Hope you’ve all had a great week. I’m here with a raw Question of the Week. I’ve been out of the habit of answering these lately, but not intentionally: they’re actually some of my favorite blog posts to write! They demand time and thought, though, and so I don’t like to write them in a time pinch (and lately, I feel as though I’m almost always in a time pinch). This week, I’m happy to check in great question that happens to coincide nicely with a new product review.
This question comes from Jeanette. Recently, she wrote an email saying,
“ Hi Gena, I love your blog! I’ve read so much about probiotics lately. Do you recommend taking them? Is there a brand you like ”
Great question, Jeanette! And the answer is most certainly yes. I’ve written a few posts now that point to my general thoughts about taking supplements. I’m not against supplements, per se, but I am against the general habit of taking multi-vitamins and other supplements in the absence of a particular reason. For the most part, if one is eating a varied, nutrient-rich, plant-based diet, it’s safe to assume that one is getting the adequate nutrition, and from the best possible sources: whole foods. Supplements are useful for filling in gaps in one’s diet (if there are any) or for healing deficiencies, but they are secondary to a healthy diet.
I also think that people tend to fixate on supplementation when they might be expending equal (and more valuable) energy on tending to problems in their diets: unfit foods they eat too much of; plant-based foods they don’t eat enough of; erratic eating habits that they should bring into balance. Why? Because it’s very, very easy to add something to one’s diet or routine; subtracting something or changing a stubborn habit is much harder. This is why most people are happy to add supplements (or even exercise) to their lifestyles, but fundamentally resistant to eliminating a particular food or to tackling an unhealthy habit. I’m always clear with my clients about the fact that I probably will not recommend supplements or superfoods. And they often sound a bit crestfallen to hear it! This makes me smile: why on earth would you be sorry to hear that I don’t want you to drop fifty bucks on vitamins or spirulina or maca? Because it means that improvement is not to be found in a bottle or a magic food; it’s contingent upon your own capacity for change.
All of this said, there are times and places for supplements. I recommend that all vegans check their B-12 and Vitamin D levels checked yearly, and of course, if your doctor or health practitioner believes that there’s any particular reason for you to be taking a supplement, do. I also believe that most all of us—especially the ladies—should consider taking a probiotic supplement and a digestive enzyme.
Why? As with all supplements, in a perfect workd, we wouldn’t need them. But unfortunately, most of us grew up eating, if not SAD diets, unfit ones; most of us also have digestive tracts that are imbalanced from too much acidity, too much mucuous-forming food, too many toxins (caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, drugs–illegal and OTC), and synthetic hormones. Imbalanced digestive tracts become a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria, which in turn can lead to all sorts of health complaints. And women are especially prone. Thankfully, probiotics and enzymes are here to help.
There’s enough buzz around probiotics lately that I don’t have to define the basics for you: these are the microorganisms that have a healthy effect on our bodies (usually via our digestive tract). Taken properly, probiotics can help to combat bacteria, yeast, and other invaders which are likely to weaken and impair our digestion. Consequently, they can help to heal gas, bloating, constipation, candida (yeast), IBS, colitis, and even deeper conditions, such as high cholesterol and impaired immunity.
There are a ton of probiotics on the market right now. If you suffer from IBS, constipation, or bloating (which is the most popular motive, in my experience, for taking a probiotic), I recommend an acidophilus and bifidus blend. You want to seek out a probiotic that is enteric coated (this means it’s coated thickly enough to withstand passage through one’s stomach acid; unfortunately, most probiotics do not have enteric coating). Any pearlized probiotic will have enteric coating. As far as brands go, there are many good pearlized ones. Whole Foods is now making a generic one, which I picked up once while traveling and liked; a very well-respected and excellent option is the Dr. Ohhira brand. Finally, the Jarro Dophilus brand is both high-quality and also has the benefit of offering a shelf-stable strain (many probiotics necessitate refrigeration).
So, that answers Jeanette’s question. What about enzymes, which I also mentioned? Enzymes, as we know, help us to break down and digest food. Though less popular than probiotics, these can be equally essential for those who have compromised digestive systems. As I was healing from my IBS, I found that enzymes (in addition to a cleansing diet, of course!) helped me immensely. And let’s just be honest about what “help” means, kids: they—alongside probiotics—helped me take a crap. Not once a week, not once every five days, but on the daily. They also helped me to avoid the painful bloating and abdominal discomfort that I had become all too accustomed to. Once again, there are numerous brands out there. I’ve always had good success with the MegaFoods brand; I also recommend the Hippocrates brand.
As with all supplements, not everyone needs probiotics or enzymes (or you may need one, but not the other). If your digestion is strong and consistent, great: enjoy it. Again, though, many of us have digestive systems that have become sluggish, finicky, overrun with yeast and bacteria, or overly acidic. Digestive supplements—especially in conjunction with a clean and plant based diet—give us the helping hand we need in getting our delicate systems back into balance. If you do choose to take them, I recommend taking them in accordance with the instructions on the brand you’ve chosen, but you should typically take digestive enzymes directly before meals. If you’re eating something that’s particularly tough to digest, or you’re high raw and you’re about to eat cooked foods, you should double up on dosage.
Since I take both probiotics and enzymes routinely, I’m always on the lookout for excellent new brands to recommend to clients—and to take myself! Recently, having heard excellent reports about the Udo Erasmus line of products, I contacted the company and asked for a sampling of their supplements. They were kind enough to oblige–and how!–with a generous assortment of probiotics, ranging from an infant formula to a senior blend:
And two of their digestive enzyme varieties:
A firm champion of individuality—in nutrition and in life!—I love that Udo’s tailors their probiotic blends to fit various ages and conditions. Thus far, I’ve sampled the Adult Enzyme Blend, which I’ve had terrific results with, and the Adult’s Probiotic, which seems to be excellent thus far.
If this isn’t enough, Udo’s also included their new DHA oil blend.
If you recall my Omega-3 post, you’ll recall my saying that it can be difficult for vegans (or non-fish eaters) to get enough DHAs in their diets. Now, we vegans have a reliable and tasty source. The 3-6-9 Blend is wonderful; it’s a blend of (among other ingredients) organic flax seed oil, organic sunflower seed oil, organic sesame seed oil, rice and oat germ oils, organic coconut oil (which I recommend aside from this for its health properties), organic evening primrose oil, and various antioxidants. It has a slightly nutty flavor, but it isn’t quite as strong as flax or hemp oil, which makes it perfect for even delicate recipes.
I am so grateful to the people at Udo’s for sending me their products. I recommend them completely, and I also recommend the Udo’s website as a credible source of information. Don’t take my word for it: check out the site and download the very detailed PDFs that they offer about each of their products.
In the meantime, if this post piques your curiosity, I remind you all to “check in” with your digestive systems. So many of us go through our lives with gastric complaints that we take for granted as necessary. Digestive discomfort is anything but: if you feel pain, bloating, or sluggishness with elimination, it’s a warning bell. And it may be time for you to consider adding probiotics–in addition to whole, plant based foods in abundance–to your daily routine. I hope that you’ll find some relief!