Probiotics, also known as 'good bacteria,' are the naturally-occurring microbes in the gastrointestinal tract and intestines of humans, which have proven to have multiple health benefits for humans. They produce compounds which inhibit the growth of many pathogenic bacteria, like the ones which cause diarrhoea.
Probiotics also help maintain intestinal conditions that will stop growth and colonisation of pathogenic microbes, and thus, they are known to have anti-diarrhoea effects. They are known to help those with lactose intolerance and alleviate symptoms related to lactose intolerance.
Studies have found that probiotics help people with arthritis. They have a direct effect on the mediators of the immune system which are responsible for the inflammation that is associated with arthritis.
Moreover, probiotics are important in down-regulating inflammation associated with atopic eczema and many food allergies, especially milk allergies. These 'good bacteria' have also shown to control blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
One of their most important properties is that they can fight gastritis, gastric ulcers, and gastric cancer. In addition, probiotics can help treat bowel disorders and can reduce abdominal pain, flatulence and constipation.
Last, but definitely not the least, is the role of probiotics in preventing tumour formation. They not only inhibit growth of tumour cells, but also detoxify ingested carcinogens that may be present in the food we take, like processed meat or sugary soft drinks.
Although probiotics are present in our intestines naturally, it does not hurt to add to their amount, and that is where probiotic-enriched food come into action. While these may be taken in the form of capsules or tablets as regular supplements, there are certain food items that are enriched with them. These not only provide you with probiotics but also serve your taste buds well.
Fermented food products (most of which are readily available in markets in ready-made form) are rich in probiotics and some of the best examples include —
- Kefir (fermented milk)
- Fermented pickles
- Kombucha (fermented black or green tea)
- Tempeh (fermented soybean product)
- Traditional buttermilk (leftover liquid from making butter)
- Certain types of cheese like mozzarella, cheddar and cottage cheese
- Green olives (salt-water brined olives undergo a natural fermentation by the lactic acid bacteria which are naturally present on the olive, which has many health benefits)
- Miso paste. Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans and the paste is used on soup, and salads as an alternative to soy sauce.
One can also promote their already-existing probiotics and boost their number and activity without having the need to consume them from external sources. Plant-based foods have shown to stimulate the growth and activity of probiotics present in our gut. Garlics, onions, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, bananas, apples, flaxseeds, etc. all help probiotics to flourish and significantly increase their efficiency.
By Faiza Khondokar
Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed