A healthy gut is a happy gut. To keep your intestinal tract in optimal working order, it needs lots of "good" bacteria — no, that is not an oxymoron! There are only three types of basic bacteria in our digestive systems, so boosting the "friendly bacteria" with probiotics can help balance the pH of the intestinal tract, creating a less desirable environment for pathogenic bacteria (the bad stuff). Research has shown that probiotics can help in the battle against a wide variety of medical conditions including: allergies, cholesterol (it helps raise the good kind), colon cancer, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. Probiotics can also boost your immune system, which is especially important during cold and flu season.
Today, probiotic supplements — which often contain members of the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium groups of bacteria — are popular, but unfortunately many of these supplements fall short on bacteria content. But with the help of a few common foods, we can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts and skip the supplements altogether. Learn these foods when you keep reading.
- Kefir: A thick and creamy beverage, kefir contains a mixture of beneficial yeasts and bacteria making the drink rich in probiotic cultures. Containing 10 types of active microorganisms, kefir offers more probiotics than other more common fermented dairy products, like yogurt or buttermilk.
- Horizon Products (Yogurt, Sour Cream, Cottage Cheese): Not all varieties of sour cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese contain live cultures, so be sure to read labels carefully and look for the "live and active cultures" seal to ensure a brand does. Horizon, however, has created an organic yogurt with five live and active cultures. The brand's sour cream is also enhanced with live and active cultures (which is rare), and its cottage cheese offers two live and active cultures too.
- Apples: A recent study looked at rats eating a diet high in pectin (a component of the dietary fiber in apples), and compared to rats on a normal diet, the rats with the apple-rich diet had increased amounts of beneficial bacteria. Although researchers aren't sure if apples will have the same effect in humans, investigators did conclude that by eating apples regularly, the friendly bacteria "help produce short chain fatty acids that provide ideal pH conditions for ensuring a beneficial balance of microorganisms."
- Sauerkraut: Essentially fermented cabbage, sauerkraut contains lactobacilli plantarum and can do wonders for your immune system. It also has the ability to reduce the growth of detrimental yeasts.
- Miso: Made from fermented soy, miso paste can be used to make soups, season dishes, or as a condiment. With lots of lactobacillus acidophilus present in most miso varieties, you can quickly get your fill of good bacteria in just one serving. Here's a tasty tuna sashimi salad from Dr. Andrew Weil's restaurant True Food Kitchen featuring a miso dressing.