This post comes from our contributor Kristen Hedges.
You are a super-organism. Right now, you have between 100-300 trillion cells of beneficial bacteria & yeast in your body. They digest your food, assimilate your nutrients, and comprise 70% of your immune system. Without them, you would die.
Unfortunately, not many folks know about their resident “good bugs.” So the vast majority of us aren’t taking proper care of them. With a healthy diet & lifestyle, you can maintain a fairly happy colony of bacteria in your belly. But when you’re surrounded by antibiotics, antibacterials, stress & food that doesn’t nourish, you might find that you’re getting sick more often, your digestion isn’t what it should be, & you’re simply not feeling your best. The bad bacteria in your system might even begin to outnumber the good guys, leading to serious illnesses & chronic belly upset.
Luckily, there are several ways to keep your good bugs happy and thriving. While taking a probiotic supplement is a step in the right direction, I’ve found that getting your probiotics from fermented food will help you to digest & absorb more of the beneficial bacteria. I’ve listed my top three favorites below!
What it is: A fizzy, fermented tea.
Why it’s good: Kombucha is a tasty way to get your daily dose of probiotics, and it very rarely comes with any additives or sweeteners. Quite often, the only ingredients on the label are kombucha, and a bit of fruit.
What it tastes like: Organic, plain kombucha is a slightly sweet, fizzy drink, with a faint hint of the tea used in the brewing process. Usually, kombucha is flavored with different fruits & herbs. My favorite combination is lavender + elderberry.
How it’s made: A scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), also called the mother, is placed in a large jar of sweetened tea, and left out to ferment for a few weeks. The culture, which looks like a giant mushroom, feeds on the sugar & the caffeine in the tea, and produces a drink that’s loaded with good bugs.
Where you can find it: You can find kombucha at most supermarkets, but it’s much cheaper (and fun!) to make it yourself. However, your kitchen will look like a science lab.
What it is: A cultured beverage made from either milk (cow, or a milk alternative, like coconut or almond) or sugar water.
Why it’s good: Dairy is the idea delivery system for probiotics. The milk in the kefir will coat the lining of your stomach, keeping the cultures safe, and allowing them to travel down to your small intestine, where they do their job.
What it tastes like: Milk kefir is a bit like a tangy & sweet, thin yogurt drink. Water kefir is very similar to carbonated sodas & other fizzy drinks. A perfect alternative for kiddos! You can flavor both with fresh and dried fruit, herbs and sweets to make them taste just right.
How it’s made: Little, jelly-like clusters of beneficial bacteria and yeast are dropped into a glass of fresh milk. Overnight, the grains turn the milk into a thickened, probiotic rich drink. In the morning, you can strain out the grains & stick them in a new glass of milk, giving yourself a continuous supply of kefir. Water kefir is make in the same way, but with slightly different grains, and a glass of water mixed with organic sugar.
Where you can find it: The supermarket (look for kinds without added sugar) or make it yourself by purchasing some kefir grains!
What it is: A fermented milk product, found today in a hundred different flavors and forms.
Why it’s good: Yogurt is super easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Plus, you can make & buy dairy free options.
What it tastes like: If you snag the plain, unflavored kind (as you should), yogurt is rather sour, tasteless stuff. But you can make it sweeter by adding a drop of honey, some fresh fruit, or even by adding it to smoothies as a base.
How it’s made: When milk is heated & remains at 100F for a few hours, naturally occurring bacteria will ferment and coagulate to thicken the milk into yogurt. Manufactured yogurt usually has bacteria added to it, while homemade yogurt does not.
Where you can find it: If you get yogurt at the supermarket, make sure that it’s unsweetened & unflavored. You don’t need those yucky additives! Also, look for a kind with 4 or more live cultures in the ingredients. Yogurt is also easily made at home.