The marvels of your body’s internal ecosystem never cease to amaze. Trillions of microscopic bacterial organisms reside in your gut, forging a symbiotic relationship with your body. These organisms, known as probiotics, thrive on the nutrients they find in this ideal environment. In return, they tirelessly combat harmful bacteria and contribute to your overall gut health. While the most common sources of probiotics have been dairy-based, such as yogurt and kimchi, the rise of vegan probiotic supplements begs the question: do they work?
Uncovering the Vegan Probiotics
Just like their dairy counterparts, vegan probiotics play a pivotal role in maintaining a balanced gut microbiome. Free from animal products, these probiotics consist of bacteria and yeast that lack sentience and a nervous system. So, rest assured, dear vegans, you can still indulge in life’s culinary delights, like sourdough bread and pickles, without compromising your beliefs.
The most common vegan probiotics, known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can be found in various vegan products proudly emblazoned with the label “made with live cultures.” Probiotics have become ubiquitous for good reason—they hold numerous health benefits.
1. Enhancing Gut Health
Probiotics have proven to be a boon for your gut in several ways. An array of studies suggests that they could alleviate constipation in adults and reduce diarrhea in infants and children. Furthermore, there is promising evidence that probiotics might alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, although further research is necessary to ascertain the extent of their efficacy.
2. Bolstering Immunity
Probiotics lend a helping hand to your immune system by striking a delicate balance between beneficial and harmful microorganisms in your gut. A 2014 review published in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology concluded that probiotics can enhance immune response and offer protection against viral infections. Notably, probiotics have also been shown to decrease the risk of urinary tract infections in individuals with vaginas.
3. Alleviating Allergies and Eczema
Surprisingly, probiotics may even play a role in reducing the severity of milk and dairy allergies in some individuals. Alternatively, you can opt for plant-based non-dairy alternatives. Furthermore, studies indicate that probiotics might mitigate eczema in children and infants, although additional research is necessary to fully understand their efficacy.
4. Supporting Mental Health and Cognitive Function
Remarkably, your gut functions in a manner similar to your brain and has even been dubbed the “second brain.” Just as your brain produces mood-regulating neurotransmitters, your gut also produces serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid. Recent studies have established a link between gut health and mental well-being and cognitive function. Nevertheless, further research is required to fully comprehend the intricate connection between gut health and mental health.
Embracing Vegan Probiotic Sources
Fortunately, probiotics can be found in an array of foods crafted through the time-honored practice of bacterial fermentation. Various global cuisines boast probiotic-rich delicacies, such as kimchi from Korea, tempeh from Indonesia, and miso from Japan. Surprisingly, sauerkraut, a German staple dating back to the construction of the Great Wall of China nearly 2,000 years ago, originates from ancient China itself.
While some fermented foods utilize dairy products, the surge in interest in gut health has prompted the availability of vegan probiotics in most grocery stores. Curious vegans can unearth probiotics from the following sources:
- Certain dairy-free yogurts: Look for dairy-free yogurts brimming with live cultures, such as Forager Project Unsweetened Plain Yogurt, Cocojune Organic Cultured Coconut Yogurt, and Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Cashew Cultured Yogurt Alternative.
- Certain pickles: Seek out pickles labeled “naturally fermented.”
- Kimchi: Be sure to scrutinize the ingredients for shrimp and fish.
- Kombucha: Discover the wonders of kombucha and even craft a mesmerizing Watermelon Wonder Maria mocktail.
- Miso: Preserve the beneficial bacteria by adding miso to broth after turning off the heat.
- Sauerkraut: This German staple, originating from ancient China, offers a probiotic punch.
- Sourdough: Delight in the fermentation of gut-healthy Lactobacillus cultures in this enticing bread.
- Supplements: Opt for vegan probiotic supplements clearly labeled as such.
- Tempeh: Savor the flavors of a beefy tempeh and broccoli recipe that brings probiotics to your plate.
The Verdict on Vegan Probiotic Supplements
Probiotic supplements may provide similar benefits to those obtained through food. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that the effectiveness of these supplements is still a topic of debate among researchers. In the United States, probiotics are classified as “dietary supplements,” a realm notoriously lacking in regulation. This means that manufacturers are at liberty to make vague health claims that may not hold true. Consequently, it is generally recommended to derive probiotics from food sources to ensure their reliability.
While more research is undoubtedly necessary, the multitude of studies extolling the virtues of probiotics for overall health is undeniably promising. With the enduring trend of gut health, expect to see a surge in vegan products gracing supermarket shelves. Fear not, financial constraints need not hinder your quest for vegan probiotics. Affordable options such as sauerkraut and Trader Joe’s tempeh (at an unbeatable $1.99) are readily available. However, should you decide to indulge in luxurious vegan yogurt, consider crafting a delightful parfait to savor the full probiotic experience.
To discover a wide range of vegan probiotic products, visit the Ames Farm Center.