Your gut is like a forest, full of diverse life that—if kept in check—helps your whole natural system flourish. The problem is, food isn’t as simple as it used to be, and modern cuisine, even modern medicine like antibiotics, can do a real number on the biodiversity in your digestive tract—your beneficial bacteria. In fact, too many meds and eating too much sugar and processed foods can actually suppress this protective gastrointestinal army, so it’s important to bring balance and stability back to your gut for optimal health to avoid diarrhea and diseases. In fact, many of these probiotic-rich foods will actually help you glow on the outside, too. Studies have found probiotics help combat skin problems.
The Benefit: Kind of like a drinkable yogurt, kefir is a fermented dairy product that contains oligosaccharides, complex carbs, that feed beneficial bacteria. And keeping those tiny microorganisms content will help supercharge your immune system.
Healthy Tip: Keep your kefir cold—the live and active cultures are sensitive to heat—and be sure to avoid kefir with sky-high sugar content. Too much sugar damages your healthy intestinal flora.
2: Greek Yogurt
The Benefit: Like kefir, Greek yogurt also serves as a potent dairy-based probiotic, and also boasts 15 to 20 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving and amino acids that will jump-start your metabolism.
Healthy Tip: Some companies market “Greek style” yogurt products that are nothing more than regular yogurt containing additives like gelatin and milk solids to thicken the consistency. For true Greek yogurt, check the ingredients list. It should only read: Milk and cultures.
3: Real Sauerkraut
The Benefit: Sauerkraut is really fermented cabbage, a preservation technique that far precedes modern-day refrigeration.
Healthy Tip: For true probiotic muscle, avoid canned sauerkraut, because it’s pasteurized, meaning the healthy bacteria is mostly killed off. Instead, make your own homemade sauerkraut in a crock.
The Benefit: A standby for centuries in Korean culture, this spicy fermented cabbage dish acts like a tonic for your gastrointestinal tract. A 2005 Seoul National University study found it's so beneficial to the immune system that it helped speed recovery in chickens stricken with the virulent avian flu.
Healthy Tip: Add kimchi to organic mashed potatoes, rice, or salads if the distinctly sour, fizzy fare isn't appetizing to you on its own.
The Benefit: Artichokes are potent probiotics, meaning they contain undigestible nutrients that help feed the beneficial bacteria growth within your digestive system. Think of them like a healthy meal for the helpful bacteria in your gut.
Healthy Tip: If artichokes don’t delight your taste buds, try other potent probiotics like bananas, lentils, and asparagus.
The Benefit: With its naturally fizzy profile, this fermented tea serves as a healthy replacement for carbonated drinks like soda. Mildly tart and effervescent, kombucha is teeming with beneficial bacteria to coat your digestive tract. The fermentation process (kick-started by a translucent, wiggly culture called a "scoby") also creates healthy B vitamins that can activate energy.
Healthy Tip: This ancient, nourishing tonic has boosted immune systems for centuries; however, if you have certain digestive-tract diseases or candida, kombucha may aggravate symptoms because it's considered a wild ferment and could contain irritating yeasts for susceptible individuals.
7: Miso Soup
The Benefit: While there's debate surrounding the health benefits of soy, the truth is fermented soybeans contain an abundance of beneficial bacteria and isoflavones, which can protect against cancer and possibly halt the production of fat cells.
Healthy Tip: Look for organic miso soup to avoid harmful additives and genetically engineered soy, which has never been tested for long-term impact on human health.
8: Dark Chocolate
The Benefit: This is not too good to be true! Louisiana State University researchers recently discovered that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble down the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart!
The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate, explains study author Maria Moore, and undergraduate and research at the university. "When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke," said John Finley, PhD, who led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach.
Healthy Tip: Look for chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao and eat it regularly to help build up levels of cocoa's polyphenols, which help regulate your stress hormones, explains Will Clower, PhD, neurophysiologist, neuroscientist, nutritionist, and author of the new book Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight. Clower says the higher the cocoa, the lower the sugar. Translation? He recommends an adult can enjoy a full ounce of chocolate during the day if it's 70 percent cocoa; 1¼ ounces if it's 85 percent cocoa.
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