Probing Probiotics

Should they have a place in your diet?

By now, you’ve probably heard probiotics being advertised on television or in stores, but you may not know what they are or what all the hype is about.

Probiotics are living microorganisms, usually some kind of good or friendly bacteria, which are similar to the 400 different types of helpful microorganisms already found in your digestive system. These bacteria help maintain the natural balance of microorganisms found in your intestines by reducing the growth of harmful bacteria.

They’re in certain foods and dietary supplements, so should you consider adding probiotics into your diet, and where can you find them?
Read on to discover the answers to these questions and more.

Why Probiotics?

Your body does not need probiotics to be healthy. However, research has shown that these bacteria may help with digestion, treat certain stomach and intestinal problems, and ward off harmful bacteria. Since probiotics are like the bacteria already in your digestive system, they are generally safe and side effects are rare.

Though more research is needed, there is evidence that probiotics may be helpful for a range of issues. These include treating diarrhea, cramping, and gas – especially after taking antibiotics. Other potential benefits of probiotics include preventing and treating urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections, reducing the recurrence of bladder cancer, aiding in the treatment of infections in the digestive tract, preventing and treating eczema, and preventing and lessening the severity of flu and cold symptoms.

There are likely other beneficial uses for probiotics yet to be discovered.

Ongoing research is seeking to discover if probiotics could be useful in caring for skin infections, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Sources of Probiotics

Probiotic supplements are available in tablet, capsule, liquid, or powder form. While convenient, they won’t provide the nutritional value of foods that contain probiotics. Probiotic supplements are regulated as a food, not as a drug, so tell your doctor if you take probiotics, as well as the specific bacteria contained in the supplement. And just as more research is needed to determine the various benefits of probiotics, more research is also needed concerning the safety of probiotics for the elderly, young children, or those who have a weak immune system.

The most well known source of probiotics is yogurt. Yogurt contains “good” bacteria like bifidobacteria or lactobacillus that help keep a natural balance in your intestines. These probiotics may help ease symptoms of lactose intolerance, gas, diarrhea, or other digestive issues. For this benefit, seek yogurt that lists an ingredient of live and active cultures.

Another easy way to add probiotics to your diet is with acidophilus milk. This special milk has been fermented with lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria.

Buttermilk is also high in probiotics since it is cultured with lactic acid bacteria.

Unpasteurized sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) also contains several beneficial microbes. Besides being high in probiotics, sauerkraut and kimchi (a popular Korean dish) are full of immune-boosting vitamins. Miso soup, a common breakfast in Japan, is made from fermented soybean paste and contains upwards of 160 strains of bacteria. Though salty, it is low in calories, high in B vitamins and antioxidants, and loaded with probiotics.

Additional foods and drinks that contain probiotics include soft cheeses such as Gouda, sourdough bread, Kefir (a thick, creamy milk), sour pickles, and tempeh (an Indonesian patty made from fermented soybeans).

From Pro to Pre

To get the most benefit from probiotics, it may be helpful to include prebiotics in your diet as well. Foods with probiotics contain live bacteria, and these are what the good bacteria in your system like to feed on.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates and are found in foods such as whole grains, bananas, oatmeal, honey, asparagus, onions, garlic, red wine, maple syrup, legumes, and Jerusalem artichokes.
When prebiotics and probiotics are combined, they work together for maximum effect.

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