The Power of Probiotics

This post was written by staff dietitian Heidi Harkopf, MS, RD. Heidi works in Connecticut, and is New England Dairy & Food Council’s Director of Nutrition Programs.

Normally, the kitchen isn’t a place where you want to invite bacteria into! But some bacteria are important for fermentation that creates delicious foods like cheese, yogurt, and kefir. Fermentation was how populations preserved their food before refrigeration. And it turns out, that these foods are not only delicious, but can help support a healthy gut microbiome.
 
In this blog post you’ll learn about:

  • How a healthy gut supports your health.
  • Habits to support a healthy gut.
  • Ways to enjoy fermented dairy.

 

How Does the Gut Influence Your Health?

Your gut is filled with millions of bacteria (the microbiome), but not all of the bacteria is beneficial. In animal studies, different biomes have been found in rats with a healthy body weight compared to those that are obese. The goal is to nurture an environment where the good bacteria, namely Lactobacilus and Bifidobacterium, can thrive and help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
 
A healthy gut can boost your immune system, and may even have a role in asthma, allergies, weight management, cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. Every year, science is showing us the benefits of a healthy gut.

 

What Other Lifestyle Habits Support a Healthy Gut?

Research shows that managing stress, getting adequate sleep and exercise, and choosing a healthful diet all support a healthy gut.
 
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provides the fuel source that healthy bacteria need to thrive (a.k.a. prebiotics).
 
Prebiotics are provided as a fuel source for fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and kefir, which contain probiotics—the “friendly” bacteria.
 
Taken together, lifestyle habits and a balanced diet promote a healthful gut.

 

Adding Fermented Dairy Into Your Diet

In addition to enjoying yogurt at breakfast, lunch, or snack time, yogurt can also be used as an ingredient in many dishes. Consider using yogurt as a:

  • A topping for French toast or baked apples.
  • A protein boost and thickener in a smoothie or guacamole.
  • A base for dips like tzatziki.
  • An activity for you and your kids: Have you ever made yogurt from scratch?

 
When looking for probiotics at the grocery store, look for “Live and Active Cultures” on the yogurt label. Remember: only live bacteria can be helpful.
 
Updated May 2, 2017