The 7 Best Probiotic Foods for Healthy Digestion - Nikki Yelton RD

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The 7 Best Probiotic Foods for Healthy Digestion

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Probiotic foods actually contain live bacteria! There is a wider variety of probiotic strains in food than there is compared to supplements. While probiotic supplementation can be helpful in many cases, I always recommend starting with the best probiotic food sources!

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Restoring gut health seems to be all the rage in the wellness community. Probiotic supplements sell like candy and if you head to a local farmer’s market, I’d bet money on finding a vendor selling brewed kombucha, a fermented fizzy drink renowned for its gut friendliness. But as with most trends you might ask— is it worth the hype?

Studies suggest a resounding YES. 

The gut microbiome is a living community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other life forms that make a cozy home in your gastrointestinal tract. The gut is an ecosystem. Much like the rainforest or the ocean, there is a delicate balance. If we kill off the plankton, the fish can’t eat. If the fish are dead, so are the sharks. And so on, and so forth. Same goes for your gut— well, kind of. 

The goal for a healthy gut is to have a balanced ecosystem of good versus bad bacteria. The good bacteria have a ton of different job titles that help with many essential functions throughout the body. They also fight off the pathogenic bacteria that enters your system. When your gut bacteria is off balance, the ecosystem goes into flux and the bad bacteria take over. This creates a whole host of health issues. 

Research has shown that it is absolutely essential to maintain a healthy gut full of good bacteria in order to be the healthiest version of yourself! Enter, probiotics… 

WHY PROBIOTICS ARE IMPORTANT 

We’ve all heard of probiotics, but are they actually necessary? Are probiotics good for you? Do they live up to their hype? To put it simply, yes. Probiotics are extremely beneficial to most and even necessary for others! 

Probiotics actively improve gut health by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut and crowding out the pathogenic bacteria. As a result, a healthy ratio of bacteria thrives in the gut! 

Probiotics can be most useful in the following circumstances:
  • After a round of antibiotics
  • During times of high stress
  • After consuming a high sugar, refined diet (Think: vacation mode)
  • When dysbiosis is present
  • During bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea
  • During chronic skin troubles
  • When immune function is low
  • During recurring vaginal infections

In addition to balancing the microbiome, probiotics offer a ton of health benefits. The gut is connected to many processes and functions throughout the body and so when we support the gut, we support our health as a whole! 

Probiotics support the immune system, healthy bowel movements, weight maintenance, and more
Probiotics also help to: 
  • Support the immune system
  • Promote healthy bowel movement
  • Support vaginal health in women 
  • Promote healthy weight maintenance
  • Improve nutrient absorption
  • Support skin health
  • Help heal GI infections 

That said, there are many strains of probiotics available. Each serves its own purpose, which is why it’s important to work with a functional practitioner when determining the best probiotic for you. More on this later!

PROBIOTICS AND AUTOIMMUNITY

Autoimmune diseases are closely linked to gut health. Often when gut health is poor, autoimmunity flares arise. Inflammation occurs when the immune system attacks invading viruses, bacteria, or pathogens. When your gut microbiome is off balance, the immune system goes into overdrive, causing further inflammation and autoimmune conditions. Don’t forget… about 80% of the immune system is in the gut! So, in the case of autoimmunity, it’s essential to keep your gut in tip-top shape and probiotics can help. 

Probiotics work to reduce inflammation in the gut, while improving gut integrity. Probiotics help to reduce proinflammatory cytokines, which are chemicals that are released in immune response. Probiotic bacteria also defends against harmful pathogens. This improves autoimmune symptoms and flares, leading to the reversal of autoimmunity all together! 

How probiotic supplements and probiotic foods affect autoimmunity
TIPS TO KEEP GOOD BACTERIA THRIVING
Limit Antibiotic Use 

Antibiotics kill the bacteria in your microbiome. Notice the word itself— anti (against) and biotics (biome). Studies show only a 5 day course of antibiotics, which is less than typically prescribed, wipes out 35% of the bacteria in the gut. While sometimes necessary to kill the bad bacteria wreaking havoc through infection, antibiotics also kill the good bacteria. There is no way to target only the bad guys. The bacteria left after an antibiotics course are resistant to the antibiotic and start to multiply. This leaves the gut with a much less diverse community of bacteria that is also resistant to antibiotics. 

Take a Probiotic Supplement Tailored to You

Probiotics are key for a healthy microbiome and help to repopulate good gut bacteria… But how do you know if the probiotic you’re taking is actually doing you any good? Sometimes the wrong probiotics can actually cause more GI distress.

There are billions of strains of good bacteria in probiotics. To make it simple, let’s say we have microbe A and microbe B in our gut. One person has a ton of microbe A, but their B is lacking. Another person has a ton of microbe B, but their A is lacking. Now would these two people need the same probiotic supplement to repopulate each of their respective gut bacteria? OF COURSE NOT! 

In order to actually reap the benefits, one would need a probiotic with microbe B and the other would need one with microbe A, because that’s where they’re lacking! This is why any old probiotic supplement off the shelf might not be doing you any good. I recommend testing your gut bacteria once a year so you can find the specific strains your body is lacking and needs the most! This way you can personalize the probiotic that is right for you! 

Eat the Best Probiotic Foods

This is my favorite way to populate the gut with lots of healthy probiotics. Fermented foods can actually contain live probiotic bacteria and there is a wider variety of probiotic strains in food than there is compared to supplements. When you eat probiotic-rich food, you also get added nutritional benefits. For example, the best probiotic foods deliver essential nutrients such as fiber, which can be used as food for the good bacteria you’re repopulating! 

Quick tip for the best probiotic foods: Make sure you choose options that say “live” or “active” cultures and be sure to choose unpasteurized, as pasteurization can kill live bacteria!

THE 7 BEST PROBIOTIC FOOD SOURCES 

While probiotic supplementation can be helpful in many cases, I always recommend starting with food sources of probiotics. Luckily, they’re widely available to us today! Here are the top 7 foods to start including in your diet for a healthy dose of probiotics:

Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea. It’s a great alternative to soda or alcohol, while also providing you with a hefty dose of probiotics!

Coconut Kefir or Yogurt

Kefir is created when milk is fermented. As with all other foods, quality matters. Always look for grass-fed, organic kefir. Better yet, opt for raw kefir! A dairy-free alternative to yogurt and kefir is that made from coconut milk! While lower in protein content, coconut yogurt and kefir offer similar probiotic benefits as their milk-derived counterparts and can be a great option for those who cannot tolerate dairy products.

Yogurt

Yogurt naturally contains an abundance of probiotics. Similar to kefir, look for grass-fed and organic or raw yogurt. 

Fermented Vegetables 

Kimchi and other fermented vegetables (ie. pickles, beets, carrots) contain live probiotics. They are a perfect addition to almost any meal!

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a fermented product, which provides a healthy dose of probiotics. Try adding a splash to your morning glass of water or mixing into a homemade salad dressing!

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is another kind of fermented veggie, made from cabbage. During the fermentation process, live and active probiotics are created for your benefit!

BONUS: Sourdough Bread

Sourdough bread is another great source of probiotics, as it’s fermented bread. Although those with Celiac disease should not consume sourdough, some with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity are able to enjoy this unique bread. Always look for bread baked with the freshest and least ingredients. 

Probiotic foods to heal your gut like kombucha and sauerkraut

Probiotics aren’t just good-for-you, but they taste good. My personal favorite way to eat more probiotics is either coconut yogurt with collagen, berries, and honey for breakfast or a grass-fed burger topped with sauerkraut for dinner!

Although they sound similar and both benefit the gut, probiotics and prebiotics are not the same thing. Fundamentally, probiotics are the living microorganisms in your gut, while prebiotics are what feed the probiotics. At the end of the day, both prebiotics and probiotics go hand-in-hand!

WHEN TO TAKE A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT

I like to take my probiotic supplement (with specific strains my gut needs to thrive) along with my breakfast. Most probiotics are best taken before food on an empty stomach to limit exposure to digestive enzymes and bile salts. This won’t apply to everyone and some strains are best with food or after dinner. It all depends on you and your unique chemistry!

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT 

Ideally, everyone should test their gut bacteria before starting on a new probiotic. I highly recommend working with a functional practitioner to identify the most effective and beneficial probiotic strains. However, for those who do not have access to this kind of gut testing or guidance, there is one probiotic that I believe is suitable for most.

Seed creates a probiotic with 24 science backed, broad-spectrum strains designed to actually survive the digestive tract. It’s made to sustain stomach acid and bile acids to ensure proper delivery to the colon. This is a HUGE necessity as most probiotic products don’t! The strains are well studied for the majority of the population if you aren’t able to customize a probiotic to fit your unique needs. Most people do very well on this particular probiotic and experience great results.  For this reason, I trust Seed probiotics! I often put my clients on Seed once they’ve healed their gut and we are in maintenance mode. 

Probiotics play an important part in a healthy diet. Not only are they beneficial to our health, but they can also be delicious! For personalized guidance on choosing the best probiotic for you, apply to work with me, here.

The 7 best probiotic foods for healthy digestion
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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