Swallowing a beverage full of bacteria probably doesn't sound appetizing, but according to evidence cited by the Harvard Medical School, a type of bacteria called lactobacillus could treat gastrointestinal conditions such as infectious diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Now called probiotic therapy, researchers believe it has the potential to treat gastrointestinal problems that otherwise fail to respond to traditional medical treatments. It isn't hard to get your daily dose of probiotics either. They come in supplement form, and many foods are naturally rich with lactobacillus bacteria, helping keep your gut healthy. Here's how to get your fill.
For a daily dose of probiotics, consider eating a cup of yogurt, a type of fermented dairy food. Not all yogurt products carry probiotics, however. To see if it does, check if it's labeled as a product carrying active cultures. Some types of yogurt are also advertised as products carrying lactobacillus that improve digestive health. For a healthy start to your day, consider pairing low-sugar yogurt with mandarin oranges or berries for a dash of disease-fighting micronutrients.
Chances are if you hail from the Midwest—or have family from Scandinavia or Germany—you've had a helping or two of this sour dish with pork or bratwurst. Next time, consider doubling your dose because traditional sauerkraut contains lactobacillus as well as other healthy compounds, thanks to its fermentation process (which also gives it that sour taste). It's also a great source of vitamin C; Captain James Cook reportedly took sauerkraut on his sea voyages to prevent scurvy.
Like sauerkraut, kimchi goes through a lengthy fermentation process, and while it isn't as sour as its Scandinavian counterpart (it's more spicy than sour), it's packed full of nutrients—and a whopping dose of probiotics. In fact, researchers found that kimchi actually carried a new species of lactobacillus bacteria called lactobacillus kimchii, according to a study reported in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. For a healthy dose of gut-soothing bacteria, consider eating it with rice or dried seaweed (together called kimchi kimbap) or adding it to your favorite salad for a spicy kick.
Best described as a liquid yogurt, kefir is a sour carbonated beverage best known in Russia, although in recent times it has been produced commercially in the United States. While it's not a taste for everyone's palates, its high nutrient content is good for all stomachs. In addition to good bacteria, kefir also contains vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and calcium. Best uses: Try incorporating it into your meal by adding it to cereal or using it to make sourdough bread.
For an animal-free way to get your daily dose of probiotics, consider the vegetarian alternative: tempeh. Created by fermenting soybeans into a hard block form, many people favor tempeh because of its ability to easily absorb any flavor, as well as for its high protein content. Fermentation also means it is rich in probiotics, which may help lessen gastrointestinal upset. To stay healthy, consider replacing burger patties with a few slabs of tempeh or add it to salad.
If you don't have access to these foods, consider other alternatives such as taking probiotics in pill form or looking for beverages fortified with lactobacillus bacteria.