Can the right diet bolster my body’s defenses?
"If you get migraines regularly then drinking green tea will make your migraines worse. I found this out the hard way. "
Probiotics, so-called “good bacteria” found in yogurt, sauerkraut and other foods, are touted as helping prevent the GI upsets many of us succumb to during the holidays. According to a recent review in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, regular consumption of probiotics may help your immune system work better, reduce the incidence of intestinal infections and improve digestion.
How do these seemingly magical bacteria work? Guo explains: The colon has as many as 100 billion microbes per gram of its content (almost half the weight of the colon for those who eat a typical Western diet)—some good, some bad. Good health depends on a balance. “GI distress happens when we have too many ‘bad’ microbes that produce toxins,” he says. Taking probiotics regularly can help “by lowering the pH of the colon, which is better for good microbes and inhibits the growth of bad microbes and may boost our immune capability.”
To stay healthy, Guo has a cup of probiotic soy yogurt every day (he doesn’t consume dairy because he is lactose intolerant). Fermented dairy products like yogurt or kefir (a yogurt-like beverage) are also good bets. Look for those labeled with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal from the National Yogurt Association, which signifies that the yogurt contains a set minimum amount of two particular types of beneficial bacteria. (While it’s not a guarantee of probiotic power—the bacterial counts don’t differentiate between added probiotic organisms and the bacteria that’s used to ferment the yogurt—the seal is a helpful start.) With the new “probiotic” cereals and granola bars, it’s not always clear how much good bacteria the manufacturers actually add to the products or whether the strains included are effective. If you really want to know about the science backing a product’s “probiotic power,” contact the manufacturer.
The Bottom Line
If you’re not eating as well as you usually do this holiday season, consider taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement—one with no more than 100 percent of the DRV—as extra insurance. It can’t hurt to include a daily serving of a probiotic-rich food and drink a cup of green tea whenever you can. I know I’ll be having yogurt with my morning cereal and fruit. And Ben—I know you’re reading this—I don’t want to nag, but maybe now you’ll give up the Airborne and try green tea instead?
Rachel K. Johnson, EatingWell’s senior nutrition advisor, is a professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont.