First of all: What is “gut health”?
“Gut health” has become a common term in both literature and in the food industry. Although there is not a clear definition of “gut health”, it is commonly described as when our “good bacteria” outnumber the “bad bacteria” and is said to be “in balance” (2). However, there is some debate about using the term “bad bacteria” since there are certain types of bacteria that only become problematic when there are too many of a particular strain and/or the immune system becomes compromised (i.e. an opportunistic infection such as E.coli). Did you know that there are are about 100 trillion microbes in the human body?!
So, what are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that inhabit our gut and have been shown to have many health benefits.
Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms but the most common are bacteria that belong to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups. Each of these two broad groups includes many types of bacteria. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii (1).
Protiotics are found in various food sources as well as in supplement form.
Sauerkraut – Popular in German culture, this fermented cabbage fuels healthy gut bacteria but it also contains choline, a chemical needed for the proper transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. I recommend finding your sauerkraut in the refrigerated section for the most benefits.
Kimchi- Kimchi is spicy mixture of fermented vegetables and seasonings and is popular in Korean culture. Common ingredients include cabbage, brine, radish and spices such as ginger and chili pepper. Kimchi is also a great source of calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2.
Tempeh- Tempeh can be a good substitute for meat and is made from fermented soybeans. It is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the amino acids that your body needs. Also a great source of vitamin B12, tempeh can be cooked or crumbled over salads. With any soy products, I recommend finding an organic, non-GMO brand and obtaining soy in moderation from whole food sources.
Yogurt– There are many dairy and non-dairy yogurt brands to choose from, but be careful about which ones you choose. Many are loaded with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. Read your labels. For people sensitive to dairy, coconut, almond or cashew yogurts are an excellent dairy-free way to work probiotics into your diet.
Kefir- Kefir is a a fermented dairy product is very similar to yogurt and now has non-dairy options as well! You can find coconut, almond or water kefir, although it can be a bit harder to find. My best luck has been at Whole Foods or Fresh Thyme Market. It is a unique combination of of yeast, bacteria and milk (or milk alternative) that’s high in lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
Kombucha Tea- This is a form of fermented black or green tea. It is fizzy and best cold! Keep in mind that it usually contains caffeine so best not to drink to late in the day. I recommend finding one that is <7g sugar per serving (each bottle is typically 2 servings!)
Pickles & Fermented Vegetables- Whether you make your own pickled vegetables or buy them, keep in mind that the probiotic benefits are only present in unpasteurized foods pickled in brine, not vinegar.
What about Supplements?
The bacterial balance can be easily be disrupted by a number of factors — even ones we encounter on a daily basis. Eating a diet rich in processed carbohydrates, too much sugar or alcohol, lack of sleep, medication use, certain medical conditions, stress, antibiotic use and even our genetics can affect our gut’s balance which can lead to digestive and other issues.
A probiotic supplement can help tip the balance back in favor of the good bacteria to get our bodies back to balance.
I have tried several different probiotics, but have personally used BIOHM since dealing with recurrent infections and really like the product because it addresses fungi in addition to bacteria.
You can learn more about the products at http://functionallysimplenutrition.BIOHMHealth.com or feel free to contact me with any questions.
Before starting probiotics, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor or qualified registered dietitian so they can advise you on the correct strain and dosage that is right for you.
1. Probiotics: In Depth. (2018, July 31). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
2. Bischoff, S. C. (2011). Gut health: A new objective in medicine? BMC Medicine,9(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-24
For more on gut health and probiotics, click on the videos below with Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Ghannoum
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