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Do You Really Need A Probiotic? [And Natural Probiotic Foods You Can Use!]

Posted: May 23, 2014

In the age of super foods and  a quest for super-fitness, you’ve probably heard about probiotics. But do you really need them? Find out.

What with Yakult commercials starring a vibrant Kajol and the surfeit of probiotic curd brands on the supermarket shelves, it is highly unlikely that you haven’t heard about this supposedly miraculous digestive aid. But what exactly are probiotics? Which ones should you take and in what form?

Here’s the lowdown on probiotics.

What are probiotics and how do they help you?

Probiotics are live microorganisms or ‘good bacteria’ that are believed to help improve health. It may seem strange that you are consuming live organisms, but remember that your digestive system already hosts more than 500 types of bacteria.

Fun fact: You already carry around about 1.5-2.5 kg of bacteria in your body. Gross? Not quite.

“Probiotic bacteria reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system,” says Dr. Neha Sanwalka, Ph.D Health Sciences, and Director of NutriCanvas. She explains that regular consumption of probiotics provides many health benefits, such as the following:

Fun fact: You already carry around about 1.5-2.5 kg of bacteria in your body. Gross? Not quite.

What about homemade dahi or curd?

Studies show that different strains of probiotics provide different benefits. “Dahi or curd contains lactobacillus, and is very beneficial to health. Curd is one of the best sources of probiotics in our diet and Indians have always known the benefits of eating curd” says Dr. Sanwalka.

What are some of the branded probiotic product options in India?

Probiotics can be consumed in the form of tablets and fortified foods.

Tablet options – Vizyl, ViBact, GutPro, Bifilac (to be taken only under doctor’s supervision).

Foods – Yakult fermented milk drink, b-Activ and Nutrifit from Mother Dairy, Nestle Acti Plus Dahi, Amul Prolife buttermilk and ice cream etc.

“There is no ‘best brand’ of probiotics. They all work the same way,” points out Dr. Sanwalka.

Do you really need probiotics?

Dr. Sanwalka explains that there are no specific signs that you need to watch out for, to start taking probiotics. You can include them in your daily diet because of their healthful properties. However, probiotic use is specially recommended when you’re suffering from medical conditions, taking antibiotics, or recovering from surgery.

Preeti Bhatia, a freelancer in her 30s, started consuming probiotics when she got sick with candida. “I use milk and water kefir, and high quality probiotic supplements. I must say, they really work,” says Preeti.

How often should you take probiotics?

“Probiotics grow naturally in a healthy intestine, so there is no need to consume supplements on a daily basis. I recommend consumption of natural probiotics such as curd, fermented soymilk, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha tea, miso soup, tempeh, olives stored in brine, and fermented homemade pickles,” says Dr. Sanwalka.

Ferment cabbage, potato, radish, carrot, or beetroot for a healthy daily dose of probiotics.

Should you take probiotic tablets to improve health?

There are many probiotic tablets available over the counter. However, it is better to be cautious about self-treatment. “It is always advisable to take probiotic tablets only after consulting a doctor because you are consuming large doses of live bacteria,” advises Dr. Sanwalka.

However, natural probiotic foods are safe to consume every day. Preeti too prefers homemade probiotic foods to any other in the market. Regular consumption can bring you a host of health benefits. “You feel more energetic, your immunity is strong and your bowel movements are great, to name a few,” says Preeti.

Natural probiotic foods

Here are some natural probiotic foods that you can include in your daily diet.

Yoghurt

Our good old homemade curd is a great source of good bacteria. Continue enjoying your daily dose of dahi.

Kefir

Kefir is a delicious drink made by fermenting milk with a starter culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as kefir grains. You can drink it straight, add it to smoothies, or flavour it with dried fruits. Bad news is that the grains are not easily available in India. Preethi sourced hers from the US and Australia.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a kind of sweetened tea fermented with yeast and bacteria. Here are the step by step instructions to brew kombucha. And here’s where you can pick up the “scoby” to make kombucha.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is made from just cabbage and salt. Massage the salt into finely shredded cabbage and leave it to ferment for a few days. Here’s how you do it.

Lacto fermented vegetables

You can easily lacto-ferment vegetables using a medley of veggies, salt, and whey. Check this link for detailed instructions.

The health benefits of probiotics are undeniable, regardless of the form you choose to adopt. So are you ready to give them a go? Tell us what you think.

Photo credit: lu_lu (used under a CC license)

Nisha Salim is a self-employed writer and a social media junkie.

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