What’s “Pro” About Probiotics?
Have you ever wondered about all the fuss surrounding probiotics? They’ve been receiving A LOT of attention over the past decade and it looks like they’ll be sticking around, but what exactly are they and how do they work? And let’s just cut to the chase: are they something you should be including in your diet?
Here’s a little crash course on probiotics to answer all those questions!
First off, what they are. Probiotics are live bacteria/microorganisms which benefit our bodies (“probiotic” refers to “promoting life”) by keeping our intestines’ naturally-occurring microorganisms in balance. Although we tend to immediately assign a negative connotation to the word “bacteria”, they’re not all bad; in fact, probiotics are often referred to as “good” or even “friendly” bacteria! (Awww.) Our guts contain about 100 trillion intestinal microflora in a wide and complicated web made up of over 400 different bacterial species and they help keep us going strong. Unfortunately, the balance of the bacterial communities (the good vs. the bad) in our intestines sometimes isn’t so hot: sometimes the bacteria which aren’t doing us any good outweigh the ones which are and sometimes, especially if we’ve taken a round of antibiotics, there are hardly any bacteria in there at all. In either case, probiotics either replace or add to the levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Now, how they work. Probiotics support our bodies in two ways: they aid in digesting food effectively and efficiently and they help healthy immune responses. When your digestive tract is healthy, it’s doing a good job of moving things along and removing anything that’s potentially harmful from your body (like toxins, chemicals, or bad bacteria) along with other waste products. Good bacteria play a critical role in regulating these processes so when you take a probiotic, you add to the communities of good bacteria which help your body reap what it needs and get rid of what it doesn’t. Probiotics also play a huge role in our immune system, which is responsible for protecting us against disease- and infection-causing pathogens (a.k.a. germs, a.k.a. bad microorganisms). When your body doesn’t have enough of the goodies to respond to the invading baddies, your immune system can’t function properly and provide the protection you want.
So to sum this all up, probiotics are helpful bacteria which keep your gut in line and help your immune system and if they sound like something you want to incorporate into your life (and really, why wouldn’t you?), read on!
There are two ways to get the probiotics you need: either taking them as a supplement or receiving them through foods which are probiotic. Probiotics in supplement form are available as either capsules or liquids and they are simply a strong, healthy dose of the beneficial microorganisms. Many people choose to consume probiotics as a supplement because it’s fantastically easy: with just a couple seconds set aside in your daily routine to take a capsule or swig an ounce of liquid, you’re providing your body with a powerful dose (we’re talking billions of bacteria)!
Which is better: capsule or liquid? Then again, which among each category is the best? There’s not a clear answer. As any probiotic maker worth his salt will tell you, you should find the product that works best for you. Everybody can benefit from probiotics but every body is different, so you might end up trying several out before you find the one that suits your system best. This may even boil down to finding the one which you actually take because any probiotic is better than no probiotic. One general tip: aim for diversity. The more different cultures you have, the better. (True for probiotics, true for the world.)
If the idea of taking a supplement doesn’t work for you, we have good news: many delicious foods- which you might already be eating!- are naturally probiotic! Take a look at this list for some tasty options, ranging from beverages to condiments, you could add to your meal plan…
–yogurt (we especially like local favorites Butterworks Farm, Maple Hill Creamery, & Rogers Farmstead)
–kimchi (with tons of local options from which to choose including Flack Family Farm, Vermont Probiotics, Sunja’s, and the Healthy Living Foodie Pitch Competition winner: Sobremesa!)
–miso (if you’ve never tried the mellow red variety crafted by VT’s own Rhapsody Natural Foods, it would be a fantastic place to start)
–kombucha (you can’t go wrong with local legend Aqua Vitea, available in both bottles and bulk!)
Try adding miso to a homemade salad dressing and tossing it with shredded cabbage, carrots, scallions, and peanuts for a delicious Asian salad. Looking for an extraordinary way to enjoy kimchi? Check out this recipe for kimchi pancakes. If you like Reuben sandwiches, ask for extra sauerkraut to up the probiotic content!
There are so many easy ways to give your body a probiotic boost and the benefits of these beneficial bacteria are just too good to pass up. We highly recommend making them part of your happy, healthy new year!
Try some probiotic-filled foods that are on sale now!
LOCAL! Aqua Vitea Kombucha: 2 for $6 *through 1/26
Kevita Kombuch: 2 for $5
Lifeway Kefir: Save $.50
Wallaby Greek Yogurt: Save $.49
Liberte Yogurt: Save $.40
Sales good through 2/2/16