After once being relegated to the shelves of obscure health markets, probiotics are officially everywhere. They’ve popped up online and in grocery and drug stores — and people are buying them in greater and greater numbers.
According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 3.9 million people have consumed probiotics and/or prebiotics in supplement form. That’s four times as many people taking the supplement than in 2007, just five years earlier.
With increasing numbers of Americans suffering from digestive disorders, people are opting to take a more proactive role in their personal health care — one that doesn’t always have to include a prescription.
Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that are naturally present in the intestinal tract and also play an important role in maintaining your digestive — and overall — health.
Things like antibiotics, excess sugar consumption, and stress kill the naturally occurring probiotics, leaving more bad bacteria than good. This imbalance can lead to food allergies, skin issues, urinary tract infections, and even mood disorders.
With up to 70 percent of the immune system located in the digestive tract, it’s important to keep that space happy, healthy, and in proper balance.
If you aren't taking probiotic supplements, these seven foods can pack a powerful probiotic punch into your diet:
Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea with a blend of bacteria and yeast. The result, after the fermentation process, is a carbonated beverage that contains vitamins, acids, enzymes, and, of course, probiotics.
Because of these properties, the health benefits of kombucha include reduced joint pain, increased energy, and improved digestion and immune support.
An added bonus is that the subtly sweet drink is a perfect substitute for high-sugar soda and juice drinks, which ultimately work against the healthy bacterial balance in your gut.
Though kimchi has been a staple in Korean diets for thousands of years, Americans have only recently taken notice of its amazing flavor and, most importantly, its myriad health benefits.
Kimchi is simply pickled cabbage with a bit of spice, and just as the fermentation of kombucha yields beneficial health properties, the benefits of kimchi are much the same.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans (and sometimes rice or barley). While miso is most commonly recognized in the United States as the key ingredient in miso soup, this flavorful paste also brings a host of health benefits.
It helps regulate the digestive system and lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer. Additional benefits include a decrease in levels of fatigue, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation.
Perhaps the most well-known probiotic food, yogurt has long been consumed by health enthusiasts looking to get their bacteria levels back in check. Yogurt is a fermented dairy product created by the addition of lactic-acid-producing cultures to milk — both dairy and dairy-free varieties.
The result is a smooth and creamy treat that’s loaded with beneficial bacteria and often recommended for those who are taking antibiotics or struggling with yeast infections.
(As a side note: All yogurts are not created equal. Consuming yogurt that is heavily processed and/or full of sugar will not produce the same benefits and can, in fact, cause more harm than good to the gut.)
When it comes to probiotic foods, kefir is a heavy hitter. A fermented dairy product, kefir is much like a drinkable yogurt with a tart flavor.
Because it’s so packed with nutrients like probiotics, vitamin B12, calcium, folate, magnesium, and more, it’s not surprising that it can heal the digestive system in several ways, including fighting inflammation and improving lactose digestion.
Native to Indonesia, tempeh is made from soybeans, which take on a cake-like consistency when they are bound together by a fungus during the fermentation process.
A popular meat substitute for vegetarians, tempeh is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and, because of the fermentation process, probiotics. A huge selling point of tempeh is its versatility in various recipes.
7. Sourdough Bread
Carb fans, rejoice! Thanks to the live bacteria in sourdough, there’s a redeeming quality to this oft-rejected food, and, what’s more, it’s one of the most flavorful breads around.
Sourdough bread is made from a starter that contains both yeast and a bacteria called lactobacillus. As the ingredients are fermented (creating those wonderful air bubbles in the finished loaf), healthy bacteria levels rise and the digestive tract enjoys the benefits — while you enjoy the taste!
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