Although it isn’t particularly glamorous, gut health has become something of a hot topic among scientists and doctors interested in health and nutrition. Specifically we are realizing that it isn’t just our own health and happiness that we need to be concerned with.
Our digestive tract is home to about 100 trillion microrganisms, mostly bacteria, which makes them more numerous than our own human cells in our body. When the environment they live in is favorable (i.e. when our diet is good and our gut is healthy) these bacteria function symbiotically to help us digest our food, protect us from more dangerous bacteria, help our immune system, extract additional nutrients from our foods, and more.
The best way we know to build and maintain gut health is through the foods that we eat. Foods like garlic, onions and asparagus, contain what are known as prebiotics, nutrients that promote the growth and activity of our gut flora. Other foods contain probiotics, or live bacterial cultures that can help repopulate the gut with a more favorable ratio of specific bacteria.
Probiotics are formed by fermentation, and all known traditional cuisines incorporate some type of fermented food. The Western diet is notably devoid of traditionally fermented foods (not to mention our prolific use of antibiotics) and as a result our gut health––and therefore our overall health––has declined.
Incorporating more fermented foods into your healthstyle is an excellent habit to cultivate, and may help improve symptoms such as lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), low immunity and nutrient deficiencies. They are also super yummy.
Eating foods containing probiotics can be difficult to remember if you aren’t in the habit, which is why I include it in my Lift habits. Below are a few simple and delicious ways to get more probiotics in your life.
5 Simple Ways To Eat More Probiotics
1. Kimchi with eggs
Kimchi, the spicy fermented cabbage dish popular in Korea, is my absolute favorite way to eat probiotics. Its strong flavor can make it somewhat intimidating to noobies, but I think the mild taste of scrambled eggs makes the perfect compliment. This meal alone ensures I get some probiotics at least 2-3 times a week with either breakfast or lunch.
Making your own kimchi isn’t that difficult, but it does take some time (I recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz if you’re interested in fermenting your own food). Alternatively you can find it in most grocery stores. If you decide to purchase your kimchi make sure you get one containing live cultures (read the package to be sure), which means it will likely be in the refrigerated section of the store.
2. Yogurt as a snack
Yogurt is the most common food that contains probiotics, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice. There are several different healthful strains of bacteria, and the kind in yogurt is different from the kind in fermented vegetables, so it is good to have both.
I find that plain yogurt (don’t bother with the sickly sweet “fruit” kinds from the big industrial brands) with a sprinkle of fresh fruit or muesli makes a wonderful and satisfying midday snack.
3. Miso paste in salad dressing
Japanese miso paste is a form of fermented soy that is absolutely delicious. To get the beneficial probiotics from miso, however, you cannot boil the miso (as is usually the case with miso soup), because the heat kill all the bacteria.
Fortunately, miso paste makes a wonderful emulsifier in salad dressing. I add a tablespoon of miso paste and a splash of rice vinegar to olive oil, along with salt, pepper, fresh chives and some grated ginger to make a nutritious and delicious dressing.
4. Sauerkraut with meats
Like kimchi, sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and is totally underrated as a healthy condiment. It’s tang and crunch make it an ideal pairing with fatty meats like pork.
Just as with kimchi, you need to be sure that the sauerkraut you buy still contains live cultures and isn’t just marinated in vinegar, so read the package carefully and be suspicious of anything outside the refrigerator section of your grocery store.
5. Kombucha for refreshment
Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains live probiotics. It has become popular lately, so can be found at most grocery stores. Although it does contain some residual sugar (the bacteria ferment the sugar to create the characteristic tang of the drink), it is a nice alternative to soda as a refreshment on a hot day.
How do you get your probiotics?
Originally published June 24, 2013.