For years, you’ve heard about the mythical benefits of probiotics. They’re a cure-all, some people say. They’ll solve all your health problems, others promise.
Probiotics have come a long way since they first hit the mainstream market. For one thing, scientific research has confirmed many of the claims made about the health benefits of probiotics (and refuted others). For another, probiotics can be found in many different sources—including sources not animal-based.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can populate your gut and help your digestive system break down food into smaller pieces that your body can use as fuel. Most people are born with the ideal balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. Sometimes, though, the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good” bacteria in your intestines. This can be caused by something as common as a round of antibiotics to treat an infection.
Some scientists think this bacterial imbalance might cause irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, although there isn’t any conclusive research to back up this claim. Research has found a link between reestablishing the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria and improved or better-managed GI symptoms, like diarrhoea and cramping.
And, because of the connections between the gut, the brain and other parts of the body, probiotics have also been shown to ease symptoms outside of the digestive system, as well. Scientific research has found potential benefits to taking probiotics for patients with skin conditions like eczema, acne and rosacea; mental illnesses like depression and anxiety; and diabetes and kidney disease.
Probiotics For a Plant-Based Diet
With more and more companies catering to specific diets, finding plant-based probiotic supplements is easier than ever. The surge in popularity of alternative dairy products has brought them out of niche health food stores and mail-order catalogs and into traditional grocery stores.
Nowadays, all you have to do is pay attention to the labels to make sure you’re picking the right probiotic for you. Here’s exactly what to look for, no matter what kind of probiotic supplement you’re interested in.
Want to bite into probiotic health benefits? Here are our top-three foodie finds for whole-body health, thanks to probiotics.
Fermented Napa cabbage is just as essential as the spices in this staple of Korean cuisine. Scientific research suggests that kimchi is just as good a source of probiotics as yogurt with a significant bonus for the dairy-free contingent among us: it’s completely vegetarian.
Though considered a staple of German and Eastern European food, sauerkraut originated in China and was carried West by immigrants, explorers and traders. The fermented cabbage dish is a rich source of probiotics. If you purchase it from a store, look for raw or unpasteurized sauerkraut.
Yogurt—where the probiotic craze began! Now, you can buy them in your local grocery store or you can make your own vegan yogurt by ordering yogurt starters online. If you’re not a strict vegan, look for non-dairy yogurts. If you are vegan, you’ll want to find yogurt that is specifically labeled as “dairy-free” or “vegan.”
You might also want to check with the manufacturer to ensure that the bacteria culture they use isn’t started on dairy. While dairy won’t actually be in the final product you consume, that beginning stage involving animal products might be of concern to you.