vitamin D. It contains a high amount of protein, about 12 grams per 7 ounces. Protein supports the metabolism and energy expenditure and assists in appetite regulation which is important for weight control. Enough protein signifies fullness reducing food cravings for people on diet. Many yogurts have been pasteurized, a treatment that kills the beneficial bacteria in it. To ensure that what you are buying is probiotics, look for the labels that indicate it contains live, active cultures
- Pickles are usually made with vinegar. Fermentation cannot be done in a vinegar solution because the acid will kill the organisms. Probiotic pickles are made with a solution of salt and water. Bacteria cannot thrive in this salty solution except for the naturally present salt resistant lactic bacteria. Carrots or cucumbers are allowed to ferment in this solution for several days. Pickled cucumbers are low in calories. They are a great source of vitamin K and sodium. Pickle juice is rich in electrolytes and has been shown to relieve muscle cramps.
- Kimchi is a spicy fermented food originated from Korea. It is made up of Chinese cabbage, cucumber or radish. Seasonings which include chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and salted kinds of seafood. Since it is mostly pickled vegetables, this food is high in fiber but low in calories.
- Kombucha, a sweet and sour fermented product from sweetened tea is so famous in the world of fermented food. Fermentation is initiated in the sweetened tea by combining sugar, beneficial bacteria and yeast (known as SCOBY). The resulting liquor taste and smell like a pungent apple cider. Fermented products like kombucha, popping up with added sugar (more than is necessary to initiate fermentation) can be hazardous to health.
- Natto is a traditional fermented soybean dish from Japan. It has a long history of great food. It is mainly taken as a breakfast staple for 1000 years. Fermentation makes the soybeans easier to digest while boosting your body’s ability to receive nutrient. It has a strong consistency, strong smell, and aftertaste. Fermented soybean such as natto contains vitamin K1 which aids in slowing down arterial calcification, improve liver function and urge the flow of urine and vitamin K2 which could reduce the bone loss for postmenopausal women. Vitamin K2 is not produced by plants but by certain types of bacteria. Natto is a great source of protein and is low in calories. Vitamin PQQ in natto is known to promote healthy skin.
- Tempeh is a soybean product that is a great source of protein. It is similar in shape to Tofu but is different in taste and characteristics. Tempeh is done by fermenting while tofu by curding. Tempeh has a slight earthy sweet taste compared to Tofu which is bland. Tempeh is firm and chewy while Tofu is soft and spongy. Tempeh is brownish in color while Tofu is white. You can use it as an alternative when trying to cut back on meat. Tempeh has more calories, fiber, and protein than Tofu. It can be added to soups, salads, or pasta sauces.
- Miso is another fermented product of soybeans and grains which originated from Japan. Flavorful recipes on soups and dishes include miso in the list. Miso is produced by fermentation of soybeans along with some grains like barley or rice with some fungal organisms. The longer the fermentation process, the smoother the end product becomes and with more complex flavor. To attain the probiotic benefits, buy the unpasteurized miso because pasteurization kills the probiotic bacteria in it. Also, when using miso in a soup, remove the food from the heat immediately because high heat can kill the probiotic bacteria. Miso is available in several varieties: white miso, made from rice and soybeans; yellow miso, made from barley and soybeans, with moderately intense flavor; and red miso, made from soybeans alone, which is the most intensely flavored. Miso is high in sodium can raise the risk of high blood pressure, so it’s best to eat it in moderation.
Kefir has become widespread and more accessible in the past few years due to its health benefits. It can be made with water, microorganisms, sugar, and some flavorings. It can also be processed with milk or coconut water. The natural sugar content of milk and coconut water feeds the microorganisms to multiply and produce a fermented product.
Milk Kefir is the one processed with dairy milk. This is an important ingredient as the sugars lactose found in milk feed the good bacteria that enable them to grow in number. Dairy Kefir is nutrient-dense, with plenty of protein, B vitamins, calcium, and potassium. Dairy kefir is valuable for its many health benefits. Calcium helps to build strong bones, protein builds strong muscles, while potassium is essential for heart health.
Both dairy kefir and yogurt are cultured milk products, but they contain different types of beneficial bacteria. Yogurt contains traces of beneficial bacteria that provide food for the good bacteria in the gut while keeping the digestive system clean. But milk kefir can actually take over the entire intestinal tract, a trait that yogurt is not capable of. Milk Kefir has several strains of good bacteria that are not found in yogurt, like Streptococcus, Acetobacter, Leuconostoc, and Lactobacillus Caucasus species. It also has beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces boulardii and Torula, which dictate, direct and remove destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. These friendly yeasts can do it by getting through the mucosal lining where bad yeast and bacteria reside, forming a team that cleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites.
Milk Kefir’s active yeast and bacteria deliver additional beneficial value than yogurt by facilitating complete digestion of the foods that you eat and by retaining the colon surroundings clean and healthy. Kefir being smaller in size than yogurt, allows it to be digested easily providing nutritious food for babies, the elderly and people experiencing prolonged fatigue and intestinal disorders.
Coconut Water Kefir is a beverage that’s becoming more and more popular due to its incredible health benefits. It’s done by fermenting the coconut water with useful bacteria similar in the process with yogurt. The resulting beverage takes care of your bodies such as boosting immunity in fighting off harmful yeasts and bacteria. The use of fermented drinks is so vital to making sure the bacteria population is in check. Kefir is also known to be an excellent mood enhancer and even improves the functioning of the brain.
Coconut water holds natural sugars that feed the kefir grains in the same manner as sugars found in dairy. The main advantage of coconut water kefir over milk kefir is that it totally eliminates the side effects associated with the consumption of lactose. Lactose intolerance is a situation in which people have difficulty digesting lactose. Coconut water as a whole food contains antiviral properties. It has been shown to boost liver and brain functions. When the water or milk from coconut is cultured with kefir grains to make coconut kefir, the benefits double.
Coconut Water Kefir is unique in many ways. Kefir’s is not only a probiotic. A study found that rats who consumed kefir for 7 days experienced its anti-inflammatory and healing effects. Another study found that kefir may be beneficial in lowering cholesterol and stimulating the immune system. Coconut water Kefir being safe to be consumed as a food, may have fewer side effects than other probiotic supplements. It’s also nutritionally denser than other probiotic supplements.
Coconut water and Kefir grains when combined boost the benefits associated with consuming fermented foods. It has more beneficial microorganisms than dairy-based Kefir and yogurt. Yogurt lacks the ability to colonize the digestive system with organisms that are healthy for the gut. Coconut water Kefir has that ability.
Coconut water kefir contains lower calories than dairy kefir. It contains zero fat and zero sugar. In terms of taste, coconut water kefir is considered more palatable.
Other benefits associated with daily supplementation of coconut water kefir are:
- Helps in shrinking waist size resulting in a flat and firm stomach
- Enhance mood
- Balance hormones
- Increase energy stores
- Eradicate Candida population growth
- Prevent the growth and production of stomach cancer cells
- Reduce sugar cravings
Coconut water kefir is available at local health stores and pharmacy. It is usually associated with fermented, refrigerated foods and drinks. It is a bit expensive than dairy kefir and yogurt but in a way more economical because you only need one tablespoon a day. One bottle can last for one month.
For those who are kitchen savvy, you can make your own coconut kefir. Buy kefir grains, locally or from any online store. Buy a whole young coconut. After you crack it open, get the juice or extract the milk. Both can be used as the medium for the kefir grains microorganisms to multiply. Avoid using bottled coconut water since it lacks in health benefits than the whole coconuts.
Coconut water kefir can be taken directly, 1 tablespoon or two in the morning or before sleeping, mixed with smoothies, blend it over in some water with lemon and stevia for a better flavor, or just stir it into overnight oats. Don’t add it to hot beverages like tea and coffee since heat destroys the probiotics.
Although kefir has a lot of great health benefits, consuming it may induce some side effects, which include constipation and abdominal cramping. It can be administered to children between 1 and 5 years of age, but you can consult their pediatrician first before proceeding just to make sure. Children below 1 year old should not be administered with cow’s milk or any other animal milk, but with breast milk which is high in natural probiotics.
People with AIDS or other immune system disorder are advised to talk to their doctors first before taking kefir. Although it is beneficial to people with the strong immune system, bacteria in kefir may increase infections of those people whose immune systems are out of balance. Those people who are caseins sensitive should also avoid taking kefir because it is made with caseins.
Herxheimer reactions are manifested by people who are under medication with antibiotics. It signals the dying off of organisms in reaction to the drugs. The toxins released by the microorganisms in this stage makes you sick. There are different reactions. Some have no symptoms at all. It is a good sign that your body is cleansing and revitalized again.
Here are some things that you might feel when experiencing Herx reaction after drinking kefir:
- Digestive issues- flatulence, foul-smelling stools, unusual colored stools, diarrhea or constipation, cramping, heartburn, and nausea.
- Flu-like symptoms- increase mucous production, low-grade fever, sore throat, and cough.
- Neurologic symptoms- headache, dizziness, ‘brain fog’, difficulty in concentrating, depression or euphoria (drunk feeling), anxiety extreme tiredness
- Other symptoms- bad breath, achy joints, mild rash
These are normal reactions when drinking kefir. Symptoms may subside when you stop drinking it. Then go at it again later more slowly.
Are probiotic foods good for us?
Yes. Around 100 trillion microorganisms consisting of more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don’t make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens or harmful microorganisms in check, aid digestion, and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.