There are a variety of foods that enhance gut health by providing you with probiotics and others that work to promote probiotic growth and flora balance.
We have mentioned the usual fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir as well as fermented veggies such as kimchi or sauerkraut in several of these articles, but one should also be aware that many foods on the "gut-healthy" list only fit the bill if they contain live cultures. Some yogurt labels will state that they contain "active cultures", but the majority of the pickled or fermented foods available at the grocery store offer no such assurances. In fact, most foods that come in cans or jars have been heat pasteurized or processed with acidic ingredients, which will kill all of the live bacteria including the kind that are good for your gut health. There is no reason to fret if you do not live in a community where organic and raw foods are widely available, however. It is quite easy and practical to make your own fermented foods, and homemade items are always better, right?
Pickled, canned, brewed, or fermented...
If you are from a rural part of the country, you may already have experience with homemade fermented or pickled foods, even if you merely watched Grandma perform her annual post-harvest "canning" spree. Nothing compares to old-fashioned pickles, which come in many forms depending on your region. Southern homemakers can pickle anything: cucumbers, olives, peppers, pears, okra, peas, watermelon rinds, eggs, sausages, and even pigs feet (an acquired taste for sure)! Many of us enjoy the beautiful sight of colorful fruits, veggies, and "odds and ends", lining our pantry shelves in meticulously labeled and sealed mason jars. Those containers are not just for looks or preservation, however. The sealed environment is key to the fermentation process that will alter the microbial balance of the contents, enhancing its flavor and health benefits.
One important note: even though many people use the terms interchangeably, pickling and fermentation are not the same process. If you use acidic pickling ingredients like vinegar, the final product will not contain live cultures. Even though pickles and sauerkraut make the list as good sources of probiotics, most supermarket brands are not applicable for this reason. There are ways to make the same dishes using natural brine rather than vinegar. The lacto-fermentation produces a natural acid that will preserve the vegetables while allowing the lactobacillus bacteria to remain alive.
DIY Pickles - It is easier than you think!
Brewing, pickling and fermenting are ancient processes common to most cultures around the world, yielding a huge variety of unique, healthful concoctions. You may be surprised to learn that some of your favorite foods, beverages, and condiments fall into these categories. One of the most common form of pickled dish is, of course, the classic pickle made from cucumbers. Whether you prefer sweet gherkins or tangy dill varieties, there are countless recipes for old-fashioned pickles. There are plenty of quick and easy preparation methods, but you have to be patient once they are in the jar as that is really the longest part of the process! You can find a good example of a homemade lacto-fermented pickle recipe here. This is a typical fermented pickle recipe that only requires cucumbers, water, salt, spices, and fermentation time. You can find all of the ingredients in any grocery store. Unlike commercially prepared pickles, refrigerator pickles never undergo heating or pasteurization, so you are able to enjoy the benefits of natural fermentation, mainly the gut-healthy probiotics.
You can replace the cucumbers with just about any vegetable you want, such as green beans cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, or baby corn. This is a great way to use the "runt" veggies from your garden! You can also adapt salsa recipes to make a fermented probiotic-rich version. Be aware that home fermented items may look strange if you are used to commercial products. The smell will tell you if your pickles have gone "off", however. You will know as soon as you uncap the jar!
Try some exotic alternatives
Have you been looking for a healthier replacement for sugar-laden soft drinks? If plain juice and other non-bubbly drinks fall flat of your expectations, then you may want to check out unusual alternatives like kombucha and kefir. Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea that is actually fizzy like soda. The bubbles come from a natural fermentation process rather than industrial carbonation, however. While most commercial soda drinks offer no health benefits, kombucha has been a popular health tonic among many Eastern cultures for more than two millennia, and most of its benefits come from its high probiotic content.
Since this beverage is fairly new to Western cultures, it may not be as readily available (you can usually find it at specialty health stores) and it may be quite expensive. However, you may be able to make it cheaply at home. The key to fermentation is a culture called "SCOBY", which is an acronym that stands for "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" (this should sound familiar if you have read other probiotic articles!). You need to buy starter SCOBY, also called "mushrooms" by some due to the culture's appearance. The best places to find the starter cultures are natural food and other specialized markets. You can also grow your own SCOBY, but be sure to do your research! All of the other ingredients are very common and you may already have them in your pantry. Be sure to follow your kombucha instructions carefully. Time is of the essence as the cultures are only good for a limited period.
Never forget your daily probiotic supplements!
Daily probiotic supplements are perfect for almost everyone, not just for those who are not fond of fermented foods. Even if you decide to try some of the fascinating recipes available for fermenting your own veggies, you can continue to use supplements to ensure your daily dose of these amazing gut microbes. Quality is key! Hyperbiotics Pro-15 delivers billions of live colony forming units (CFUs) and fifteen different bacteria strains, most of which will survive digestion and arrive in the intestines where they are most needed. Remember, a healthy gut is the root of a strong immune system, and probiotics are essential to your gut health.
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of two little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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