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Probiotics x Plant-based Diets by Kathryn Ramos RDN, LDN, Ayurvedic Nutrition

You’ve probably heard before that yogurt is good for you because of the probiotics it contains. But do you know what probiotics are and why they’re good for you?

Maybe you took a moment to look it up and found words like “bacteria,” “intestines,” and “fiber.” Maybe these words deterred you a little bit haha.

Keep reading for the ins and outs of probiotics and how they can fit into your diet.

What are probiotics and why should we consume them?

Our intestines are lined with trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms, also called gut bacteria or the gut microbiome. We have a symbiotic relationship with them, as they have evolved with our bodies to play an imperative, and not yet fully understood, role in many processes, including our immune system, nutrient metabolism, absorption, the integrity of our intestinal barrier, and GI symptoms like pooping and bloating. Fun fact, research shows that they play a part in weight management, cravings, and our general mental health as well. In addition, the health of our microbiome has been repeatedly correlated with risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease (the main cause of death in the US) and some cancers.

The gut health of someone who is obese is different from the gut health of someone that is lean. Why is that?

Well, your diet plays a crucial role in the health of these bacteria. We can consider them as a dynamic part of our own body because they are directly impacted by the foods we eat. What these bacteria needs is fiber, which is indigestible to us but a source of fuel and substrate for them. The standard American diet is low in fiber and high in saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. When we consume a diet that is low in fiber, these bacteria start to dwindle and become unable to successfully support the processes mentioned above and sometimes even start to produce toxins that are harmful for our digestive tract.

There are two ways we can support our gut bacteria through diet. I talked about consuming fiber, but we can also add good bacteria to our intestinal tract to replenish the numbers that are lost in our day to day.

It’s important to note that both consuming dietary fiber and probiotics makes for the best support. A plant-based diet is characteristic in foods that contribute to your fiber intake, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Research supports that even the protein and fat found in a vegetarian diet is more beneficial to gut bacteria than from a standard diet.

How can we incorporate probiotics into our diet?

There are many sources of probiotics. We’re all familiar with yogurt, but you can also find probiotics in foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, and some cheeses. Additionally, various products on the market are being fortified with probiotics, including cereals, granolas, dried fruits, and so much more. Look for words like “live, active cultures” and “fermented” to guide you on choosing probiotics sources.

While many of these sources are just fun additions to your plate, some can also be used as ingredients to make desserts, dressings, and sauces. Keep in mind though that heating foods that contain live cultures can and will likely kill the bacteria. But often-times, still a delicious addition to your cooking practice.

Below I listed some vegetarian recipes for incorporating probiotics into your diet. ☺

Recipe List ☺

Probiotic Potato Salad

Fresh and Frozen Any-Fruit Kefir Smoothie

Tempeh Stir Fry

Guiltless French Onion Dip

Probiotic Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette

References ☺

[1] Krajmalnik-Brown R, Ilhan ZE, Kang DW, DiBaise JK. Effects of gut microbes on nutrient absorption and energy regulation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2012;27(2):201–214. doi:10.1177/0884533611436116

[2] Tsai F, Coyle WJ. The microbiome and obesity: Is obesity linked to our gut flora? Current Gastroenterology Reports. 2009;11(4):307-313. doi:10.1007/s11894-009-0045-z.

[3] Pizzorno J. Toxins From the Gut. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(6):8–11.

[4]Wolfram T. Prebiotics and Probiotics Creating a Healthier You. EatRight.

[5] Singh, R.K., Chang, H., Yan, D. et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med 15, 73 (2017) doi:10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y

[6] How to get more probiotics. Harvard Health.

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