Which Foods Are Probiotic Naturally?

A probiotic is a microorganism that, when present in the GI tract in adequate numbers, confers a health benefit to the host. These microorganisms include both bacteria and yeast. The human small intestine and colon are colonized by billions of such microorganisms. These beneficial bacteria and yeast function to prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria, promote digestion and synthesize beneficial vitamins the body needs. Researchers continue to investigate other possible health benefits of probiotics on the immune system and for multiple conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer. While probiotic supplements are widely available, eating probiotic foods on a regular basis is also beneficial.

Yogurt

Yogurt is made from milk that is heated and cultured with strains of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacteria. These beneficial strains of bacteria can be helpful in preventing both diarrhea and constipation. Additionally, yogurt can be eaten by many people who are lactose-intolerant, because much of the lactose is converted to lactic acid during the culturing process. When you buy yogurt in the store, make sure the label says “live active cultures” in order to receive the benefits of the friendly bacteria. Alternatively, you can make your own yogurt by heating milk and adding some store-bought yogurt or cultures.

Kefir

Kefir is a fizzy sour dairy drink that contains a mixture of strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast in high concentrations. Kefir is made with “grains” which are clusters of Lactobacillus bacteria and yeast. These grains are added to milk, which is then fermented at room temperature for one to two days. You then strain out the grains before drinking the kefir.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and while most people associate sauerkraut with Germany, it is eaten throughout Europe with variations in preparation by region. To make sauerkraut, you need only to shred the cabbage, salt it, crush it to release the juices and ferment it in jars or a crock. There is no need to add a culture to the cabbage as the beneficial bacteria are present on the cabbage leaves. Not only are the bacteria beneficial for the GI tract, but cabbage is also known for its cancer-preventing and fighting properties. When buying sauerkraut, be sure to buy it from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. If sauerkraut is sold at room temperature, it has been pasteurized, which kills the beneficial bacteria.

Kimchi

Kimchi is made by fermenting cabbage, radishes and other vegetables, ginger and chili peppers. Its origins are in Korea where there are many regional and seasonal variations. In addition to the healthy beneficial bacteria, the vegetables that make up kimchi are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Kombucha

Kombucha, which is thought to have its origins in China, is a fermented black tea which has been gaining popularity recently. The kombucha “mother” or “mushroom,” made up of a combination of bacteria and yeast, is added to black tea mixed with sugar and allowed to ferment for weeks. Kombucha is also commercially available with various fruit flavorings. There are many people who tout improved health and vitality or improvement in specific health conditions from drinking kombucha, but there are also many naysayers who cite safety concerns about kombucha.

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