If you haven’t already, please check out my last post, All About Probiotics + The Surprising Role Of Fiber. It goes deep into what probiotics are, what they do for us, and how we are in relationship with them.
On to how we can use probiotics in daily life.
Do we need to take pills?
Are the pills actually safe?
What are the best sources of probiotics?
How do I keep my gut balanced without going crazy or breaking the bank?
I will address all these questions below!
Probiotic Supplements: Efficacy and Safety
As you may recall from my last post, studies show that probiotics are very beneficial for a variety of mental health and physical problems.
Dr. Michael Greger shared the problem of publication bias in probiotic research. This happens when the sponsor of the supplement company (or drug company) pays for its own research.
Mysteriously, journals only receive and publish positive findings. The studies with negative findings “go missing.”
Studies looking into the publication bias in probiotic research found as many as 20 unflattering studies that were missing from the published literature.
It appears there is a lack of assessment and systematic reporting of negative effects of probiotics. Thus, current research cannot say that probiotics are safe.
One alarming study investigated the effect of probiotic therapy in the treatment of pancreatitis, as such treatment showed benefits in animal studies.
Half of the human study subjects got probiotics, and the other half did not.
Sadly, more than twice as many people died in the probiotic group.
This evidence suggests that probiotics are no longer completely harmless.
Ok, now that you think that probiotics will kill you…
I’ll give you some good new…
You don’t have to take them!
The Best Sources of Probiotics
The best sources of probiotics are also the best sources of prebiotics and fiber.
They’re our natural synbiotics…
FRUITS AND VEGGIES!
As discussed in my last post, fruits and veggies are natural sources of prebiotics and fiber. Fiber feeds good bacteria, which produce butyrate, which tells our immune system to chill out.
Good bacteria protect the lining of our gut. They take up space so that bad bacteria don’t take over our guts. We live in peace, harmony, and get along just great!
Without fiber, good bacteria don’t produce butyrate, and our immune system thinks we are screwed. It attacks, creating inflammation to kill off real or imagined bad bacteria.
Eat fiber-rich fruits and veggies for balanced gut bacteria, anti-inflammatory powers, and a calm, soothed immune system that can fight off actual threats.
Plus, eating enough fruits and veggies means you don’t have to buy bottles, pills, and capsules, or worry about the safety and efficacy of probiotic supplements.
That being said, I use probiotic supplements.
I have tested MANY kinds of probiotic supplements. When they work, my digestion is really good. I am on point with a bowel movement after every meal.
When they don’t work, I don’t notice any problems.
I always first look for Vegetarian capsules and make sure the probiotics are vegan. Sometimes I slip up, and they are only vegetarian. It happens…
I take a specific kind for about 1-2 months, then I switch to another brand. In my mind, this is a diversification technique. It’s a way to keep a healthy variety of bacteria in my gut.
In addition, I usually keep a bottle of this around. It’s inexpensive, vegetarian, and has no prebiotics. It is great to use in salt-free sauerkraut and cultured cashew cheeses.
As a general rule, you want to buy probiotic supplements from the refrigerated section of your grocery store. If it is not refrigerated, it is likely dead.
Prepared Food Sources of Probiotics
To keep my good bacteria as diverse as possible, I also include fermented vegetables, cultured cashew cheese, and chickpea miso (occasionally) in my diet.
I eat about 2 tablespoons of sauerkraut a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Go here for the best ever sauerkraut recipe with and without salt. It’s simple, fun, and cheap to make your own sauerkraut.
If you are buying fermented vegetables (including pickles!) from the store, make sure they are refrigerated and only contain vegetables and salt.
If they are not refrigerated, you are just buying a flavored condiment. No probiotics. If they contain vinegar or other weird ingredients, chances are they are not alive or healthy either.
I don’t recommend buying yogurt, because it’s cultured dairy milk. Milk from another species is not a human food. Moreover, most yogurts are pasteurized and do not contain living probiotics.
If you choose to consume animal-based yogurt, I encourage you to do your own research to be an informed consumer.
If you want to buy vegan yogurt, go for it! Make sure it’s alive! I have tried Cocoyo, and it is a live, raw coconut-based vegan yogurt.
You can also make your own vegan yogurt! I’ll share my own raw vegan recipe soon!
Cultured cashew cheese is another simple, delicious source of probiotics. I will share a recipe soon!
You can also buy cultured cashew cheeses in the health food store. Just make sure to check the ingredients. I recommend buying products that are raw, unpasteurized, and without oil. Treeline Tree Nut Cheese is one such brand.
Other prepared food sources include: natto, miso, tempeh, and hempe. Just make sure you are buying raw, organic, non-GMO for any natto, miso, and tempeh, as they are all soy products.
Allergic to soy? I use raw chickpea miso on occasion.
Cultured Beverage Sources of Probiotics
Kombucha, jun, and dairy-free kefirs are all different types of cultured beverages.
Jun and kombucha are cultured teas made with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
Kombucha is sweetened with raw cane sugar, which feeds the bacteria and yeast.
Jun is sweetened with honey, which also feeds the bacteria and yeast.
Both can be excellent ways to include more probiotics in your diet.
There has been some debate over whether kombucha is vegan or not. If this is a concern for you, do your own research, and make choices accordingly.
Water kefir is a cultured beverage made with sugar and water, coconut water, or juice.
Note: if you are triggered by the consumption of refined sugar, then kombucha, jun, and water kefir may not be the best options for you.
I drink kombucha or jun about once a week. Sometimes more, and sometimes less. Jun is not vegan, as it is made with honey. I feel ok about this, and do not consume jun more than once a week.
- Probiotic supplements may not be 100% safe….
- That’s ok, because the best source of probiotics isn’t a supplement anyway.
- The best source of natural prebiotics and probiotics is raw fruits and veggies. They contain fiber, which plays an important role in feeding good bacteria, which protect our gut lining and tell our immune system (via butyrate production) that everything is ok.
- A fiber-poor diet is inflammatory, because our good bacteria won’t produce butyrate, and our immune system will ATTACK.
- Probiotic supplements may have a time and a place in your lifestyle. I use one daily, and also keep a bottle on hand to use in salt-free kraut and cultured cashew cheese.
- Prepared food sources of probiotics include: sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, real pickles, dairy-free yogurt, dairy-free cheese, natto, miso, tempeh, and hempe.
- Cultured beverage sources of probiotics include: kombucha, jun, and kefir.
The key is to find the right balance for you. You may do well eating a high fiber, fruit and veggie rich diet, and not need to take any probiotic capsules, eat fermented foods, or drink cultured beverages. No worries. That’s cool!
I recommend a high produce diet, first and foremost, given the relationship between good bacteria, fiber, butyrate, and immune response.
Consuming probiotic capsules and cultured food and beverages are SUPPLEMENTS. They are extras…bonuses.
Focus on including more fiber rich fruits and vegetables in your diet first.
Then you can get fancy with cultured dairy-free yogurts, cheeses, and other fun fermented foods.
Are you serious about improving your health?
Do you want ongoing support in achieving your health goals?