Probiotic and Dark Chocolate

Probiotic organisms improve the nutritional quality of foods and enhance the absorption of nutrients, says Megan Sheppard.

Q. I have been recommended to take probiotics. However, they are very expensive. Would fermented foods give the same result?

A. Fermented foods and drinks do provide beneficial gut bacteria, and improve digestion.

Backing up traditional wisdom, scientific studies have proved that probiotic organisms improve the nutritional quality of foods and enhance the absorption of nutrients. It used to be that fermentation was simply an effective method of preserving foods while keeping their nutrients intact before refrigeration, freezing, and bottling became commonplace. For many cultures, fermented foods still play an important role in the diet, not only helping to preserve the food but also aiding the digestion process, enhancing liver function, and inhibiting pathogens and carcinogens. Of course, we still make use of fermentation in wine, beer, cheese, yoghurt, sourdough, yeast and soy sauce, but fermented vegetables and fruits are not nearly as common as they once were.

People who often have trouble digesting certain foods, such as cabbage, onions, beans, or dairy products, find they can eat lactic- fermented foods with no gastric troubles at all. Fermented foods and drinks are becoming more popular in health stores, cafes, and even some supermarkets. These include sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir and while you can pay a pretty penny for these ‘exclusive’ probiotic products, you can easily make your own at home.

Check noticeboards and ask at health shops to see if anybody has a Scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which you can use to brew your own kombucha, or some kefir granules/ grains. The Scoby looks like a strange rubbery pancake, whereas milk kefir granules look like little cauliflower florets. You can also find water kefir franules, which are translucent and the size of large rock salt. Miso is typically cheaper and easier to purchase, plus a little goes a long way, whereas sauerkraut and kimchi can be made relatively easily in your kitchen at home.

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