Note: I'm not a dietician and I'm writing this based on my own experience and research. Before you make decisions for your own body check in with your doctor.
I get this question all the time: what's the difference between getting my probiotics from fermented foods versus taking a probiotic pill? What should I eat or take to get the best bang for my buck? How can I get the most benefit from my probiotics?
Short answer: For best results, eat a variety of fermented foods with each meal. Take a probiotic only if you feel you really need it.
Fermented foods and probiotic pills contain the necessary bacteria for supporting the balance of your microbiome health. What is your microbiome? Its the balance that exists in your intestines between different bacteria. Events in life can change your microbiome, things like taking antibiotics, stress and poor diet can all affect you microbiome. Coupled with the fact that modern-day food is super sterile (i.e. we don't eat much dirt) and you could find that your microbiome is out of balance.
But how would you know if your microbiome wasn't optimally balanced? The most comprehensive way is to go to your doctor and have tests. Another option is to incorporate fermented foods into your diet or begin taking probiotic pills regularly and see if you feel a difference. You'll need to keep this regime up for about 2 weeks to begin to see results or changes. After 2 weeks if you feel good, sleep well and have better bowel movements, then great, you've begun the process of healing your gut. If you notice no change then your gut was probably in pretty good shape to being with. Of course there are other factors that can affect your gut health, things like gut-related diseases, parasites and auto-immune diseases may make your journey to optimal gut health longer or more complicated. This may mean that you need to take a probiotic pill, or it could mean further complications (i.e. go see your doctor).
But you can still reap benefits from eating fermented foods without the benefit of the probiotics. The fermentation process make vitamins and minerals more available to your body, adding value to your food. When you body is getting the nutrients it needs this can lower your appetite, make you sleep better and strengthen your immune system. Think of eating fermented foods as a maintenance plan you would have for your car or another major appliance; you regularly get the appliance serviced to get the junk cleaned out and the fluids topped up. When you regularly eat fermented foods you are adding more bacteria to your microbiome, to sustain your gut health.
There are so many different types of bacteria, which is the best? The answer is that there are many different types of bacteria that you need for gut health, but they can basically be divided in to 2 groups: Resident and Transient. Resident bacteria are groups that once introduced to your gut with live and thrive. Transient bacteria support gut health by doing other important things like supporting your immune health and protecting your gut from harmful bacteria. Transient bacteria don't stay in your gut, but act more like tourists; they hang around for awhile and then leave. For this reason it's important to take probiotics or eat fermented foods regularly.
Now lets talk about probiotic pills. Years ago I was spending a fortune on supplements and probiotics and I wasn't sure that they were doing anything. So I chose to divert all the money I spent on these supplements towards whole foods (like leafy greens, beans, grains, seaweed) and fermented foods. My reasoning for this was myriad but at the core, I couldn't understand how this little probiotic pill (which was surprisingly shelf-stable) could contain so many bacteria. I mean, they're just in there, waiting? What if they got a little warm in transit, would they wake up from dormancy? Were they even still alive? To answer this question I went to YouTube (I can hear you yelling from here but just hear me out). There are a bunch of videos where people with more equipment and time than I, have taken the contents of probiotics, revived the little bugs and looked at them under a microscope. What did they learn? That most probiotics are filler material and not all of the probiotics are actually viable (not all the bacteria came back to life after dormancy). This convinced me that I don't need pill-bottle probiotics and instead I'll eat fermented foods. I can tell that the probiotics are viable in fermented foods by the taste, feel, acidity, saur flavor and the bubbles that occur when I leave the jar on the counter too long.
"Whoa whoa whoa, slow down, that was a lot and you didn't even answer my question"
We've worked through a lot of information, but now we can make an educated decision about whether we should take probiotic pills or eat fermented foods. For my own microbiome, I think it's best to eat fermented foods with each meal. I try to make it varied, sometimes I eat kimchi, sometimes kraut, sometimes curtido or pickles or kefir or water kefir or yogurt or cottage cheese or miso. Eating a wide spectrum of foods that contain probiotics give my microbiome variety. When I feel like I really need extra support (like if I have a stomach bug or have to take antibiotics) I could take a probiotic pill, however I haven't felt the need in years.
Let me know in the comments what you chose for your own microbiome.
References and further reading:
This summer I grew some pumpkins and they took off! In the pictures above you can see this large pumpkin I grew. Also when I took this photo I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, hence the strange faces. I still regret not entering this big boy into the running at the State Fair. But now I'm left with trying to figure out what to do with the monster. My solution? Soup. A delicious savory soup that is delicious. Plus you can add other things to it to liven it up. Try cooked red lentils, rice, a slice of dense whole wheat bread or with a drizzle of sesame oil.
The proportions are flexible and I typically adjust everything to taste.
Thai Curry Pumpkin Soup
Add oil to large soup pot and heat over medium/low heat and saute onions until they sweat, add bell pepper and continuing sauteing until limp. Add garlic.
At this point I like to puree the onions and bell pepper in a food processor with a little stock. This will create a smooth soup. Of course if you have an immersion blender you can use that later. Return pureed onions and peppers to soup pot.
Add chili, ginger, lime zest and mix well. Increase heat to high and add your pureed pumpkin, coconut milk and remaining stock. Bring to a simmer and add your galangal, makrut lime leaves, lemon grass. Heat for about 5 minutes (or longer) to allow flavors to meld. If you have the time, it's well worth keeping this soup on a low simmer for up to an hour.
Add Kimchi liquid to your soup. Add tamari to taste.
Ladle into a bowl and top with Kimchi.
Makes enough plenty for a potluck or a dinner party of 5.
This recipe is a kind of sushi, but without the fish. These rolls are completely vegan and easy to make. It's a really fun meal to make with a bunch of friends and family. You can make the rice ahead of time and store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. I love how these flavors come together into a beautiful medley in the mouth. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to taste, it won't spoil the end product.
Vegan Kimchi Nori Rolls
Pour rice and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, cover and cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Once cooked, turn out into a large bowl and add mirin, sesame oil, vinegar, tamari and stir. Set aside to cool.
While the rice mixture is cooling, chop your nuts and seeds until they're all the same size as the sunflower seeds. Dump the nuts and seeds into the rice and mix well. Slice avocado. Julienne the carrot and cucumber. Mix wasabi with just enough water to make a paste. Now your rice should be cool enough to handle.
At this point you need to roll the rolls. Some folks find this intimidating, and I'm here to tell you that NO ONE will ever see how much I've screwed this up, because I didn't let them. So kick everyone out of the kitchen, give yourself some space and time to practice (or practice while no one is home). Grab a cutting board, or a sushi mat. Personally, I do not like the sushi mat, because it doesn't allow me to have the tactile interactions that I find necessary and I usually mess it up. But I'm not you, so you make your own decisions. Lay out your nori. Spoon a THIN layer of the rice mixture onto the nori. THIN YA'LL, like thinner than you'd think. Seriously, this is the way, it will also fix all of your burrito making problems. You're welcome. Once you have a thin layer of rice on your nori, place a few pieces of avocado, carrot, cucumber, and about 3 pinches of Kimchi at the closest end of the roll. Now pick up the closest end of the nori and begin to roll it all up. Use your thumb to push the roll away from yourself and the rest of your fingers to tighten the roll into itself. Ultimately, this is a difficult thing to describe in words so remember to be gentle with yourself and to practice. The best rolls are of the Goldilocks ilk: not too tight, not too loose. Once you have 1" left of your nori left laying on the cutting board, you need to seal it. Grab a small glass of water, dip 2 fingers in and then run them against the nori. The water rehydrates the nori, and when hydrated nori meets dehydrated nori it sticks!
Now, you have a beautiful, perfect roll. Take a large chopping knife (not serrated) and wet both sides with water. Use this lubricated knife to gently slice through the roll so that you make beautiful rounds. Serve with wasabi paste, more Kimchi, and if you're like me, Kimchi Peanut Dipping Sauce.
Makes enough for a bunch of people or enough for 1 person who is serious about eating a great deal of delicious, healthy food.
This recipe is brought to you by my 3 chickens, a surplus of eggs and a little creativity. I was packaging Chowhound this week and now i'm in love with it and want to eat it with everything. I've been pairing it with everything but this is what I'm most egg-cited (sorry, not sorry) about this week! It's hot out and we all need a meal that's easy to make but is still nourishing and tasty. This is a probiotic rich egg salad that you can eat along with your favorite bread or nestled in a beautiful leaf of lettuce. You'll find the recipe below:
Simple Egg Salad with Chowhound Kraut
Chop your hard boiled eggs and mix with mayo. Add Chowhound, mix and enjoy! Will keep in the fridge for 1, maybe 2 days. If you need it to keep longer, keep Chowhound and egg salad separate and mix when you're ready to eat.
Makes enough for 2 people
I know there are a few people who have been waiting for this one, and I'm so sorry it took so long! But I promise it's worth it.
I made this salad while on vacay and everyone wanted the recipe! So here ya go:
Green Cabbage Kimchi Slaw
This recipe is a hot weather treat. It's crunchy and light, has plenty of flavor and offers a lot of versatility. The proportions are not exacting so you can take liberties with the amounts and play around.
I find that it's best when allowed to sit, so the flavors may meld, for about 30 minutes, minimum. If you want, you can even do a quick ferment: follow the recipe to step 3 and then pack into a mason jar and put a tight fitting lid on top. You can keep it this way, on the counter for about 2 days, but you must remember to burp and pack it down twice a day.
To all folks with peanut allergies: Please don't feel left out! You can substitute any other nut or seed you like! Hemp hearts offer a nice crunch and tons of omega-3's!
1/2 head cabbage (about 4 cups shredded)
1/2 pint Fermentology Red Kimchi (or White)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce or fish sauce
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, unsalted
Fresh grated ginger
Toasted sesame seeds
green onion, chopped
hot chilies, diced
cherry tomatoes, halved
1: Shred cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl
2: Drain liquid from kimchi over cabbage.
3: Chop 1/2 pint kimchi and mix with cabbage
4: Drizzle with sesame oil, and tamari (or soy sauce or fish sauce)
5: Top with peanuts and cilantro (to taste, or omit if you're of the anti-cilantro persuasion).
6: Feel free to add optional items to taste!
Feeds 4-6 as a side, or 2 as a large salad.
Try adding garbonzo beans to up the protein and make it a complete meal! I love to keep this slaw on hand, as a go to for a base salad, then I just add whatever else I want.
This is what I've been eating for nearly every meal: summer salad with local tatsoi, arugula, garden tomatoes, cilantro, peanuts and any other veggie I can get my hands on. Drizzled with WHITE KIMCHI THAI PEANUT DRESSING
This dressing contains no sugar, which can be difficult to find in a store bought Thai peanut dressing. The umami in kimchi makes this dressing tasty and needs no sugar! Although it's great on a salad it's equally delishious as a dipping sauce for fresh spring or collard rolls.
White Kimchi Thai Peanut Dressing
✔1/4 cup peanut butter
✔Fermentology White Kimchi (or Red)
✔1 t sesame oil
✔Vinegar to taste
1. Spoon your peanut butter into a medium size bowl and drain a few tablespoons of Kimchi liquid in to the bowl (starting with a little liquid at first makes mixing easier).
2. Mix into a smooth paste and add more liquid until you get to your desired consistency. If you don't have enough Kimchi liquid you can also use vinegar (apple cider or kombucha vinegars are my favorite).
3. Coarsely chop some Kimchi and mix it into the liquid, add sesame oil too.
4. Spoon over you salad and enjoy!
I’m in love with the flavors of this peanut sauce and adding the Red Kimchi takes out most of the work of chopped garlic and grating ginger. Overall its a fairly quick meal. Feel free to add whatever type of protein you want. The sauce lasts for awhile in the fridge, even longer without the kimchi added. I keep trying to see exactly how long it will last but I keep eating it!
When I first made these chips it was honestly a mistake. Fortunately they were delicious and I continue to make them every month. They require a little bit more planning than regular chips but they're lower in simple carbs and much better tasting than any other sweet potato chip you could make in the oven. These chips are already a little salty, but also a little saur.
The tender, new greens of spring used to be something to look forward to through Winter. Nowadays you can purchase them in any season but they still a delicious treat in spring. This salad features plenty of fresh greens and is a favorite for die hard Beetiful fans. This is less of a recipe and more of an inspiration, feel free to add different ingredients.
Amy Peddie has been fermenting since 2006. Originally from Greensboro NC she has traveled all of the United States, often with active ferments. She now resides back in Greensboro where she enjoys spending time with family and gardening.