This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays food carnival. Click here to learn more about sustainable eating and living.
I don’t do dairy.
Not unless I want to get into all sorts of digestive distress, anyway.
This brings up a concern, however – where do dairy-free folk get probiotics?
Probiotics are an essential to overall health. These friendly bacteria keep harmful bacteria levels and candida yeast in check and are responsible for assisting the absorption of some vitamins through the gut. By keeping the unhealthy bacteria in our GI tract in check, they have an overall positive effect on immunity, digestion, and even energy levels. When one is better able to digest food, one feels more energetic!
With a fluoridated, chlorinated water supply, routine antibiotic use (or consumption via conventional livestock), poor food quality, birth control, alcohol use, high stress lifestyles and environmental pollution our levels of friendly bacteria are in constant threat. Historically, we received ample healthy bacteria through nutrient-rich, organism-filled soil and through food preservation techniques which have largely been abandoned. In the modern age the main source of such foods are yogurts and kefirs. This clearly poses a problem for dairy-sensitive individuals such as myself.
Fortunately, there are many ways to receive friendly bacteria without dairy. My personal favorite is kombucha. I brew my own and find it to be a fantastic digestive tonic. Synergy, a popular brand of over the counter kombucha, claims to have more than 1 billion S. boulardii, L. plantarum and L. fermentum organisms available in a bottle. These are created as a byproduct of the natural kombucha fermentation process – not added to the product itself.
Other traditionally cultured foods such as kim chee and sauerkraut are also rich in probiotics. Many brands are pasteurized – this kills the beneficial bacteria. Unpasteurized brands must be kept refrigerated – look for them there. They may also be labeled as “raw” or “unpasteurized”. Bubbies Sauerkraut is a great source. You can also make your own pickled vegetables; it is not very time consuming and quite delicious. Donna Gates of The Body Ecology Diet has many wonderful recipes to get you started.
Unexpected sources of probiotics available through fermented products: unpasteurized miso, amazake and umeboshi plums. Many Asian cultures have kept daily probiotic consumption alive through pickling vegetables; macrobiotic food theory recomends that a small amount of pickled or fermented product be consumed daily to enhance the digestive process and “balance” a meal.
If you live in an area where consuming these foods is difficult or you suffer from digestive problems which are not easily remedied through cultured foods, a probiotic supplement may be useful to you. Finding a probiotic which is active and contains what is stated on the bottle is extremely difficult. A study out of Bastyr University found only one supplement in 12 actually contained what was listed on the bottle, and 50% of non-refrigerated probiotic supplements contained dead cultures (which are of no use to the digestive tract). Despite this, supplementation overall still appears to be safe and effective; if one brand does not work, try another.
To assure quality, it is important to purchase from a company which refrigerates product from manufacturer to supplier. Metagenics is one such manufacturer; many others are available from health care providers and quality supplement stores. USProbiotics.org recommends the following criteria for choosing a probiotic:
1. Buy from a company you trust. If the company has a solid reputation for the manufacture of safe, properly labeled food or supplement products, then they will likely have a responsible approach to their probiotic products as well.
2. Buy from well-established companies.
3. Buy products that are labeled with genus, species and strain of all components in the probiotic product, and with the count of viable microbes that will be present through the end of shelf life. A survey of probiotic products conducted by www.consumerlabs.com found that products that list this information are more likely to be accurately labeled.
4. Store your product according to manufacturer recommendations.
If you are interested in a specific product, call the manufacturer and ask the following:
1. What health benefits have been documented for your specific probiotic product? Remember to ask for specific reference citations or copies of the articles that have been published. See if they are general review articles or articles pertaining to the specific strains of bacteria used in the product. General review articles are interesting but not relevant to the specific formulation being sold.
2.What levels of all probiotic strains contained in the product are present at the end of the shelf-life (assuming appropriate storage conditions)?
3. Does the company regularly survey its product to know that it meets the label claims once it is on the shelf?
4. Does the company use an objective, independent laboratory to certify that its product meets label claims?
Once you have decided on a specific product, pay attention to how it works for you. Keep in mind that we all have a unique physiology, different composition of our native flora and distinctive nutritional status. We each might respond differently to different formulations. If a product works for you, stick with it. If, after one month, a product does not work for you try something else.
Finally, I would strongly recommend choosing a refrigerated product and contacting the company to ensure that the supplement is chilled throughout shipment.