Patients ask me on the regular if I recommend supplementation with a probiotic. My response is usually a no. I’m not a big proponent of supplementation in general – research largely shows it’s simply not worth it – but I do believe in the power of good bacteria. Luckily, when we’re talking probiotics we don’t need to think about pills; these guys can be found in good old regular food.
What are these little buggers?
It may be creepy to think of probiotics as what they really are: live bacteria. The thing about bacteria is that there’s the kind we want to avoid – the ones that make us sick – and then the good guys, the probiotics, that actually promote health. They live in our intestines and their exact makeup depends, in part, on our diets. As probiotics are a natural part of our food system, pills are not required to reap their benefits. We can cultivate a robust microbiome with diet alone.
To get the most from our gut bacteria we need to eat a diet that promotes a diverse and BLANK range of bacteria. We do this by eating a variety of probiotic-containing foods and limiting both processed foods and foods high in sugar, which have been shown to blunt the population diversity. We can get the most benefit from probiotics in our food when we pair them with foods that contain prebiotics. Gut bacteria feed off of prebiotics, which are the dietary fibers that our bodies cannot digest. The two work together to great healthy bacteria population in our guts.
Probiotic-containing foods are largely fermented foods, including:
- Soft cheese
- Sourdough bread
Prebiotic foods contain fiber:
- Whole grains
- Raw garlic
- Raw onion
- Raw asparagus
What do probiotics do?
These days it seems like there’s nothing they can’t do. Probiotics have been suggested to:
- reduce blood sugar levels
- promote digestive health such as treating diarrhea and managing symptoms of IBD
- reduce the course of bacterial infections
- lower risk for cardiovascular disease
- promote healthy cholesterol levels
- enhance immune function
- lower inflammation and autoimmune reactions
- lower risk for obesity and weight gain
Get a daily dose of probiotic-containing food; pair with a pre-biotic food for best results. Examples include:
- yogurt or kefir + fruit, oats, or chia seeds
- feta cheese on Greek salad with raw onion
- yogurt dip with raw garlic
- pickled asparagus
- picked garlic
- pickled onion