In the last few decades, there has been a lot of interest in probiotic supplements and foods, thanks to studies suggesting that friendly bacteria could help to treat or prevent an array of ailments: from indigestion and diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome and chronic inflammation — the root cause of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
When we ingest more of these friendly organisms, which bear long names like lactobacillus acidophilus, they help to control the amount of harmful bacteria in our gut and prevent them from growing out of control.
Since the lactobacillus bacteria found in each probiotic food are not the same, plus the fact that every bacterium plays a different role in the body, it is a good idea to include a variety of naturally fermented foods in our diet.
But regardless of which probiotic food you choose, it is important to choose one that is not pasteurized or homogenized as these will destroy most of the useful microorganisms that lend probiotic foods their health-promoting powers. Needless to say, when you are eating probiotic foods at home, it is best to process them minimally, if at all. It is also important to buy fermented foods from a source you can trust as improperly fermented foods can be toxic.
Here are some traditional probiotic foods that have been enjoyed by people from around the world for thousands of years:
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It contains the bacterial strainbacillus subtilis (used to be known as bacillus antto) which gives natto its characteristic stringy consistency.
Natto is one of my favorite probiotic foods, but sadly not all my friends share the same taste. It has a distinctive pungent smell and an equally unique flavor not found in other foods. The beans are sticky and when chewed, turns slippery in the mouth.
How to Eat Natto?
Natto is traditionally consumed with rice for breakfast in Japan. Simply mix natto, some soy sauce and rice thoroughly before eating. Nowadays, you can also find natto in many other products such as natto sushi, natto burrito and natto salad. Yum yum!
Health Benefits of Natto:
Like all soybean products, natto is high in plant protein. Studies found that natto is also rich in vitamin K which is essential for healthy blood clotting as well as protection against bone fractures and osteoporosis. Natto also contains an enzyme called nattokinase which has been observed to dissolve blood clots in animal tests. It works by breaking down fibrin, a protein which can lead to heart attack, stroke, poor circulation and slow tissue repair when present in excess.
Where to Buy Natto?
Find them in the frozen food section in Asian grocery stores near you. Many major supermarkets, such as Berkeley Bowl in the US and Cold Storage in Singapore, carry different types of nattos. If you prefer organic natto, try Megumi Natto from the US.
Note: When shopping for natto, don’t be alarmed to find high fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate in the ingredients list. These are the ingredients used in the sauce that accompanies the natto, not in the natto itself. So, ditch the sauce and enjoy the beans with a little soy sauce!
Another very popular probiotic foods, kimchi is a well-known Korean pickled dish that has seen wide acceptance by many cultures outside of Korea. It is created by mixing a main ingredient such as cabbage with a host of other seasonings and ingredients, like hot pepper flakes, radish, carrot, garlic, ginger, onion, salt and fish sauce. The mixture is then left aside to ferment from a few days to a couple of weeks.
The most common type of kimchi is baechu, which is made with Chinese cabbages. But there are countless other variations of kimchi that are made with cucumbers, eggplants, leeks, radishes and other in season vegetables.
Kimchi is very spicy due to the liberal use of red chili pepper, and can also be high in sodium, probably the result of fish sauce. So if you are watching your sodium intake, do look out for kimchi with lower salt content.
How to Eat Kimchi?
There are many ways to consume kimchi. You can use it as a condiment, which is my preferred way of eating since I can only hold a little spicy food at a time, or cook it with practically any food you have on hand.
But bear in mind that due to the spiciness of kimchi, whatever food you match with kimchi will probably end up with one overpowering taste, and that is: hot!
To prevent the loss of beneficial enzymes and bacteria in kimchi, it is also recommended that you add kimchi last in the cooking process and avoid overcooking it.
Health Benefits of Kimchi:
Kimchi contains the bacterium called lactobacillus kimchii as well as other lactic acid bacteria that are beneficial to our gastrointestinal as well as immune systems. A typical kimchi made with Chinese cabbage, carrot, garlic, ginger, onion and pepper is also high in vitamin A, C, B1, B2, beta-carotene, calcium and iron. Animal studies also suggested that kimchi may be effective against the avian flu virus.
Where to Buy Kimchi?
Why buy when you can make your own? If you do not mind spending some time and wish to have a kimchi that is not too spicy and salty, check out this delicious online resource on how to make your own kimchi. But if the thought of making your own kimchi is unimaginable, you can also order ready-made kimchi from speciality stores.