Food & Nutrition

What are probiotics and why they are good for you

Did you know? Probiotic foods help in skin conditions like eczema and also prevent allergies and colds.

Our mothers were right. Dahi is good for you because it is a probiotic food.

As children, many of us did not understand this and even squirmed when told how curd was actually made. For us, bacteria was germs. Cultured with live good bacterium the process of making yoghurt was alien to us. But as we grew, we knew that everything good was actually fantastic for us, even bacteria!  Yes, it is true. This brings us to our topic: probiotic. Probiotic is excellent for digestion and your gut function, therefore, it is essential that we nurture the friendly bacteria. Yes, taking care of our gut is important.

What is this ‘friendly-bacteria’?

Probiotics are live bacteria, health-boosting microorganisms and yeast of varying kinds that are good for our health.  It is wonderful for our digestive system, keeping it well-oiled and functioning properly. It also maintains a healthy balance of the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the body relieving digestive and gut-related ailments like IBD, IBS and diarrhoea caused by indigestion, parasites, as well as by antibiotic.

What happens is that when people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they invariably suffer from diarrhoea much after the infection has been eliminated. This is the result of the antibiotics which kill many of the natural bacteria in the gut shifting the balance thus allowing the “bad” bacteria to grow. Studies have strongly indicated that probiotic drink/supplements can relieve diarrhoea caused antibiotic. Additionally, probiotics can help reduce gas, bloating, constipation, and such other conditions including ulcers and stomach cancer.

Types of probiotics:

Kefir is a fermented milk, a probiotic drink.

In reality, there are different types of probiotic bacteria that offer health benefits. The most common are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which are further divided into micro species within each group having varied strains. Because each probiotic takes care of separate health conditions, it is essential to choose the correct probiotic.

  • Lactobacillus: It is found in yoghurt and other fermented foods and perhaps the most common type of probiotic.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii: This is a yeast found in probiotics and helps to ease conditions of diarrhoea and other digestive problems.
  • Bifidobacterium. Found in some dairy products, it helps to alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and such conditions.

Yoghurt does not have to be boring, you can enjoy them in a range of exciting flavours!

Why are microorganisms in my gut so important?

Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria.

Our gut contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms which are a confluence of bacteria, yeasts and viruses.  This is called gut flora.  You will be surprised to know that your gut flora performs many functions essential for health, producing vitamin such as B vitamins, including vitamin K. They also keep the immune system active, alert and performing at an optimal level.

Probiotic foods include yoghurt, chaas, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi and others.

  • Yoghurt: Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. This health enhancing friendly bacteria turn some of the lactose into lactic acid, altering the taste of yoghurt making it sour. Also, yoghurt may be better than milk for those with lactose intolerance.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste and a common Japanese seasoning.
  • Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk, a probiotic drink. It is made by adding kefir grains to milk to extract its goodness. It improves bone strength, alleviating some digestive problems and protecting it against infections. Like yoghurt, kefir is well-tolerated by people who suffer from lactose intolerance.
  • Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It is sour and salty to taste and enjoys a long shelf life.  Rich in C vitamin, B and K, it is also packed with antioxidants, iron and manganese. Go for it.
  • Khimchi: This is actually a side dish in Korean cuisine made from salted and fermented vegetables mainly napa cabbage and seasoning. It contains lactic acid bacteria beneficial for digestive health.
  • Miso: This is a fermented soybean paste and a common Japanese seasoning. It is rich in several important nutrients known to reduce the risk of cancer and stroke, especially in women.
  • Traditional Buttermilk: Chaas, buttermilk is simply the leftover liquid from making butter. Buttermilk is low in fat and packed with healthy vitamins. Go get your glass of chaas.

Ingesting friendly bacteria or yeast is linked to numerous health benefits including weight loss, smoother skin and it reduces the risk of many diseases. If you are suffering from any digestive problems that do not seem to go away, perhaps a probiotic drink/supplement may help. However, consult with your doctor before taking a probiotic supplement.

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Click here to know more about Indian food that contains probiotics

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