Something is lurking inside your digestive system. Millions and millions of somethings, in fact. But are they friends or foes? Ask Science and special guest Nutrition Diva discuss current research on intestinal bacteria and why they’re so important to our health.
Monica, what can we do to keep our gut bacteria happy?
*** A Nutrition Diva Exclusive! ***
Thanks Lee! I’m happy to be here.
As we just learned, probiotics are friendly bacteria that normally inhabit the human digestive tract, where they perform all kinds of useful tricks—such as helping to digest our food and protecting us from harmful bacteria. Probiotic bacteria even manufacture vitamins for us—including vitamin K and B12. In fact, up to 3 pounds of your body weight actually consists of beneficial bacteria!
Although we often think of probiotics mostly in terms of dairy products like yogurt or kefir, there are all kinds of other probiotic foods as well. There’s Japanese tempeh or natto, which are both made from fermented soy. There’s Korean kim-chi, Polish sauerkraut and all kinds of other naturally fermented vegetables and pickles. Wine and beer both contain probiotics, and so does cheese—particularly aged cheeses like parmesan, cheddar, or gouda. In fact, virtually every traditional cuisine features some sort of fermented or cultured food.
It’s a good idea to include probiotic foods in your diet on a regular basis.
And although any one of these foods will supply beneficial bacteria, there good reasons to play the field. For one thing, there are many strains of beneficial bacteria and the various kinds of fermented foods feature different ones. These foods also have varying nutritional profiles and health benefits. Cultured dairy products provide a healthy dose of calcium, for example. Fermented cabbage and vegetables contain lots vitamins C, K and other nutrients. Wine contains polyphenols that are good for your heart. Beer is rich in B vitamins. Fermented soy products provide soy protein and isoflavones.
Just remember: Beneficial bacteria are only helpful if they’re alive when you eat them. Although freezing doesn’t kill bacteria, heat does. Foods like frozen yogurt, processed cheese, and pickles and sauerkraut in jars—which are pasteurized or heat-treated after they’re cultured or fermented—would not be considered probiotic foods.
Do you have any more questions about the organisms living inside your gut? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter, or check out my Facebook page. For more info on how to get probiotics into your diet, subscribe to Nutrition Diva’s podcast.
Come back next week for another episode of Ask Science’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Making Sense of Science.