Your Non-Supplement Solution to Probiotics

Probiotic supplements have become a staple for many health conscious consumers. In recent years, studies have stressed the importance of the human microbiome (the complex colonies of microbes living in and on the body), and we know that the balance of these microbes can affect everything from our mood to our immune response.

In light of these findings, many people jump to the assumption of “the more the merrier,” and they add probiotics to their daily regimen without thinking twice. For the average person in good health and with no dietary sensitivities, the addition of probiotic supplements isn’t likely to be problematic. However, probiotic supplements are a one-size-fits-all approach to gut health, and what may be helpful (or at least harmless) to one person can adversely affect another’s health.

For celiac sufferers in particular, probiotic supplements may sometimes worsen symptoms and overall health. According to recent findings, more than half of top-selling probiotic supplements contain gluten. Some certified gluten free probiotics are available, but even then, high-quality probiotics are very expensive, and no probiotic supplement is guaranteed to help you feel better, making the high cost all the more prohibitive. Luckily, there is another, more holistic approach to getting good bacteria into your diet without having to worry about unintentional gluten consumption or a lighter wallet.

How to keep your gut flora happy without turning to supplements:

#1 Eat real food. Don’t rely on highly processed gluten free products for your health. Whole foods (preferably organic) like leafy greens and fresh fruit not only deliver a dose of healthy bacteria, they also provide plenty of fiber that feeds some gut microbes, which can improve colon health. If the bulk of your diet consists of a wide range of whole foods, not only do you stand a better chance of improving gut health, you also take in more vitamins and minerals.

#2 Fermentation nation. Working some fermented foods into your diet can be a great way of introducing probiotics. Put a bowl of sauerkraut or kimchi on the table at mealtime. These fermented products are extremely flavorful and loaded with good bacteria. If you buy fermented foods, get them from the refrigerated section of your local natural foods store. Better yet, you can also prepare fermented foods in your own kitchen. A good resource for getting started is Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation.

#3 Show sugar the door. A diet high in refined sugars can tip the balance of your microbiome from good to bad, leading to cavities, weight gain, and diabetes among other chronic conditions. When you eat, keep in mind that you’re not just eating for one—you’re eating for the millions of bacteria that live in your body as well. So keep your added sugar intake low, and instead load up on fiber-rich foods.

#4 No need to be a germophobe. While hand washing is important to prevent the spread of disease, in our antibacterial culture, we’ve taken things a bit too far. Bacteria live all over us—inside and out. The overuse of antibacterial products, such as hand sanitizer, can disrupt the communities of microbiota living on our skin, which can, in turn, deplete our healthy gut bacteria. There is still much research to be done on the full effects that sanitizing products have on our greater microbiome, but we do know that the overuse of these antibacterial products can do more harm than good. Your best bet is to stick to good old-fashioned hand washing with warm soapy water and pass on the high-octane antibacterial products.

There you have it. If your body (or your wallet) doesn’t respond well to probiotic supplements, no problem. There are plenty of supplement-free solutions that can still give your healthy gut bacteria a boost!