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8 Probiotic-Rich Foods to Strengthen Your Immune System

3 min read

young woman eating yogurt

“All disease begins in the gut.”

The above is a quote from Greek physician Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC), who is often referred to as “the father of medicine.”

Fast forward over 2,000 years and we now know that Hippocrates was right. In fact, 70% of our immune system is housed in the gut.  Since the food and beverages we consume today consist of chemicals, food additives, hormones and other things potentially harmful to our well-being, a healthy gut is more important than ever. But what are probiotics?, and why are they vital to our survival?

Probiotics 101

Probiotics are living microorganisms, mostly bacteria, but one strain of yeast (saccharomyces boulardii) also functions as a probiotic.

While bacteria are often thought of as something bad for us, they are central to our survival. Here’s why: There are “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria,” A balance of 85% good bacteria to 15% bad is considered healthy..

probiotics and gut health

Bad bacteria are not probiotics. Bad bacteria enter our bodies through food and environmental toxins. They can cause pneumonia, meningitis, strep throat and food poisoning, among other infections. Bad bacteria are the reason it’s necessary to wash your hands and keep your kitchen and bathroom clean.

The trillions of good bacteria living in our gut break down food to produce energy, synthesize vitamins, prevent bad bacteria from making you sick and absorb nutrients.

Because of their health benefits, probiotics are used in the production of some food. Foods containing probiotics are generally thought to be safe except for people who have immune system issues or other serious health conditions.

The following eight foods are rich in probiotics:

  1. Yogurt – One of the most popular probiotic foods, yogurt helps with digestion, eases gas and diarrhea and helps with other problems related to the stomach. But it’s important to select a yogurt product that contains only milk, cream and active cultures. Many yogurts also contain lots of sugar and sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners can wreak havoc on your body, and too much sugar only feeds the bad bacteria in your gut.
  2. Sauerkraut – Unpasteurized is best, as the pasteurization process kills good bacteria. Sauerkraut improves digestion and contains immune-boosting vitamins.
  3. Miso soupThis traditional Japanese soup mixes softened miso paste (fermented soybeans) with dashi stock. It’s low in calories and rich in nutrients.
  4. Kefir – This fermented milk drink contains up to 61 strains of bacteria and yeast. It’s a more potent probiotic source than yogurt. (Buttermilk is also a good source of probiotics.)
  5. Sourdough Bread – A much healthier alternative than white or whole wheat bread, sourdough is an excellent source of probiotics, as well as a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
  6. Acidophilus Milk – This beverage is enriched with lactobacillus acidophilus, a strain of healthy bacteria. Among other benefits, acidophilus milk is thought to prevent intestinal infections and improve digestion.
  7. Sour Pickles – Pickled cucumbers are a healthy source of probiotics. However, commercially sold pickles may contain a lot of salt, and those made with vinegar do not contain live probiotics.
  8. Tempeh – Tempeh is made from a base of fermented soybeans and is extremely versatile and can be used as a replacement for everything from beef to bacon to croutons. Besides its probiotic value, tempeh is an excellent source of protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.

What About Prebiotics?

Prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria in your gut. Foods that contain prebiotics to strengthen your immune system (as well as many other benefits) are onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup and legumes.

If you heed the words of Hippocrates and listen to your gut when making food choices, you’ll prime your immune system to fend off  the “bad germs” and protect your immune health. As Hippocrates is credited with saying, “let food be thy medicine.”

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