It can be hard to believe that on top of turning your food into energy, your digestive tract is home to billions of tiny microorganisms. These microorganisms are called probiotics, and they outnumber your human cells 10 to 1. Although the thought of bacteria and microorganisms can bring to mind images of harmful “germs”, many are helpful. Probiotics play a significant role in helping you digest foods, fend off diseases, and even support vitamin absorption. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies.
Different types of bacteria perform essential bodily functions, but the two most common probiotic bacteria are bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Lactobacillus is commonly found in yogurt and other fermented foods and can help support lactose digestion. Bifidobacterium is also found in some dairy and can help the body maintain overall digestive health. Don’t worry—proper pronunciation is not required to reap the benefits of probiotic bacteria!
The Difference Between Prebiotics & Probiotics
Using probiotics for digestive support has become increasingly popular since the mid-1990s, and in addition to probiotics, we now have many great sources of prebiotics. Probiotic supplements contain “friendly” bacteria we generally want present in the digestive tract in large numbers. Prebiotic supplements contain the nutrients these bacteria need to grow and thrive. Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root are some of the most common sources of natural prebiotic bacteria and are found in many prebiotic supplements.
Natural Sources of Probiotics For Digestive Support
Several foods naturally contain healthy bacteria as a result of a process called lactic acid fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation happens when bacteria converts sugar to lactic acid, increasing the number of bacteria. This process is why many fermented foods are considered good sources of probiotics. Some foods with naturally-occurring probiotics include:
Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. In addition to its probiotic qualities, sauerkraut is rich in fibre as well as vitamins C, B and K. Look for vinegar free sauerkraut to ensure the healthy bacteria is alive!
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product and is a good choice for vegans and anyone looking to add a nutritious probiotic to their diet.
Kimchi contains lactobacillus, in addition to other lactic acid bacteria that may benefit digestive health.
Kombucha contains lactic-acid bacteria, which can work as a probiotic. Kombucha also boasts a healthy dose of B vitamins.
Artichoke is an excellent remedy for many digestive problems, including nausea, bloating, loss of appetite, liver regeneration, and even abdominal pain.
6. Yogurt & Kefir
Yogurt is made from milk that has been fermented by gut-friendly bacteria making it one of the best sources of probiotics. It’s good to remember that not all yogurt contains live probiotics, so it is essential to make sure you choose yogurt with live or active cultures. Like yogurt, kefir is a fermented milk drink, and it boasts several strains of friendly bacteria, making it a diverse probiotic.
In addition to natural probiotics in foods, many herbs and bitters support digestive health:
Aloe vera or dried aloe gel powder is a gentle way to help stimulate and soothe the digestive tract. Dried aloe gel is bitter, so it must be either purified for oral use or dried and consumed as a capsule. A great way to use aloe gel powder is by adding it to your favourite smoothie.
Cinnamon often serves as a post-meal digestive aid, especially if there is any heartburn or feeling of indigestion following a meal. As a warming herb, cinnamon is like ginger as it can stimulate weak digestion.
Ginger can help alleviate nausea and motion sickness. Ginger root is also a common digestive stimulant used to improve the digestive process by decreasing the risk of inflammation within the digestive tract.
Peppermint is a carminative herb, which means that it can help tone the digestive tract by relaxing the surrounding muscles.
What Are Probiotics Good For & When Should You Take Them?
The main job of probiotics is to maintain a healthy balance in your body. When you’re sick, bad bacteria enters your body and knocks your health off-balance. Probiotics and other good bacteria work to fight off the bad bacteria and restore harmony within your body. It’s not necessary to take probiotic supplements every day because your body naturally works to maintain balance. A diet rich in fibre is usually all that’s required to maintain healthy levels of probiotic bacteria.
Drink Your Probiotics
If you’re not a fan of the usual probiotic foods (all things fermented and yogurty), say hello to probiotic juices! Two delicious cold pressed drinks made from a white tea base boasting 3 billion live vegan probiotic cultures per serving, these juices help keep your digestive tract feeling happy and healthy.