How to Choose the Right Probiotic Foods for Your Body (The Answer May Surprise You)
“You should take a daily probiotic…”
You’ve no doubt heard this advice after taking antibiotics or if you suffer from digestive issues.
But in the last decade, probiotic therapy has expanded well beyond ‘gut care.’ It’s well recognized that probiotics can benefit a wide range of mental and physical conditions.
In 2013, the journal Beneficial Microbes reviewed various studies related to obesity and the microbiome. The authors concluded that:
“Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the combination of L. rhamnosus ATCC 53102 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 may reduce adiposity, body weight, and weight gain. This suggests that these microbial strains can be applied in the treatment of obesity.”
Another review, published in CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, suggests that probiotics may also be useful in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.
Then there is the cutting edge of microbial therapy, involving ‘poop pills’ and ‘fecal transplants’ – treatments that show great promise for intestinal disorders.
It’s no wonder probiotic sales have increased 36% in the last five years with expected growth of 40% by 2020.
This growth is evidenced by more than 9,000 results for the search term ‘probiotic supplement’ on Amazon!
With all these choices, how do you choose the one that will confer the health benefits you’re specifically looking for?
The answer is relatively simple once you understand your gut bugs more intimately.
Human… Meet Your Microbes!
Human beings have 10x more bacterial cells in our bodies than we do human cells. That’s 100 trillion bacteria, from head to toe, inside and out. You may even hear some scientists say we’re only 10% human!
Inside our gut live anywhere from 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria, alongside various fungi and yeasts. All of these organisms live in a symbiotic relationship with each other and with you.
To demonstrate the huge variety, here’s a little basic microbiology:
- 98% of the gastrointestinal tract contains bacteria known as Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. These are categorized on the microbial family tree as phyla.
- Each of these two phyla has a large number of genera (or genus). Lactobacillus for example, is just one genus out of over 274.
- Each genus contains a number of species. Lactobacillus has around 122 different species and L. acidophilus is just one of them.
- Finally, within each species are various strains. For example acidophilus DDS-1.
Now, let’s put this into perspective with probiotic supplements. Most commercial products do not contain entire phyla or even genera. Many will contain an entire species, but not all species. Some don’t even contain an entire species, just a few strains.
Probiotic Foods: It’s Not Just a Case of Good vs Bad
Our large population of microbes help us with a range of functions, including digestion and immunity. They even help produce vitamins and essential fatty acids. And it is a widely varied and balanced ecosystem that is necessary for our health as the human host.
Paul O’Toole, a professor at the Biosciences Institute in Cork, states:
“Diversity is the key. What we see with people on narrow diversity diets is that the microbiota collapses.”
Science also tells us we can change our microbial balance in as little as 24 hours by changing their environment through diet. Our gut bugs are highly influenced by the foods we eat (or don’t eat). Probiotic supplements are only a fraction of the equation. The key to a healthy microbiome is to encourage microbial diversity and nourish our healthy gut bugs the same way our ancestors did.
Probiotic Foods: Boost Your Flora the Way Our Ancestors Did
- Consume only grass fed beef, pastured poultry and eggs, and wild caught fish. These foods are free of microbiome-altering antibiotics. Be diverse in your meat choices and allow all of your meat-loving microbes to get their nourishment. And add a little full-spectrum salt – you also have salt-loving bugs to keep happy!
- Give your plant-loving gut bugs their food too! Fill your plate with lots of organic vegetables, especially powerful onions, garlic, jicama and daikon radish. These foods contain prebiotic fiber for Bifidus bacteria to feed on, and they’ll produce healthy byproducts for your body.
- Include lacto-fermented probiotic foods daily, like kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. Each of these foods contains different species of beneficial bacteria. Again, be diverse and use a range of fermented foods to get a large variety of beneficial bacteria.
- Include lacto-fermented meats like grass-fed corned beef. This one surprises many Americans, but fermented meats are rich in powerful probiotics and a healthy addition to a microbe-supporting diet. We also LOVE Paleo Valley grass-fed fermented beef sticks.
- Add coconut oil, garlic and ginger regularly to food. They’re naturally anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and help keep your microbiome in balance.
- If you use probiotic supplements, try a rotation strategy. Pick a trusted brand with good reviews, use it up and then switch to a totally different brand with different strains and species. Use a supplement that gives you as many CFU’s as possible. Aim for tens of billions – the higher the better.
- Beware of common chemicals that damage your microbes, including bleach, hand sanitizer, chlorine and conventional personal care products. Opt for natural, “old-fashioned” methods and formulas to clean and care for your body.
- Finally, keep stress well managed. This too can alter your microbial balance.
A balanced diet and lifestyle equals a healthy, balanced microbiome. End the probiotic supplement confusion with the simple diet tips and powerful probiotic foods noted above, and by making the choices our ancestors did to help preserve our ancient microbiome in a modern world.