There is a lot said about probiotics on the news and on various website dedicated to improving human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, exert a beneficial effect on the health of the host”. Many of these beneficial effects center on a strengthened immune system and better digestion and can help people with a wide variety of ailments, from cancer to stomach ulcers. Now, it is possible to buy probiotics in capsule form – but there are also live, active cultures to be found in the fabulous, ancient foods listed below.
Although kefir has been around for hundreds of years, it was not until fairly recently that most Americans became aware of it. This fermented, yogurt-like beverage originated in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia and was traditionally made from cow’s or sheep’s milk that was mixed with a blend of yeast and bacteria and then allowed to ferment. Even early on, it was valued for its health benefits and actually derives from a Turkish word meaning to “feel good”.
Part of its health value comes from the fact that it is nutrient-rich: a single 6-ounce serving contains protein, healthy fats, a handful of carbohydrates and a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and B-complex vitamins. However, what makes kefir stand out as a healthy drink is the fact that is contains over 30 strains of probiotic bacteria and yeasts, including one strain called Lactobacilli kefiri which is found exclusively in this beverage. Studies have shown that the immune-boost kefir can help to fight the growth of disease-causing bacteria like Staphylcoccus and can also reduce the risk of acquiring some cancers.
Suffering from digestive problems? Kefir might just be the perfect drink for you, linked as it is to improvement in h. pylori infections (which can cause stomach ulcers) as well as diarrhea and IBS. And those with lactose intolerance will be happy to know that kefir contains a variety of natural bacteria that digest the lactose in the milk, making it a safe way for those with lactose intolerance to enjoy this dairy product. In short, kefir is a great way to treat a variety of digestive conditions.
Kombucha has been around for a long time and it is believed to have originated thousands of years ago in either China or Japan. However, its popularity in the West continues to rise as Americans and other begin to appreciate its health benefits.
Like kefir, kombucha is rich in probiotics; its nickname, “mushroom tea” comes from the fact that the bacteria and yeast in this drink makes a mushroom-like blob in the drink during the fermentation process. What makes kombucha even more potent from a health standpoint is that, especially when made from green tea, these probiotics mix with green tea antioxidants like polyphenols to make a truly amazing health drink. For one thing, it has been shown to slow the digestion of carbohydrates (which benefits those who suffer from conditions like diabetes). It also contains acetic acid, which helps the immune system with its strong antimicrobial properties.
In a review of the benefits of kombucha, researchers noted that “It is found that KT can efficiently act in health prophylaxis and recovery due to four main properties: detoxification, antioxidation, energy potencies and promotion of depressed immunity and they recommended it for “prevention against broad-spectrum metabolic and infective disorders”.
Yogurt is arguably the best-known probiotic-rich food in the West – and has an incredibly long history of human consumption. It is believed that the term derives from the Turkish word “yogurmak,” meaning “to curdle” and the earliest references to yogurt date back to 6000 BC in Indian Ayurvedic manuscripts.
Like kefir and kombucha, yogurt is also a nutritionally dense food, offering generous amounts of protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium and B-complex vitamins. It also is rich in many strains of probiotic bacteria. These probiotic bacteria are believed to strengthen the immune system, such as in a study which found that elderly patients regularly consuming yogurt reduced the length of illnesses by 20%. It is also believed to produce healthy changes in the flora of the gut and studies have found that it can help with various digestive problems, including lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and h. pylori infections.
In a review of 221 studies done on the health benefits of yogurt, researchers looked at studies which linked yogurt consumption to improved cancer risk, enhanced gastrointestinal health and immunological parameters and found that there was strong evidence to support the use of yogurt for an increase in both digestive and immune health.
Korea, due to the historic isolation of the country, has produced many unique foods in its long history, with kimchi being the most widely-eaten among them. This spicy, fermented cabbage dish has been eaten for around 1,500 years and nutritional information can be found on it in the book Samkuksaki, which was published in 1145 AD.
Kimchi is simply packed with nutrients. These include vitamins (A and C), minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium), amino acids (including arginine and asparagine) and antioxidants (lutein and beta-carotene) as well as dietary fiber. In addition to this, the extra ingredients in kimchi (such as onions, radishes and black and red pepper) provide more nutrients, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, quercetin, capsaicin and piperine. These nutrients, along with the rich array of probiotic bacteria, give this dish its multitude of health benefits, including its anticancer, antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. It also supports digestive health by helping to treat constipation and by promoting the overall health of the colon.
In short, these four ancient, fabulous foods are rich in the nutrients and also provide you with the probiotic bacteria that your digestive and immune systems need in order to maintain your body’s optimal health and wellness.