Probiotics: Extra Sauerkraut on the Hot Dog Please!

Nutrition | | May 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm
Photo by ashleypalmero.

Photo by ashleypalmero.

There are always raging debates about the origin of humankind, but here is one undeniable fact: You are a mobile fleshy feeding tube!

You have two openings, an inlet/outlet, and a tunnel which is technically exposed to the outside world.  This tunnel, also known as your GI tract, is not a sterile environment and is loaded with bacteria. Seriously loaded.  

There are ten times the amount of bacterial cells in your GI tract than there are human cells in your entire body. Makes you wonder who’s in charge, doesn’t it? I mean, are we just a complex machine designed as a way to transport bacteria?

I’ve heard this debate before because 70% of your immune system is tucked into your innards. That’s right, welcome to the single most important terrain in your body. This relationship between us and ‘them’ is completely symbiotic of course, and we need each other to survive.

Whether by observation or insight, traditional cultures must have known about the importance of probiotics because there is no culture which does not have a fermented food as part of their everyday diet.

Lacto-fermentation creates a plate, mug or bowl full of delicious probiotic laden food which actually adds to the beneficial terrain in your GI tract. There are 1000s of varieties of foods, some which may seriously surprise your palate!

Here are some gut loving fermented foods from several different regions (this barely scratches the surface of what’s out there):

  • Japan:  Miso, Kombucha, Tempeh, Nattō
  • Korea:  Kimchi, Gochujang
  • South East Asia:  Atchara, Fish sauce, Oncom
  • China:  Soy sauce, Lufu, Doubanjiang, Douchi, Fermented Tofu
  • India:  Dosa, Idli, Dhokla, Achar, Mixed Pickle
  • Middle East:  Kaymak, Doogh, Labne, Yogurt
  • Europe:  Yogurt, Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Rakfisk, Skyr, Sour cream, Crème fraîche, Cheese.
  • Africa:  Injera, Tapai, Mageu, Ogi, Iru
  • South America:  Chicha, Pulque,
  • North America:  Igunaq
  • General:  Most vinegars, raw apple cider vinegar.

The most readily available in Western supermarkets are miso, fish sauce, yogurt, pickles, sour cream, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar. Incorporate more of these into your diet please! If you can find raw and organic so much the better as the concentration will be much higher.  So much of your health resides in the terrain of your GI tract and getting some delicious traditional foods back in there will help populate the bacterial fields of your feeding tube. If my sister happens to read this perhaps she will be so kind as to post a recipe <wink-wink> that’s wicked easy to make, and includes some of these ‘super-foods‘.

What’s in it for you?

The alternative is supplementing with high quality probiotics.  I am a quality freak when it comes to natural products.  Most probiotics on the market either don’t contain live bacteria, or contain different bacteria than what is listed on the label – so don’t buy cheap bottles of dead stuff. Enteric coated it means that the capsule will not dissolve in the stomach saving the lil guys from a serious gastric burn.  The raw powder or non enteric capsules use a high dose theory whereby some bacteria are sacrificed as collateral, ensuring that a few make it down to the depths of your colon.  Both ways show positive results when the bacteria are alive to begin with.

Prebiotics are non digestible polysaccharides which feed the beneficial gut flora and stimulate their growth.  You might see them listed as FOS (or  XOX /GOS) along with plant sources such as inulin.  They’re great and some food companies are actually trying to incorporate them into every day foods.

Healthy gut flora is a core basic treatment guideline for optimum health. Get some.

NishantDr. Nishant Rao is a co-founder of He is a well-traveled naturopathic doctor and new father, practicing an integrative approach to create wellness in and around Los Angeles. Become a patient or discover his practice.

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  1. Tejal says:

    Seriously seriously seriously, it’s like you made a list of all my favourite foods! Kind of.

    But what’s Rakfisk? Is that the fish you bury underground and allow to rot?

  2. How do you determine which companies/products probably have “live” bacteria. Is it from the label or reputation or ingredients?

    Amazing stuff! 70% of our immune system … makes fast food / junk food seem even less appealing!

  3. Michael W. says:

    Great article. The importance of ingesting a high-quality, well-studied probiotic supplement is not discussed enough – yet is of the utmost importance if people want to experience any benefits from probiotics. Keep up the great work!

    Not sure if you’re familiar with Culturelle and Lactobacillus GG, but wanted to introduce ourselves, and tell you that we fit into that category of high quality (450 clinical studies) and all natural probiotic supplement. I hope you’ll check us out!

    - Your friends at Culturelle

    • Dear Michael,

      Thanks for your comments. We are happy that you enjoyed the article. Our effort is to offer objective information, and not to endorse any specific product. We are aware of the multitude of products out on the market, and the one example that we mentioned to our readers is what we consider of highest quality based on our clinical experience and research data.

      We look forward to your future visits to WellWire.

      Yours in health,
      Dr. Igor Schwartzman

  4. Bill says:

    I like the article.

    One problem with most pickles and soy sauces that you find at the supermarket is that they contain sodium benzoate, which will kill the bacteria in the food and in the gut. Not sure about some of the other foods.


    • Dear Bill,

      Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, you are absolutely correct, that would have been an excellent addition to the article. Generally, in my private practice I encourage people to make their own fermented foods, rather than buy them at the store. Aside from containing additives, as you mention, store-bought products do not contain adequate levels of live cultures for the body to receive enough benefit. For a series of great recipes, I often refer people to a book called Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

      We look forward to your future comments.

      Yours in health,
      Dr. Igor Schwartzman

  5. Brian H. says:

    Thank you Drs. Nishant and Schwartzman. Excellent comments. I am looking into Probiotics, as I have suffered some ‘pouchitis’ for the first time since my surgery 12 years ago. Is yogurt enough to help the bacteria in a j-pouch, or would Probiotics be that much stronger?

    Thanks again folks!

    • Hi Brian, probiotics are much stronger and the way to think of the yogurt is a low dose daily food source as a pose to a high therapeutic dose aimed at a particular outcome.

  6. Dr. Nishant says:

    It’s a Norwegian fish dish from trout…. salted and fermented for 2-3 months then….. eaten raw

  7. Dr. Nishant says:


    Thanks for your comment!!!

    The label will generally show a list of bacteria/cultures so it is not as much a question of ingredients as it is quality control/quality assurance (QA/QC).

    There have been several independent studies done where testing was carried out on store bought probiotics which showed the lack of live cultures. This is a start to determine quality.

    For myself and the professional community it can come down to the reputation of the company – yes.

    However, the bottom line is positive clinical results. The reputation means nothing if clinically the product isn’t working as expected.

    I hope this answers your question. =)