Some bacteria are the centerfold of an episode of a medical drama on TV—taking over the patient’s body as doctors fight to keep them alive. But other bacteria are also the reason these pathogenic bacteria don’t colonize your body and tip the scales for the negative. There are actually a few pounds of these commensal microbes living in your gut right now, making up what is referred to as the microbiome. These “good” bacteria play an important role in your health by keeping the infectious species from taking root, helping you absorb more nutrients from the food you eat, and even helping balance other health aspects such as mental health and acne.
The microbiome varies by individual depending on various factors including where you’re from and what you eat, but it can be altered by disease, stress, and diet, and you can alter it in a positive way by supplementing a healthy diet with foods that contain the species of bacteria that are known to be beneficial such as various species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.
Some may be put off by the idea of going out of the way to consume food infiltrated with bacteria, but others don’t realize that there’s a few we eat regularly that have these beneficial bacteria such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Don’t be fooled however, not all probiotic foods are on the same level.
When it comes to yogurt, look for a brand that contains live cultures of the Lactobacillus genus that is lower in sugar and made without artificial flavors or colors. Some of the most popular yogurt brands are not actually the best for probiotic use, so be sure to know what you’re looking for. For maximum health benefits and probiotic content, you can even make your own yogurt without much more than milk, a cooler, and a container of unflavored yogurt!
Sauerkraut and kimchi are both fermented foods that will boost your microbiome, and some (but not most) pickles are made by fermentation. These all pack a delicious crunch and unique flavors to grace your plate. Kombucha and kefir are non-alcoholic fermented drinks that pack millions of gut-friendly bacteria per glass.
For those looking to enhance their microbiome a bit more, probiotic supplements are available in the form of pills or drink mixes, but the pills taste better and are a bit easier to stomach. If you have a specific goal in mind when taking a probiotic, be sure to look into the research surrounding the topic and find a supplement that meets your needs. Both species and amount of colony forming units are important things to consider when purchasing. And take note on whether or not your supplement needs refrigerated!
More research is emerging surrounding the power of probiotics, but if you’re interested in giving your microbiome a boost, avoiding illness, or wanting to get more nutrients from your diet, look into adding a probiotic supplement or probiotic foods to your health regimen.