One of the worst damages wrought by our fad-diet-obsessed culture has to be the view of nutrition as a compartmentalized business. Nutrition is a holistic endeavor. When we view diet as merely energy (kcal/calories) intake and output or the sum of macronutrients (grams of carbs, fats, proteins), we minimize the impact that food has on our health and on our lives overall. What we eat is powerful, and it is meant to be something that nourishes and heals. When choosing what we put on our plates and in our bodies, we need to look at not only what a food looks like “on paper” (i.e. what a nutrition label would tell you), but what it will offer our bodies, where it came from, how our body will react to it, and how it will interact with all the other foods on our plate. This shouldn’t be a neurotic process but one that comes more naturally as we become more attuned to what our bodies need and what our food has to offer us. As I’ve studied nutrition, fitness, and health, I’ve become simultaneously more curious about and more skeptical of food trends.
For years, I heard buzzwords like “probiotics” and “antioxidants” and chalked it all up as marketing gimmicks to sell more overpriced health/diet products.
Turns out I was wrong about some of that.
Probiotics, for example, are incredibly important to health. These organisms (yes, they’re living things…what do you make of that, vegan friends?) promote a healthy balance of intestinal flora. Your gastrointestinal system is filled with all kinds of bacteria- some of it good, some of it bad. The good bacteria works to keep the bad bacteria at bay and promote proper digestive functioning. Getting plenty of probiotics in your diet helps to maintain this healthy balance. When gut flora gets cattywampus, you can get into all kinds of health problems. This is more common than you’d think, due to poor diets, overuse of antibiotics, and overconsumption of foods that promote overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Many people don’t make the connection between their physical ailments (whether serious or merely annoying) and gut bacteria. Of course, that’s not to say that all health problems can be solved by getting more probiotics in your diet (more on how to do that below…). But having more probiotics is almost a surefire way to improve your overall health. Most people, even those who eat a decently healthy diet, could use more priobiotics. You can take probiotic supplements, but I think an even better approach is to incorporate more whole-food probiotic sources into your diet. That way, you benefit not only from increasing your probiotic intake, but also from all the other nutrition benefits of the food sources! Probiotics are a byproduct of fermentation, and can be found in lots of delicious foods, some of which you probably already know. Traditional foods tend to incorporate foods that are particularly good sources of priobiotcs. Aim to take in more probiotics from a variety of foods, such as these:
No, you don’t need to buy Activa brand or any of that junk (all the added sugar in there is only going to feed the harmful bacteria in your system, which will any probiotic benefits). All yogurt is fermented, and therefore a great probiotic source. Choose a brand with little/no added sugar, and sweeten it yourself with some fruit, stevia, etc.
Think of kefir as yogurt’s quiet, straightlaced older sister. It is a fermented dairy product with a thinner texture than yogurt (but even more probiotics), so you can drink it or pour it over fruit/cereal/etc. As with yogurt, grab the kind that has little/no added sugar.
This stuff looks strange, but it’s delicious. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish/condiment, and it’s really just fermented cabbage with spices. Some varieties are spicier than others, some less, and of course you can always get really granola and make your own. Give it a try though! I was skeptical, until I tasted it and ended up eating the whole package (like 5 servings) by myself…in only 2 sittings.
When I was a kid, my parents would always let us get a hot dog from Costco when we did a big shopping trip, and I would always choose a Polish sausage and dump loads of sauerkraut on there. So I guess I’m a bit biased. But really, what’s not to love about “sour cabbage” (that’s how it translates). It’s delicious and good for your gut, whether you have it made fresh by a German maiden or cranked out of the Costco self-serve condiment bar. And with that, I’ve got another item for my bucket list: “Have a sexy German man hand-feed me sauerkraut.” Gotta dream big, yall.
Yes, it’s true. America’s favorite fermented burger-toppin’ green thing is actually really good for you. (We’ll talk about the sodium content later…) Now go attack that jar of dill spears like a lady in her third trimester!
Ok, it’s not a food, it’s a
draaank drink, but kombucha is a great source of probiotics, too! Kombucha is a tea that is fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (affectionately called a “scoby”), and typically flavored with fruit juice and/or extract. Sounds weird, but it’s actually really refreshing. I know some adventurous people enjoy making their own – it’s basically the hippie version of brewing craft beer in your garage – but it’s a lot quicker and just as healthy to pick some up from Bel-Air or Whole Foods. It’s about $3.50 for a 16 fl.oz. bottle, so mama’s not throwing these bad boys back all too often…but when I do, I really like G.T.’s Organic Raw Kombucha Gingerade. It’s like drinking a Canada Dry, but without the diabetes.
Now go forth and enjoy fabulously healthy gut bacteria! (If that ain’t sexy, I don’t know what is.)