Fermented Foods and Probiotics

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There are a growing number of foods available on the market today that claim to improve our health. These foods are called functional foods, a term that refers to foods that promote health beyond their basic nutritional function. Probiotics, live microorganisms found in or added to fermented foods that optimize the bacterial environment of our intestines, are an example of a functional food.

Our intestines contain an amazing number and variety of bacteria. Many of these bacteria are vital to maintaining our health and supporting digestive function. Some of these bacteria can also be harmful. This is why it is important to maintain an environment in the intestines that favors large numbers and activity of the healthful bacteria and limits the damage caused by harmful bacteria.

How do probiotics work?

When a person consumes a product containing probiotics, these bacteria adhere to the intestinal wall where they perform their beneficial actions. The activity of these bacteria is short-lived and they need to be consumed daily to benefit human health. The exact mechanism of how probiotics work is still being researched, but one proposed benefit is the enhancement of the immune system.

Probiotics may increase the amount and activity of immune cells that help us fight infections. Other conditions that may be successfully treated with probiotics include:

  • Diarrhea in children caused by a rotavirus
  • Diarrhea associated with use of antibiotic medications in children and adults
  • Traveler’s diarrhea
  • G.I. conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Infections from Helicobacter pylori, which is the bacteria associated with conditions such as peptic ulcers, gastritis and gastric cancer
  • Food allergies and asthma
  • Urinary and genital tract infections in women
  • Body weight and obesity
  • Energy levels
  • Autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and obsessive-compulsive disorder

In the U.S., most foods that contain probiotics are fortified milk and fermented yogurt. Probiotics can also be found in fermented kefirs, kombucha, lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables and in supplement form. The most frequently used probiotics in the food market today are species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.

Because these live cultures can only live for a limited period of time, foods and supplements containing probiotics have a limited shelf life. These products must be properly stored and consumed within a relatively brief period of time to receive maximum benefit. In general, refrigerated foods containing probiotics have a shelf life of 3 to 6 weeks, whereas the shelf life for supplements containing probiotics is about 12 months; however, the probiotic content of refrigerated foods is much more stable than that of supplements.

Healing with food is always the first choice and often the best. If capsules or supplements are chosen, make sure the brand is reputable and the viability of the probiotics has been independently verified.

Green BEAN Delivery offers a variety of fermented foods that provide powerful probiotics. Our local farmers and artisans provide us with yogurt, lacto-fermented vegetable products and kombucha. We also have regional suppliers who offer cultured butter and cottage cheese. We have plenty of offerings in our store to help you build up and create a healthy gut flora.

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About Author

Elizabeth Blessing is co-founder and chief nutritionist of Green BEAN Delivery. Originally from Noblesville, Ind., Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Indiana University and a Master of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. After graduating from Bastyr, she worked as a nutrition educator for Washington State University King County Extension’s Food $ense Program. While at Food $ense, she co-authored nutrition education curriculum. Now Elizabeth is the on-site Nutritionist and a Food Service instructor at The Chef’s Academy, the Indiana Business College’s culinary school. Get her nutrition tips and recipes each week on the Healthy Times blog.

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