7 Surprising Facts About Probiotics & The Best Plant-Based, Non-Dairy Sources

As explained by a leading gut health expert.

Probiotics—you either love them, don’t know about them or don’t actually get them.

Either way, taking a blind guess, it’s likely that unless you’ve been living in a cave in a deep meditation and haven’t surfaced the wellness world in a long time, you’ve heard about the hype that is ‘probiotics’ and the benefits to good gut health. 
You may have even heard about the crazy connection between gut health and mental health.
But outside of that, hands up if you’re still kind of unaware what exactly probiotics are, where to find them (outside of fancy pharmaceutical bottles that cost a lot) and why they are good for you? Or the discussion of gut health semi bores you to tears?

Image: iStock

Well friends, it’s time to put aside any probiotic prejudice you might have and get educated, because happy gut = happy mind = happy life. 
To help convince you why you need probiotics in your life, Amodrn spoke with Dr Amy Carmichael, a gut health specialist, integrative doctor and published author to get the lowdown and learn a few fun facts that aren’t splashed around the news (even though they should be).

Let’s talk basics first… what’s the deal with probiotics?

“Well, let’s begin with the gut—did you know 2kg of you is actually bacteria living in your gut? This collection of bacteria (gut flora) is called your microbiome and actually weighs more than most of your organs,” explains Dr Carmichael. “We now know that our gut flora helps us properly digest our food, produces vitamins and other nutrients, detoxifies harmful compounds, enhances our immune system,  protects us from pathogens (harmful microorganisms) and has an effect on our nervous system.”

“So essentially, how probiotics come in is that they are the ‘good bacteria which confer a health benefit’ to you,” says Dr Carmichael. “The word probiotic comes from the Greek word ‘pro’ meaning ‘promoting’ and ‘biotic’ meaning ‘life.’

So why should we fuel up on probiotics?

“Studies have shown that they can help aid in reducing LDL (known as bad cholesterol), improve Hbac1 (long term sugar exposure) levels in type 2 diabetes, reduce diarrhoea associated conditions and alleviate symptoms of anxiousness and low mood,” says Dr Carmichael.

Image: iStock

Okay let’s move onto some ‘fun facts’…

According to Dr Carmichael, there’s a whole lot more to probiotics than just bacteria chat (phew!).

1. They help support healthy weight loss

Probiotics have even been shown to help regulate a healthy body weight,” says Dr Carmichael. “In the British Journal of nutrition, a study found women who consumed probiotics over 12 weeks lost nearly twice as much weight than those who did not.”

2. They begin working their magic from the time we’re first born

“Despite it being a focus now, probiotics aren’t a new concept, in fact as soon as we arrive through the birth canal we are exposed to our first strain of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, the common probiotics organisms.”

Image: iStock

3. They help produce vitamins 

“Probiotics not only affect your gut health by limiting bad bacteria, altering the environment and signalling more helpers to your immune system but did you know they also produce some B vitamins and vitamin K!”

4. They move swiftly and efficiently

“When we do consume or come into contact with them, they act like workers, they come do their job, then leave again. Probiotics do not take up residence in your gut,” says Dr Carmichael. “In fact very few stay longer than a couple of days which is why it’s a great idea to maintain a regular source of probiotics to your gut.”

Image: iStock

5. They aren’t all right for your gut

“The big misconception is that all probiotics are good for you! But in fact too much of a ‘good probiotic’ can cause an imbalance of your gut flora,” says Dr Carmichael. “So sometimes when you thought you were doing the right thing suddenly you start getting more bloated, gas or abdominal pain which can be signs your gut flora isn’t happy. In this case, work with a health practitioner that can test your poo and guide you to specific strains that can benefit you.”

6. They aren’t all made equal

“When looking on food labels that cite ‘probiotics’ always check it says ‘active live cultures’ and the count is over 1 billion CFU (colony forming units) as this is our best method at ensuring the probiotic potential,” says Dr Carmichael. “A few common strains to look out for include: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii.”

7. They can work in different ways depending on what you need

There are so many strains of probiotics but the key is to create diversity and depending on the condition you may want to target specific strains,” explains Dr Carmichael. “For example, bifidobacterium is great for IBS whereas lactobacillus acidophilus is known to colonise the vaginal walls in women, so is a popular remedy for helping urinary tract infections”

Lastly, can probiotics be found in non-dairy/vegan-friendly foods?

“Yes of course, probiotic sources can be both dairy and non-dairy, however with the increasing rise of lactose intolerance and high amounts of saturated fats from animal sources, many fruit, vegetable, cereals and soy-based foods have gained just as much importance as probiotic sources.”

6 Plant-Based Probiotic Sources

1. Pickled carrots, beets, cauliflower, onion, peppers, cucumbers

“To make them probiotic, all you need is some vinegar, salt, sugar and raw veggies with some extra spices topped in,” says Dr Dr Carmichael. “It has multiple strains of lactic acid bacteria and it’s super cheap and simple.” 

2. Olives 

“Easy to buy and has multiple lactic acid bacteria (LAB).”

Image: iStock

3. Sourdough

“Yes the original local made bread will be made from a probiotic starter, plus it’s yummy! Often contains  L. reuters which reduces inflammation Forget the mass-produced loaves though!”

4. Coconut yoghurt

“A great source of fat and some have active live cultures of over 1 billion such as COYO.”

Image: iStock

5. Micro algae

“Think chlorella and spirulina increase bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.”

6. Dosa

“Commonly cooked in India, dosa is made from fermenting rice batter and lentils, with very low-fat content but naturally contains L. Plantarum which is said to help anxious feelings.”

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