Image by julesWe eat certain foods and take supplements to keep our eyes, brain, bones and joints strong and youthful, but do you eat to keep your gut happy and healthy? Lately, there has been an explosion of new products geared for improving gastrointestinal health. Specially fortified yogurts, probiotic supplements in the forms of capsules, powders and liquids, and many other options have been appearing on store shelves, TV shows and in doctor’s offices. These products have been touted to improve digestive health, boost immunity, and relieve inflammation that causes everything from arthritis to eczema. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any label health claims for probiotics.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “probiotics are live microorganisms (e.g. bacteria) that are either the same as or similar to microorganisms found naturally in the human body and may be beneficial to your health.” Although some bacteria are harmful to humans, we rely on a wide variety of bacteria to help our body function.

Many people claim that probiotic supplements significantly improve their digestion and general health, but they can be pricy and may not contain all of the active ingredients that are listed on the packaging, or in significant enough amounts to be effective. Not to mention some natural sources of probiotics tend to be cheaper and contain more live bacteria.

Unless your doctor suggests a specific brand or probiotic strain, there are a few natural alternatives to help improve your digestive health without taking supplements. There are a number of foods that are rich in probiotic cultures that develop naturally through the process of fermentation. Digestive issues plague individuals of all ages, and simply altering your diet to include beneficial bacteria for your gut can make a significant improvement. Many of these foods have a tangy taste and even effervescent effect sometimes, but that is all part of the probiotic magic! Here are a few of the most popular foods that are high in probiotic bacteria:

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