The word Probiotic literally means “For Life”, and indeed these friendly bacteria are making their way back into the American diet. Despite all the new products now available on the market, probiotics are not a recent health fad.
To the contrary, they have been ingested by humans for hundreds of years, though only in the past century have the benefits of intestinal flora been backed by science.
We are beginning now to unravel the mysteries surrounding a healthy digestive system, and to add back to our diets what processing has stripped away.
Wikipedia defines Probiotics as ” Dietary supplements of live microorganisms thought to be healthy for the host organism”. Basically, in my personal definition, probiotics are foods or supplements that have been cultured with healthful bacteria that benefits your immune system and digestion.
Claims have been made by products such as Dan Active yogurt that 70 percent of the human body’s immunity is located in the intestinal tract. Scientists have seen a correlation between a healthy digestive system and less disease.
Easy sources of probiotics can be found as near as your local supermarket, and exotic probiotic delights from other cultures are making their way to the American table, as well. Here are some of the most well-known products.
This is by far the easiest to find and most familiar probiotic on the market today. There are many different kinds of yogurt, with different strains of beneficial bacteria and different textures. One of the most well-known bacterium found in yogurt and other supplements is lactobacillus acidophilus. It’s in almost all yogurt, and is a proponent of good health. Yogurt can come in both dairy and non-dairy varieties.
Yogurt’s cousin, kefir is originally from the Russian Steppes and Bulgaria, and became popular because of the good health and longevity of the people who drank it. It is a yogurt-like beverage that comes in many flavors. It is traditionally from cow’s milk, though many other varieties are available today.
Kombucha comes from the Far East, and has been associated with Chinese nobility. It is an effervescent fermented tea beverage, and has claims attached to it, from weight loss to anti-aging to anti-cancer effects. It too has recently made an appearance in health food stores.
4.) Kimchi and sauerkraut
Kimchi is the Eastern version of sauerkraut, and comes in many other vegetable combinations other than cabbage. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, and is considered a delicacy.
5.) Tempeh and Miso
These are both fermented soy products that can make for a tasty soup of main entrée. Both can be found at most oriental Markets and Health food stores.
These are but a few examples of probiotic foods. But the real question is, who should consume probiotics and what benefits will they obtain? And what if the consumer is allergic to dairy or soy?
People with compromised immune function will benefit greatly from probiotic use. The elderly or people who have just had a round of antibiotics would benefit, also. Probiotics balance intestinal health, and are good for both chronic diarrhea and constipation. A healthy intestinal tract is also associated with decreased risk for colon cancer, and improved immunity to both illness and life’s daily stressors. Probiotics can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and improve mineral absorption, as well. Many health claims have been attributed to probiotics, though not clinically proven by science. Still, it is safe to say that almost everyone can benefit from including a daily probiotic into their diet. It is seen as a general health tonic with few side effects.
Those who are lactose intolerant could also take their probiotics in pill form. There are many products available on the market that contain freeze-dried cultures that are tolerated well by most individuals. Generally, most probiotics help with allergies and lactose intolerance. Some people who can’t drink milk can eat certain forms of yogurt or kefir.
I encourage any individual who wants to improve digestion and feel better to give probiotic foods a try. Not only are many of them delicious, but you’ll gain health and energy to boot! Here’s to your health!