Probiotics have been subject to a huge amount of media attention in recent years, but what are they and how can they benefit your health?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can be found in foods or taken as supplements. When consumed, these ‘friendly bacteria’ are said to rebalance the gut’s microbiome—its community of microorganisms. Generally, it is agreed that this helps to facilitate the body’s natural digestive processes. There are also claims that probiotics can improve the symptoms of wider gastrointestinal disorders. At present, it is difficult to ascertain which of these claims are accurate. The NHS states that there is some evidence to support probiotics’ beneficial effects on antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD), infectious diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance and pouchitis. To reap the benefits of probiotics, try incorporating these naturally probiotic foods into your diet.
Naturally probiotic foods
Made from fermented soybeans and grains, this Japanese seasoning is used to flavour a number of Asian dishes. The fermentation process means that miso paste is rich in enzymes that aid digestion and contains millions of organisms that are almost identical to those that naturally live in the large intestine. These microorganisms develop during the fermentation process, resulting in a paste that also includes B-complex vitamins and essential minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. The components of this paste contribute new bacteria to the intestinal colonies.
Many types of yoghurt have live active cultures contained within them. Some of the most common bacteria found in such yoghurts are streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus. A typical portion of probiotic yoghurt will usually contain billions of bacteria that may help to encourage the metabolism of sugars and fibre within the body. Due to the influx of brands delivering probiotic yoghurt, it is worth shopping around to compare the sugar content and other dietary factors. Most brands supply probiotic yoghurt in a variety of interesting flavours, making it an easy component to add to your daily diet.
This slightly tangy, sippable milk drink also contains a number of live active cultures. In comparison to probiotic yoghurt, kefir is actually a more potent source of similar bacteria. An average cup of kefir contains between eight to 11 grams of protein (depending on the brand), which is very filling. The method of making kefir is one of the other key differences between it and yoghurt. There is some evidence to suggest that kefir is a good option for people who are lactose intolerant because the lactose is broken down during the fermentation process. If you suffer from an intolerance, always check with your doctor before trying a new product.
Cabbage has numerous beneficial properties; along with being anti-inflammatory, it also contains vitamins A and C. When cabbage is fermented, live bacteria are produced, giving sauerkraut its health benefits. This food product has a mildly sweet smell but a sour taste. There are usually four main types of lactic acid bacteria found in sauerkraut: leuconostoc mesenteroides, lactobacillus brevis, pediococcus pentosaceus and lactobacillus plantarum. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, these bacteria may help improve digestion and prevent intestinal infections. While sauerkraut has a number of good dietary qualities, it is also extremely high in sodium—a 50-gram serving contains approximately a third of your recommended daily allowance.