As grotesque as it may sound, eating live bacteria could be great for your health! According to nutrition and health experts, certain strains of bacteria are beneficial to our bodies and consuming them on a daily basis will promote microbial balance in the gut and improve overall health. Our intestines are home to millions of bacteria, some good and some harmful. The gut-friendly bacteria, commonly known as “Probiotics” work against the harmful bacteria to create a more harmonious internal environment. They live and grow in our intestines to aid digestion, improve absorption, neutralise toxins, keep harmful bacteria in check and boost our immune system so we can fight infections.
There is a fine balance of micro-organisms in certain systems of our body like the digestive and genito-urinary systems. Stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, viral infections and prolonged antibiotic treatment can throw these systems out of balance leading to diseases and infections. Medical specialists often prescribe probiotic therapy to restore the balance in such cases. Probiotics have been used for treatment of several digestive disorders, gastroenteritis, Irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal and urinary tract infections. There seems no harm in trying to prime your immune system by using probiotics, but what is the best option – diet or supplements?
Probiotic supplements or Probiotic foods?
Several clinical studies have indicated that probiotics can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing, so it is no surprise that many probiotic supplements have flooded the markets. But supplements are not regulated in the same way as medicines, so you need to be cautious. There are different strains of bacteria that act on different systems of the body, so if you’re taking probiotics for treatment of a specific medical condition, make sure you’re taking the appropriate strain for it to be effective. Read the labels well, look for the bacterial strain mentioned, dosage, side effects and expiry date. There could be side effects like bloating and intestinal disturbances in some individuals. Although there are no reported adverse outcomes from use of probiotics, it is still a good idea to consult with a physician before you start taking probiotic supplements, especially when you have a pre-existing medical condition, or during pregnancy and lactation.
If you’re a healthy individual and you just want to add more gut-friendly microbes to improve your overall health, you may not really need supplements. You can do it more naturally through diet. Probiotics are naturally found in certain foods and beverages, and you can easily incorporate them into your diet. Humans around the world have been consuming and benefitting from these foods for centuries. Here are some of the best probiotic foods that you can include in your diet if you want to go all natural. Most of them can be easily found at large supermarkets.
Yoghurt is one of the best probiotic foods. Homemade yoghurt is full of live culture but some of the store bought ones may not have sufficient amounts of bacteria due to pasteurization. Take a look at the label and see if they claim to have any probiotic culture. Buttermilk or Laban and other yoghurt based drinks are equally good.
Sauerkraut is finely chopped cabbage that has been fermented with various types of bacteria. Sauerkraut is a perfect instant salad to go with your hotdogs, grilled meats, fish or potatoes.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean side dish made by pickling and fermenting cabbage. Kimchi is really versatile. It can be eaten with rice or bread, mixed in salads and sandwiches, or used as a side dish with almost everything.
Idli is a popular south Indian Breakfast made by steaming fermented rice and lentil batter.
Kefir is a probiotic rich fermented milk drink from Russia and Caucasian countries.
Miso soup is a traditional Japanese soup made from fermented soya beans paste.
Pickles of all types
Dhokla, an Indian snack made from fermented flour and yoghurt or buttermilk, Tempeh an Indonesian dish made with fermented beans, fermented Cheeses like Gouda and Cheddar, Tofu and paneer are all good sources of probiotics.
By adding some of these things to your diet, you can certainly power-up your plate with healthy bacteria. But remember, excessive consumption of probiotic foods isn’t good either, so keep it moderate and reap the benefits.
Suggested reading: Viral Gastroenteritis in Children