Do you eat food? Do you have a digestive tract? Have you ever been sick? Have you ever taken an antibiotic? Do you get heartburn or other related tummy issues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need probiotics!
A probiotic is a living micro-organism consumed through food, or a dietary supplement containing live and active cultures/bacteria (such as lactobacilli) that is taken orally to restore beneficial bacteria to the body. The best way to ingest this good bacteria is through functional foods — those foods that provide nutrients and health benefits. One of the functional foods at the top of my list for probiotics is kefir, a fermented milk drink.
Why do you need probiotics? We all are born with lots of good bacteria in our gut and as time passes, so does our good bacteria. Age, illness, medications, environmental factors and much more deplete our massive stores of this life-enhancing substance. Probiotics may help us digest food, absorb nutrients, build a stronger immune system and prevent other illnesses. Probiotics may also help prevent or ease the symptoms of a lot of gastrointestinal (GI) issues many people experience: bloating, gas, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, food intolerances/allergies, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The human gastrointestinal tract is complex and may contain more than 400 different types of bacteria. Therefore, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” probiotic, and we all have a different bacteria profile in our guts. With around 70 percent of your immune system in your gut, if you are missing good bacteria, your immune system is suffering. Every medication you take and every time you take an antibiotic, you kill off good bacteria. If you find yourself with numerous colds, infections and doctor appointments, you need to be replacing your good bacteria.
We need to consume functional foods with a variety of strains of probiotics, and fermented dairy products reign supreme. Not only are fermented dairy products nutrient-dense, but studies have shown that consuming probiotics with dairy foods buffers stomach acid and increases the likelihood that the bacteria will survive into the intestine. Kefir, having two to three times more live and active cultures than yogurt, is more likely to meet the needs of your personal bacteria profile. Kefir also provides multiple B vitamins for energy and phosphorus for cell growth. It's also a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that may provide a relaxing effect to your body, making it perfect for a bedtime snack.
Ready to get these into your tummy? I recommend consuming at least two servings of fermented dairy products (six to eight ounces of kefir) a day that contain five or more live and active cultures. Kefir comes in many different flavors, is a little tangy and can be used similarly to other milk products. Try it in a smoothie, poured over your favorite whole-grain hot or cold cereal, or try my favorite idea for summer with my recipe below.
Have a party with probiotics and your body will thank you.
Summer Berry Pops
Recipe developed by Anne Cundiff, RD, LD
6 (5-oz.) plastic cups
1 (6-oz.) package fresh blueberries
1 (6-oz.) package fresh blackberries
1 (6-oz.) package fresh raspberries
6 plastic spoons
24 oz. low-fat vanilla kefir
- Place plastic cups on a tray that will fit into your freezer.
- In each plastic cup, place 3 blueberries, 3 raspberries and 2 blackberries.
- Place the spoon into the center of the berries, with the handle facing up.
- Pour kefir over the berries.
- Freeze overnight and pull the spoon handle to release pop from the cup.