By now, everyone heard about the importance of probiotics. Numerous studies have found that the beneficial lacto-bacilli can drastically improve your digestion, give a boost to your immune system, even improve your mood and increase your cognitive abilities. But with the huge variety of products on the market, how do you make the right choice?
In his article, "Some of My Best friends Are Germs", Michael Pollan points out that the supplements industry is almost completely unregulated. Of the 14 different probiotic pills that were tested, only one actually contained the bacteria that it claimed on the label. The cost of the probiotic supplements can be prohibitive. And you don't even know exactly what you are paying for! The labels claim that the supplements contain millions and billions of units. This is a random amount: there is no research that tells us exactly how many units you actually need. It is wrong to think that if something is good for you, then ten times something would be ten times better!
The best way to get the probiotics your body needs is through food. To begin with, the food acts like a delivery agent - insuring that the bacteria survive the extreme acidity of your stomach and end up in your intestines where they belong. But the most important point is - the naturally cultured fermented foods contain a much wider range of microbes that you will find in a supplement. A probiotic pill will contain 3-5 major strains of lacto-bacilli, usually - acidophilis, bifidum, bulgaris et al. A lacto-fermented food such as sauerkraut , in addition to all the major groups of beneficial bacteria, contains, smaller strains and substrains, yeasts, enzymes and other microorganisms. The total count of different varieties is in the hundreds! And all of those different microbes are working together to make the probiotic bacteria more bio-available - easier for your body to extract all the nutritional and health benefits. And I am not even going to start comparing the cost of fermented food with the cost of the probiotic supplements!
Not all fermented foods have the same bacteria. For instance, Kombucha has a variety of microbes, mostly aceto-bacilli, but only traces of lacto-bacilli. It is actually pretty close in composition to apple cider vinegar. Both are very good for your health but don't provide the necessary probiotics.
So what kinds of fermented foods provide those beneficial bacteria - lacto-bacilli - that we are after? Milk-based ferments - yogurt, kefir etc - come to mind right away; after all, the lacto-bacilli are called "lacto-" because they were first observed in sour milk. But the same groups of bacteria are also found in fermented vegetables - pickles, krauts, kimchi etc. Of all of those, classic sauerkraut has the widest variety of microorganisms. Must be something in the cabbage sugars that the bacteria like the best!
What kind of sauerkraut should you get? The regular pale limp kind that you find in the supermarket next to the hot dogs won't do: it is made with vinegar. Many others that are sold in jars and do not contain vinegar, are pasteurized: heated to prolong their shelf life, therefore destroying all living bacteria. Sauerkraut should be raw (unpasteurized) fermented (not made with vinegar) and hopefully left to ferment for at least 4 weeks to develop the widest variety of bacteria. (Psst... Hamptons Brine is all that...)
I am always asked, how much of the fermented sauerkraut one should have. The answer is - the amount matters much less than the consistency. Just make sure you have some every day. Drink a shot of sauerkraut kvass or eat a tablespoon of sauerkraut with your lunch or dinner. That is: if you can manage to limit yourself to just a tablespoon...
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Keywords: raw fermented sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice
By: Daniel Royale
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