Out of all of the fads generating buzz among health nuts, probiotics are one of the few worth your attention. You’ll see yogurts advertising live cultures and even milk boasting probiotic benefits. Though these naturally occurring bacteria bring with them a slew of health benefits, even if in concept, the idea of ingesting live bacteria can gross us out if we think about it a little too hard.
Digestive health is one of the most crucial matters for your wellbeing: as an athlete, it helps you perform in peak condition, and as a human being, it helps you feel and function at your very best. That why probiotics are essential. But what are probiotics exactly, how do they benefit the body, and where do we find them?
Here’s the quick rundown of what you need to know.
What Are Probiotics?
The simplest definition of a probiotic is a live bacteria or yeast that is good for your body, particularly your digestive system. Though we often associate bacteria with getting sick or a lack of cleanliness, we have to remember that the world—and our bodies—are full of bacteria, both good and bad. There’s no getting away from it. Probiotics fall into that “good” category because they promote gut health, among other things.
There are different types of probiotics, and researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how they function. In simple terms, however, probiotics affect the nerves that control movement in your gut. They facilitate smooth, regular movements, in addition to supporting skin, immune, and oral health. Some studies have even suggested that probiotics can boost brain health, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve heart health.
These are just a few types to know about:
Lactobacillus — Found in yogurt and other naturally fermented foods, this is the most common probiotic. It’s useful for people who are lactose-intolerant.
Bifidobacterium — Found in some dairy products. It can relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders.
Saccharomyces boulardii — Though not a probiotic but a yeast found in tandem with probiotics, it seems to alleviate symptoms of many digestive disorders.
So what are some practical sources of probiotics? Here are my top recommended sources for good, healthy eating.
7 Great Probiotic Foods to Incorporate in Your Diet
1) Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is perhaps the most common source of probiotics, and one of the easiest to eat because you can grab it for a quick breakfast. The key here is the buy the right kind—any old yogurt won’t do. You have to be sure to buy the kind that advertises live and active cultures. Yogurt is also a great source of protein, making it a good post-workout pick-me-up. Just be mindful of added fruit flavors—these can drastically increase your sugar and carb count. Plain Greek yogurt that you add your own nuts or fresh fruits to is your best bet.
Sauerkraut is a German invention of fermented pickled cabbage. While pungent, the lactic acid bacteria that gives this cabbage its distinctive stink is great for your gut. It’s sour and salty and a great side or topping for meats, potatoes, or even stews. The key here is that you buy unpasteurized sauerkraut. Pasteurization kills probiotics.
Like sauerkraut, kimchi is fermented cabbage. This Korean delicacy has grown in popularity over the years. It’s a spicy side dish that can keep for months in a jar in your refrigerator. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and iron, in addition to its probiotic punch. Kimchi is great on burgers, with rice, in a breakfast scramble, in a quesadilla...it’s hard to find something kimchi doesn’t compliment.
Kombucha was the hot and popular health drink for a year or two, but don’t dismiss its value based on its fad-status. If you’re unfamiliar, kombucha is a fermented tea drink. What must be noted is that there is a lack of studies documenting the health benefits of kombucha for humans. However, because kombucha is fermented with healthy bacteria and yeast, the natural conclusion is that the drink yields probiotic benefits.
That said, take claims that kombucha is a miracle drink with a grain of salt. You may see health benefits, but these have largely not been studied nor verified. Just the same, it may be a better option than a diet soda.
Who doesn’t love the snap of a freshly fermented pickle? The key here when talking about probiotics is that we aren’t talking about your traditional vinegar pickles. The pickles that have a probiotic benefit have been pickled in salt and water and have fermented in their own natural lactic acid bacteria.
They leave you with a tasty and crunchy low-calorie snack high in vitamin K and probiotics. Keep in mind, however, that pickles can be high in sodium...so enjoy them in moderation.
6) Certain Cheeses
Did you know that many of the cheeses we already eat have a probiotic benefit? Again, the key here is to search the label. While cheeses are made through a fermentation process, not all contain live and active cultures. You want to find that on the label to make sure you’re getting probiotics in your diet. The best cheeses to buy? Gouda, parmesan, sharp cheddars, cottage cheese, and mozzarella.
Out of everything on the list, this may be the one item that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. What in the world is kefir? In short, it’s a probiotic-packed cultured whole milk. If you like to drink milk, either after a workout or as a snack, kefir is a great option for you. Whole milk too thick? Grocery stores are beginning to stock your traditional reduced fat milks, but with added probiotics.
If all else fails, you can take one of many probiotic supplements that are available over-the-counter. However, I find it’s better to source vitamins, minerals, and probiotics from as many natural sources as possible.
Share your favorite probiotic-packed snacks and meals in the comments.