Want to immediately boost your health and vitality? Why not take the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge? Our typical way of eating is unbalancing and destroying the beneficial bacteria that do so much for our health – from assisting our immune system to regulating our metabolisms and even modulating our moods and influencing our mental health. Many of us need to rebuild our bacterial colonies to improve our health. Probiotic foods contain these beneficial microorganisms and are found in foods like yogurt and many others.
Take the 7 Day Probiotic Challenge to start rebalancing and rebuilding your bacterial health. Not only will you improve your immune response, you’ll also improve your digestion, neurological functioning and even help lessen your levels of stress and anxiety. Take the challenge and learn new eating skills, recipes and habits that you’ll be able to keep forever – and hopefully keep your body ticking optimally along the way.
What Are Probiotics?
The bacteria in your body outnumber your body’s cells 10 to one. Most of these bacteria reside in your gut and the majority are quite harmless. Having the right gut bacteria is even linked to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, healthier skin and a reduced risk of many diseases (1, 2).
Probiotics, which are certain types of friendly bacteria and yeast, provide health benefits when eaten. The most common groups of probiotic bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each group comprises different species, and each species has many strains. Interestingly, different probiotics address different health conditions. Therefore, choosing the right type — or types — of probiotic is essential. This is why having a diverse, healthy diet is important to overall health as it covers all the bases in feeding and sustaining a healthy gut biome.
You can get probiotics from supplements, as well as from foods prepared by bacterial fermentation. They are supposed to colonize your gut with health-boosting microorganisms. However, the best way to ingest them is through the foods you eat rather than through supplements. The 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge focuses on probiotic foods as opposed to supplements because the goal of My Best Life Secrets is to encourage healthy eating habits as opposed to relying on pricey pills and supplements that come separate from the greater nutrition found in whole foods.
Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi. Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are dietary fibers that help feed the friendly bacteria already in your gut (4). However, you should definitely eat a diet (like the whole foods diet) which naturally supports and feeds your gut biome.
Probiotic Food Misconceptions
There are several misconceptions about probiotic foods.
Food manufacturers may call probiotics “live culture” or “active cultures.” Many fermented products contain probiotics, which means the bacteria in them are still living. Often, however, the food production process destroys living bacteria. If a product is available on a shelf and is not refrigerated, it may not contain live and active probiotics.
Just because some food types can contain probiotics, it does not mean they all do. For example, not all yogurts contain live and active cultures. The ones that do are usually clearly marked. Also, not all fermented foods contain live cultures. Examples of fermented foods that do not have probiotics include:
- sourdough bread
- soya sauce
These and other foods like them go through additional processing that inactivates the live cultures. Examples of these processes include baking, filtering, or pasteurization. Some brands of kimchi, sauerkraut and even yogurt are pasteurized for shipping, destroying the beneficial bacteria they contained. Always check labels for “live enzymes” or “live cultures” or better yet, make your own batches at home!
It is also essential to keep in mind that certain foods, especially yogurt, may contain added sugars. Look for foods that have minimal artificial sweeteners, sugars, and other artificial flavorings which will destroy the bacteria you are actually hoping to ingest.
What Is the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge?
For seven days, eat probiotic foods while eliminating foods that will disrupt your beneficial bacteria. Basically this means eating a real foods diet – steering clear of processed foods, sugar, and meals with preservatives and additives. All of these things kill our beneficial bacteria either outright or by starving them of the nutrition they need to thrive and stave off harmful bacteria.
Unlike the other food challenges posted on this site, the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge won’t require a major shift in your overall eating habits, though the suggested seven day meal plan does follow a whole foods diet. Instead, each day for seven days you will include probiotic foods in your diet, though not for every meal. Suggestions for how to incorporate more probiotic foods will follow in later sections of this article.
Why Eat Probiotic Foods?
Our diets impact our beneficial bacteria which do so much for our gut and digestive health but which also work hand in hand with our immune health. When we wreck our beneficial bacteria colonies, we set ourselves up for a dysfunctional immune system and autoimmune issues. Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms found in various foods and drinks with proven health benefits when eaten (3). Hundreds, if not thousands, of species exist and researchers are continuously finding new ways in which they operate symbiotically with our bodies to make us function well.
Processed foods, high in salt and sugar, are destroying our beneficial bacteria. After all, salt and sugar are preservatives – which prevent spoilage of food by killing bacteria. When we ingest salt and sugar in the large amounts we currently consume today, they kill off our good bacteria as the preservatives travel through our digestive tracts. Additionally, we’re eating more processed foods at the expense of healthier foods that would feed and support our gut biome.
Currently, the standard American diet is roughly 62% processed foods, 26% meat, and only 12% good bacteria feeding whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, tubers and legumes (however, french fries make up half of the whole foods category). As reported in Newsweek, over 50% of the American diet consists of ultra-processed foods that can be bought at 7-Eleven. This way of eating is horribly unhealthy and we see its consequences in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, autoimmune disorders, and chronic kidney disease, among others.
We are actively destroying our health with the foods we eat – whether bombarding it with foods and drinks that actively harm our bodies or by not giving our bodies the nutrition we need to repair and maintain ourselves in optimum health. Our unbalanced food choices also have dire consequences for our beneficial bacteria. Flipping these statistics around can only help reverse our terrible modern disease trends. If the standard American diet is your diet, definitely do the 7 Day Probiotic Challenge! It’s probably one of the easier of food changes to undertake and keep up.
In reclaiming our health and waistlines, the place to start is with diet. That means a two-pronged attack of cutting down our over-consumption of processed foods which actively destroy our health while at the same time consuming mostly whole foods which will build, maintain and repair our bodies in maximum health.
Researched Benefit of Probiotics
So what makes probiotic foods so powerful for our health?
The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora or microbiota (6). Surprisingly, the metabolic activities of your gut flora resemble those of an organ. For this reason, some scientists refer to the gut flora as the “forgotten organ” (7).
Your gut flora performs many functions that are important for health. It manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins (8). It also turns fibers into short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate and acetate, which feed your gut wall and perform many metabolic functions (9, 10).
However, not all organisms in your gut are friendly. Your gut flora is highly sensitive to your diet, and studies show that an unbalanced gut flora is linked to numerous diseases (15, 16). These diseases include obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression (17, 18, 19, 20).
Probiotics — and prebiotic fibers — can help correct this balance, ensuring that your “forgotten organ” is functioning optimally (21).
There are many other benefits of probiotics. They affect:
- Inflammation: Probiotics reduce systemic inflammation, a leading driver of many diseases (43).
- Depression and anxiety: The probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with clinical depression (44, 45).
- Blood cholesterol: Several probiotics have been shown to lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (46, 47).
- Blood pressure: Probiotics may also cause modest reductions in blood pressure (48, 49).
- Immune function: Several probiotic strains may enhance immune function, possibly leading to a reduced risk of infections, including for the common cold (50, 51).
- Skin health: There is some evidence that probiotics can be useful for acne, rosacea and eczema, as well as other skin disorders (52).
This is only a small slice of probiotics’ total benefits, as ongoing studies indicate a wide breadth of health effects.
Types of Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are an easy place to start in transitioning to a whole foods diet. They’re super convenient to incorporate into your snacks and meals. They are available at any time of year so you’ll be able to find at least a few that you love. Plus, many varieties are cheap so you won’t be hurting your wallet.
Here is a list of probiotic foods you’ll commonly find at most grocery stores:
- Yogurt (dairy and non-dairy)
- Kefir (drinking yogurt)
- Traditional buttermilk
- Aged cheeses, such as cheddar, gouda, or mozzarella
- Natto, a food made from fermented soybeans
- Water or brine-cured olives
- Pickles made with salt (not vinegar)
Remember to make sure that these foods haven’t been sterilized, pasteurized, heat-treated, etc. so that their live cultures remain intact and alive to help you. With all this variety to choose from, you should be able to find numerous ways of incorporating probiotic foods into your meals and start building your diet into a whole foods based way of eating.
What are Whole foods?
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances like preservatives, emulsifiers, conditioners and artificial or natural flavors before being consumed.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, tubers, and whole grains. Everything else is not a whole food. See my article What are Whole Foods? to get a good understanding of whole foods. For the carnivores out there, I would add that fresh meat in the butcher and seafood sections of grocery stores can supplement a whole foods diet even though they are obviously not plant-based. Same with eggs and milk. The healthiest and most long-lived cultures in the world eat this sort of diet.
Why Whole Foods?
The benefits of whole foods are amazing:
- Cancer prevention
- Beating heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing and reversing diabetes
- Prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis
- Asthma prevention
- Better digestion
- Autoimmune disorder prevention
- Most sustainable diet for the planet
In the Kitchen for the 7 Day Challenge
During the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge, you’ll want to have at least one serving of probiotic foods each day.
While the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge does not require dropping the standard American diet or greatly changing your current way of eating, adopting a mostly whole foods diet during the challenge will reap greater health rewards. If you choose to try more whole foods during the challenge, avoid added sugars and processed foods. Focusing on whole foods should be the center of every meal, making up at least 70% of everything that goes into your mouth.
This will mean passing on processed foods – full of refined carbs, added sugar, salt, processed oils, and additives – which include most boxed meals and kits, frozen meals, heat and serve meals, and fast food. Try to limit your pasta and bread consumption as these are both processed foods. I realize that might be biting off more than you can chew for most people. However, making whole foods the stars of any meal and giving things like pasta or bread a limited supporting role will really help your health – and especially the health of your beneficial bacteria.
Why 7 Days?
One week isn’t a large commitment and is easy to plan. Plus you won’t feel overwhelmed by learning a ton of new recipes or feel like you’re completely giving up your eating lifestyle for good – though, hey, if you like the changes and the benefits, please continue!
Seven days are good for dipping your toes into a life of eating more healthily or starting down a whole foods diet. You will learn new recipes and eating patterns which can help you transition to eating healthier overall. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a new challenge to get excited about?
Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should remind ourselves of a few things:
Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is definitely true for sugar or refined carbs. Use this week to learn how addicted your body is to your current way of eating. You might find it eye-opening.
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the food recipes. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of this week as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.
Thirdly, when we take on a food challenge, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them. In time the ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it. Most of the recipes included for the challenge are quick and easy for beginners.
Fourthly, food is culture. If your family and friends have never seen a whole food they didn’t hate, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Remember that this is only a week-long challenge. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:
- Your health issues if you have any
- Any health issues in your family
- That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
- And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy
Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.
All this said, we’re human and we get cravings. Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse during the challenge, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Also, try not to make the challenge impossible by scheduling it around holidays. Only the most willful and possibly masochistic can survive holidays and their associated foods. On the flip side, if you’re trying to give up the excesses of the holidays, by all means, use this challenge as an excuse!
Now onto the nuts and bolts.
How It Works
The 7 Day Probiotic Challenge is pretty straight-forward. You’ll be consuming at least a serving of probiotics daily for a week. To do that:
- Pick a week to do the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge.
- Make room in your pantry and in your mental space for the change.
- Plan out and organize your meals for the week for best results. Design them with your family or friends for added support and team-building if they’re willing.
- Make your grocery list.
- Buy the food.
- Prepare the meals yourself or for best results, with your family. Healthy food habits are teachable moments, as is food preparation. Children can’t learn healthy food habits if not exposed to them or taught the recipes. Cooking together means time together. Make cooking social.
- Eat and enjoy – the more the merrier!
7 Day Probiotic Challenge Recipe Suggestions
It’s easiest to enjoy the challenge and keep with it if you include meals you already like that contain probiotics. Love your homemade yogurt smoothie? Bust it out this week!
Organize around meals such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. We tend to make the same handful of meals so don’t feel like every single meal for the week must be new and original. That gets expensive and stressful fast because you have to buy a larger variety of food and learn too many new recipes you may not be at all familiar with. Also, why waste any leftovers?
Check out the recommended week-long plan and more general pantry list so you can take the challenge and run with it. Feel free to mix and match however you like to make this challenge your own!
Now onto the week’s meal plan!
7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge Meal Planning
In order to incorporate more probiotics into your diet, it’s helpful to focus on each meal of the day and how to easily add in probiotic foods.
Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to get in your probiotic requirements for the day. Yogurt is an easy probiotic breakfast meal. Add a handful of berries and nuts or seeds to increase the nutritional content and flavor. Make smoothies with it or kefir or add it to your oatmeal.
Eat a handful of olives or pickles. Snack on fruit, aged cheese and whole grain crackers. Make sure you’re not grabbing processed cheeses but aged ones.
Lunch & Dinner
Cook with tempeh. Add a side of kimchi or sauerkraut or use them as ingredients in soups or salads. Make miso soup or use it as an ingredient in dips and spreads. Natto makes a good side dish as well.
Make yogurt desserts with fruit or chocolate in place of ice cream.
Drink kefir or kombucha in place of milk and soda. Kefir is like a thinner drinking yogurt. Add cocoa powder to make chocolate kefir. Kombucha is fizzy and makes a great soda replacer. So many varieties exist that you’ll definitely find ones you love. You may love it so much you start making your own!
7 Day Probiotic Challenge Daily Schedule
Want specific meal suggestions? We’ve got you covered for all meals, including snacks and desserts, for the week.
Breakfast: Yogurt topped with walnuts and grapes
Lunch: Avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Tilapia tacos; top with kimchi
Snacks: Dark chocolate made with almonds, peanuts or pistachios
Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with blueberries, sesame seeds and pumpkin kernels
Lunch: Mediterranean chickpea salad
Dinner: Steak and potatoes with sauerkraut side dish
Snacks: Sliced apple with Gouda cheese
Breakfast: Banana, peanut butter, yogurt smoothie; optional add-in: chia seeds
Lunch: Tuna fish and whole grain crackers with avocado, tomato and cucumber salad
Snack: Yellow squash dippers and hummus
Dinner: Drunken mussels
Breakfast: Eggs scrambled with spinach, sliced half an avocado on the side
Lunch: Walnut and beet salad with feta with kombucha as your drink
Dinner: Ginger veggie stir fry (optional add-in: beef, pork, chicken or seafood) and miso soup
Snack: Olives and stuffed peppers from the grocery store olive bar
Dessert: Pecan-stuffed dates
Breakfast: Fruit bowl of strawberries and banana and glass of kefir
Lunch: White bean salad with anchovies; substitute chicken, pork sausage, smoked clams, mussels or oysters; have kombucha as your drink
Dinner: Shrimp zucchini linguine
Snack: Peanut butter on whole grain crackers or veggies like celery; substitute tahini or almond butter
Breakfast: Peanut butter and banana toast; substitute tahini or almond butter
Lunch: Lentil soup with avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Sweet potato gnocchi and grilled salmon
Snack: Olives, Gouda cheese and whole-grain crackers
Breakfast: Cheese, tempeh and egg breakfast tacos
Lunch: Red lentil salad with feta
Dinner: Sexy fish stew
Dessert: Chocolate, banana and peanut butter kefir smoothie
If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, feel free to find ones that do! So many recipe resources exist on the internet that you’re bound to find more than you could ever hope to make. One of my favorite sources is allrecipes.com.
In order to cook a whole foods diet, it’s helpful to know how to stock your pantry. This is a general list, so don’t think this is your shopping list for the probiotics challenge. While a few items on this list are not whole foods, the vast majority are and these ingredients can make up a fantastic pantry for eating healthy and deliciously:
Nuts and seeds – walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.
Nut and seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter and tahini
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Olive, sesame or coconut oil
White or apple vinegar
White cooking wine
Tilapia or cod fillets
Canned or fresh tuna, anchovies, mussels, oysters, clams
Canned or dried white beans, chick peas, lentils, black beans
Fresh cuts of meats (be careful as even ground pork or ground turkey often now includes natural flavors – check the ingredients)
Fresh or canned diced tomatoes
Yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.
Spinach, kale, greens
Nut milks – almond, walnut, cashew milk
Oat or soy milk
Rice, barley, buckwheat, oats, kasha
While fresh and from scratch is best, let’s face it, not everyone has the time or willingness. Here are time savers and substitutions:
- Instant oatmeal and cream of wheat
- Canned beans and vegetables: drain and rinse them though
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Frozen fish fillets
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Store-made guacamole, salsa and hummus
A Week of Healthy Eating
And there you have it – everything you need to know to take the 7 Day Probiotic Food Challenge! Hopefully you will enjoy the foods and the benefits they quickly bring in terms of better health, energy levels, mental clarity, sleep and digestion, and a range of others. If you enjoy these foods and their benefits, why not permanently include these and other deliciously healthy meals in your routine?
Good luck with the challenge and happy eating!
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