Still Taking a Probiotic Supplement?
5 Reasons to Consider Ditching It
May 15th, 2013 by Holly Cornish
In the Greek, the term probiotic means “for life” — so you can easily figure out what the term antibiotic means.
There are reams of published research surrounding probiotic microorganisms to suggest they actually do support a healthy life. In fact, many doctors who don’t advocate a lot of supplements include probiotic pills among the few they do recommend.
So why ditch them if they’re so awesome? Five reasons…
Continued below. . .
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Reason #1: There’s an incredible alternative that, according to some sources, contains 100 times more beneficial bacteria than an entire bottle of high potency probiotic supplement.
And this alternative isn’t some newfangled product either.
It’s been a part of the diet of nearly every traditional culture throughout the history of mankind. I’m talking about cultured vegetables, though there are other cultured foods highly regarded in various parts of the world. More on this is a minute.
Only since the widespread use of refrigeration have we stopped using traditionally fermented foods.
Reason #2: It may be impossible to say whether the bacterial strains in any particular probiotic supplement are really the best ones — or if they represent a wide enough selection of those needed for health. Scientists are constantly discovering new facts about the human body. For example, the Belly Button Biodiversity Project by scientists at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has been analyzing navel swabs from volunteers. New Science reports that so far, they’ve found 1,400 distinct bacterial strains, nearly half of which have never before been seen.1 Who knows what beneficial bacteria are still undiscovered?
Reason #3: The trust factor. While we can’t deny the benefits of probiotic supplementation — and it’s certainly a whole lot safer than taking dangerous pharmaceuticals — I trust the thousand-plus year history of fermented foods more than its modern lab-formulated counterparts. There are serious questions about how many live microorganisms are actually left in a probiotic capsule or softgel by the time it gets to you. They can’t tolerate high temperatures, and if your pills haven’t been refrigerated every step of the way, they may have lost most of their live cultures.
Reason #4: What’s more, at about $40 per bottle for a “high quality” probiotic, you stand to save a lot of money by eating cultured vegetables — especially if you make them yourself.
Reason #5: They’re tastier than supplements any day. And the flavor will likely grow on you over time. If you make them yourself you get a degree of personal satisfaction too. It’s easy. And inexpensive. It’s also…
A true living food
True raw cultured vegetables are a 100% organic, unheated, fermented food, loaded with beneficial enzymes.
The lactic acid produced during fermentation helps you digest other foods eaten at the same time as cultured ones, especially important for digesting proteins and starchy foods.
Cultured vegetables “pre-digest” sugars and starches, which helps support overall digestive function. They are alkaline-forming due to their abundance of vitamins and minerals. And they can help you replenish your mineral stores and balance your whole body’s pH levels.
Want to overcome starch cravings? Enthusiasts report that eating cultured vegetables on a regular basis can help you regain control over these cravings.
And as I said, cultured vegetables are teeming with beneficial microorganisms — a true “living” food.
When you eat them, you’re feeding your biological system with intelligent little beings that work hard to keep your health optimal.
Nearly every ancient civilization prized them
“The science and art of fermentation is, in fact, the basis of human culture: without culturing, there is no culture… Culture begins at the farm, not at the opera house, and binds a people to a land and its artisans,” according to Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Weston A. Price was a dentist who traveled the world to study isolated cultures (human ones, not microbial ones) for the relationship between their dental health and what they ate. He found that whenever a people abandoned their traditional native foods, both their dental and physical health rapidly fell apart. However, if they stuck with their native diet, their overall health stayed strong throughout life.2
Long before modern scientists decided probiotics are the darlings of the microbial world, nearly every ancient civilization prized fermented foods and recognized their health benefits. Sadly, in modern day America, we’ve ditched these healthy foods, for the most part.
Culturing was how our ancestors naturally preserved food to ensure they had nourishment when fresh food was scarce… although they probably did not realize these foods boost the immune system, support good health, and add years to our lives.
Dr. Price found that almost every ethnic group had its own version of cultured food that people made themselves and ate regularly. These medicinal foods ranged well beyond cultured vegetables like sauerkraut, natto, miso and kimchi. The list must also include yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, kombucha, sourdough breads, pickled fruits, lassi and more.
The Chinese have been fermenting cabbage for thousands of years. Cultured vegetables were eaten in ancient Rome — and in medieval Europe. Genghis Kahn used them around 1200 A.D., and Captain James Cook, the 18th century English explorer, took cultured sauerkraut on his ships to prevent scurvy in his crews.
In her book Nourishing Traditions, author Sally Fallon considers our modern-day proliferation of mysterious new viruses, parasites, chronic health problems, and even Superbugs. She asks, “Could it be that by abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and insisting on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”
Seems we’ve hijacked our health and even our economic well-being by insisting on “more, faster, cheaper”…
A host of benefits awaits you
A basic tenet of holistic medicine is that digestive dysfunction is either a cofactor or the main cause of most chronic and degenerative diseases. Research suggests that bacterial imbalances (between “good” and “bad” bacteria) can disrupt your intestinal function — and that matters because it’s your first line of defense against pathogens occurring in food or water.
Probiotic organisms, whether from cultured foods or supplements, replenish our good bacteria and tip the balance in the battle against bad bacteria.
While probiotic supplementation is very common, why not take a “food as medicine” approach and use cultured foods instead?
You already know vegetables provide a low-calorie wealth of nutrients. Fermenting them just makes them into real superfoods, easier to absorb and utilize.
Cultured vegetables can enrich your level of B vitamins (even vitamin B12, which is hard to obtain from food), vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, lactase and lactic acid and other immune chemicals that can fight off harmful bacteria, and yes, possibly even cancer cells.
Cultured vegetables can help you lose weight, as they’re linked to how well things flow through your digestive tract, how regular you are, and how alkaline you are.
They can fight unhealthful microorganisms such as candida and E. Coli, and help with diarrhea, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
There’s even anecdotal evidence that kimchi may fight bird flu. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish of spiced, fermented vegetables. In 2005, scientists at Seoul National University reported feeding an extract of kimchi to 13 infected chickens. A week later, 11 of them had started recovering. Eating kimchi to cure the flu may sound like a dubious folk remedy, but the theory is being floated by some of Korea’s most eminent scientists.3
While it certainly seems plausible that we can benefit from turning ordinary vegetables into cultured superfoods with more live enzymes and predigestive qualities, most of what we know at this point comes from anecdotes and clinical reports, not peer reviewed science. After all, how much money could the drug companies make from studying the lowly cultured vegetable?
Beware of foods that appear
to be naturally cultured, but aren’t!
To get your money and your health’s worth from fermented foods, be aware of the HUGE difference between healthy fermented foods and commercially processed ones. Sauerkraut — potentially the most useful processed food you could buy — is in fact nutritionally worthless when purchased in a store because it’s all been pasteurized. Pasteurization kills any live cultures in a food. Likewise, cheeses are pasteurized so they harbor few if any live cultures.
Setting aside the fact that the government makes food companies pasteurize everything, fermentation is a somewhat inconsistent process… some say it’s more an art than a science. So it stands to reason commercial processors would develop ways to standardize their results. They don’t want their brand’s taste to vary from one batch to the next, and that’s rather likely to happen with fermented foods (think of wine, for example — every bottle is unique).
In the search for standardization and “safety,” Americans have traded the many benefits of cultured foods for the convenience of mass-produced pickles, yogurt, kefir and more.
Technically, anything “brined” in a salt stock is fermented. But watch out! Vinegar’s acidic pH, refrigeration, and high-heat pasteurization all slow or stop the fermentation and enzymatic process.
For example, olives were traditionally fermented. Now they’re treated with an acidic solution of lactic acid, acetic acid, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate — a far cry from the old-time natural lactic acid fermentation of salt alone.
Yogurt in the U.S. today is pasteurized and generally so full of sugar that it’s little more than a highly sweetened pudding. All that sugar, unfortunately, tends to cancel out the potential benefit from any cultures that do manage to survive the over-processing. Ditto for kefir.
How to make sure you’re getting real
You can still find some healthy traditional lacto-fermented foods.
The strong-flavored traditional Greek olives in many olive bars are not lye-treated and are still alive with active cultures, according to our sources.
Many Korean and Japanese markets still sell their traditional cultured foods, like natto, miso, and kimchi. In general, the stronger the flavor (excluding jalapeno and hot peppers), the more likely the food still has active and beneficial lacto-bacteria.
You can also find fermented foods in some gourmet stores, farmer’s markets and health food stores.
But the surest way of all is to make your own. And it’s really pretty easy.
The satisfaction and cost savings of DIY…
Real fermentation fans look to the past to define the wave of the future. And since, in days of old, people fermented their own foods, why not take it up yourself? 60 years ago it wasn’t unusual at all for people to make their own sauerkraut or pickles.
While there are many ways to go about it, and individual tastes vary, making your own gives you the latitude to customize these foods with your own favorite (or local, in-season) vegetables, fruits and spice preferences (e.g., jalepenos and hot peppers).
Basically, you either shred or dice the vegetables (usually with cabbage as a base), season, and place them in sanitary jars, covered, for about 7 days at a steady temperature of 59 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people choose to add a starter to speed up the process.
Either way, expect the rapid multiplication of lactobacilli microbes that pre-digest the sugars ad starches and speed your digestive process.
Culturing is a great way to use up cabbage when it’s in season, or when you have a surplus from your garden.
Some people advocate cultured vegetables as a substitute for salsa. Others recommend eating a little on a salad, on top of a small serving of meat or fish, or simply as a side dish.
What’s YOUR Favorite Recipe?
As far as recipes go, there are entire cookbooks now devoted to cultured foods, available at your library, bookstores, or online. Plus, there are a host of recipes online. You can use them as starting points, and with time develop your own personal favorites. There are far too many possibilities to cover them here.
But please… feel free to share your personal favorites with us on our Facebook fan page.
Lee Euler, Publisher