Antibiotics are like machine guns—they are powerful weapons capable of destroying the enemy (dangerous bacteria), but cannot really be aimed. They tend to also destroy every bacteria within range, including the beneficial ones. It’s common knowledge that if you must take a course of antibiotics, you had best consume yogurt. That’s because the probiotics (usually one or more types of lact0bacillus) in yogurt help replenish the good bacteria in the gut.
But there are other reasons to include various strains of probiotics in your diet. Digestive problems (including IBS, diarrhea and constipation and others), Candida infections, and lactose intolerance have been shown to improve with the addition of probiotics.
However, there are other health issues that may improve when probiotics are included as part of a healthy diet. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colon cancer, helicobacter pylori infections which are linked to peptic ulcers, salmonella and other illnesses and infections.
Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and even acne clear up in some individuals as do various inflammatory conditions (so many diseases are linked to inflammation).
But that’s not all. There are proven links between diet and mental health and people have reported improvements in such problems as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and especially autism spectrum disorders in children when foods that contain probiotics form a significant (regular) part of a healthy diet and combined with other therapies. (See a series of articles about an amazing woman’s journey as she sought answers to her son’s autism at our Therapy Soup blog PsychCentral.com: One, Two, Three, Four).
Among others, pediatric neurologist and brain researcher, Dr. Martha Herbert, views autism spectrum disorders as a whole-body disease and has encouraged her patients to include a healthy diet as part of treatment. And many parents will attest that when it comes to ADD, ADHD and even ODD, improved diet really helps quell symptoms and outbursts.
But simply popping a pill or a powder might not be the answer. By the times these probiotic supplements are opened, they often contain little active bacilli at all. Plus, many don’t survive the journey to the gut. That’s good news, though. Those bottled supplements (while useful in some circumstances) are really expensive! Eating whole foods, traditionally prepared, deliver a variety of nutrients that may work in conjunction witht the probiotics they contain.
Which foods contain various strains of probiotics? If they are made using traditional techniques (if they aren’t, they do not contain living bacilli) the following foods do:
Yogurt and kefir and buttermilk (preferably made from raw, organic cow, sheep or goat milk from pasteured (grass-eating) animals). Sourdough breads (fermented wheat recipes like sourdough bread are the most digestible wheat and flour products). Miso, tempeh, and some soy sauces (fermented soy products is the only non-toxic way to eat soy beans in the opinion of many experts).
Also, traditionally made cultured vegetables, very popular among Jews from many lands, are good sources of probiotics. There is Polish-German-Russian-French sauerkraut (which is absolutely the best fix-especially the sauerkraut juice-for ulcers), Hungarian borsch and German-Russian pickled beets, Eastern European dill pickles (not the vinegar-laden, cooked, or pasteurized ones you see in stores), Moroccan preserved lemons, and pickled turnips which are popular with the Jews of Egypt, Syrian, Lebanon, Iraq, and even India. Of course, many other vegetables and fruits can be cultured at home.
(I’ll include techniques, recipes, and dos and don’ts in an upcoming post).
There are dangers in lacto-fermenting at home, not the least of which is exploding jars! Without a little know-how you may end up with a product with no probiotic activity at all. Or, you might end up with foods laden with “bad” (even dangerous) bacteria or mold.
The first time I observed Pesach (Passover) in Brooklyn, for example, I was served homemade “borsch”, a Hungarian drink made from beets. When I saw how it was made, in a plastic bucket (plastic leeches chemicals into food and should never, ever be used when pickling/fermenting/culturing foods), from which incredibly blue-grey mold was regularly skimmed I felt queasy. Mold spores are present after visible mold has been removed and many (if not most) people are seriously sensitive to several varieties. Some molds give me headaches and trigger shortness of breath for example.
I’ve been making (and teaching others to make) various fermented and cultured products for years but I only discovered the best quality-control products recently. That’s when Kathleen of Pickl-it (whose son’s story of autism is told in our Therapy Soup blog) sent me two jars to sample and write about, free. So far I’ve made pickled beets and preserved lemons, both of which turned out perfect.
I’m including a new workshop about fermented/cultured foods in my workshop list and am going to be teaching “Pickles 101” this coming Thursday at the Boro Park farmer’s market in Brooklyn, NY. (I’ll be there from around 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. depending how cold I get). I’ll be demonstrate some basic recipes (including a super-easy miso pickle) and explain how to choose vegetables and fruits that will yield the best results, how to prepare them for fermentation, and what methods to use. I’ll be available to answer your questions. Also, I’m going to take orders for Pickl-it jars and I”l hand out sample recipe sheets. Whether you want to learn how to make cultured foods out of culinary curiosity, are interested in traditional Jewish foods, or whether you want to add health-giving dishes to your family’s diet (children generally love pickled vegetables and don’t have to be convinced to try them). Please stop by.