Today’s Solutions: December 05, 2023

For those of us who crave the tangy delights of probiotic foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, the mere thought can set our taste buds tingling. 

These fermented wonders not only tempt our taste buds, but they also provide a plethora of gut-boosting and health-protective advantages. But there’s a catch: the effect of heat on these probiotic powerhouses is frequently underestimated. In this article, we will look at the intricacies of heating probiotic-rich meals and how it may affect the helpful bacteria found in them.

Is it true that heat kills probiotics?

To solve this burning question, we turn to Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City who sheds light on the subject. Tamburello emphatically states, “Yes, heating probiotic-rich foods kills off beneficial bacteria that help keep your gut healthy.” This news may upset those of us who adore kimchi stew or sauerkraut-laden Reuben sandwiches. She goes on to say, “Probiotics are hard to find in foods, so heating them before consumption means you’re missing out on the opportunity to help balance gut bacteria and reap health benefits including better digestion, immune health, and less inflammation.”

But is there a temperature at which these beneficial bacteria begin to die? According to Tamburello, “most probiotics begin to die off at around 115 degrees Fahrenheit and higher.” 

So, while heat and probiotic foods aren’t always incompatible, her advise is to add chilled probiotic-rich foods to hot meals just before eating. For instance, top your heated grain bowl with sauerkraut or kimchi upon serving rather than cooking them alongside hot proteins or veggies.

A look at the bright side: nutrients can survive heat

If you’re concerned that heating probiotic-rich foods renders them nutritionally void, Tamburello provides some relief. “Heated kimchi and kraut still offer up fiber for digestion and nutrients for overall health,” she goes on to say. So, while the probiotic count may drop with heat, these foods are still healthful. Consider switching to yogurt or fermented beverages such as kefir and kombucha to obtain your daily dosage of probiotics.

Probiotics: raw vs. pasteurized

In the realm of probiotics, temperature isn’t the only factor at work. Tamburello emphasizes the difference between raw, refrigerated probiotic foods and pasteurized, shelf-stable alternatives. “Raw, unpasteurized fermented foods found in the refrigerated section contain significantly more healthy probiotics than pasteurized, shelf-stable alternatives,” she says. 

Pasteurization involves heating food to high temperatures, which can destroy beneficial bacteria. While pasteurized products have some nutritional benefit, they should not be your primary source of probiotics. Therefore, Tamburello suggests looking for refrigerated probiotic foods that are both raw and unpasteurized.

So, in the end, it’s not necessarily necessary to be overly concerned about the heat versus probiotics battle. Tamburello’s parting advice is reassuring, “If your favorite recipes mix heat with probiotic foods, there’s no need to worry. Just make sure you’re eating some probiotic-rich foods cold, too, for maximum gut health benefits.” So, as you savor your probiotic-rich delicacies, remember that a little heat won’t extinguish the health benefits they bring to your gut.

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