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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Probiotic Eating Became So Important to Me, I Wrote a Cookbook About It

updated Jan 17, 2020
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Hear the phrase “self-care routine” and you likely envision sheet masks, candle-lit baths, warm tea, manicures, and meditation. I enjoy those things, but my self-care routine has always looked a little different (and been decidedly less sexy). Much of it centers around food, but it’s not (typically) the snacky comfort food I turn to when I’m feeling depleted.

I have long-distance running to credit for that. Getting involved in sports has made me keenly aware of what I eat and how it makes me feel beyond the moment I am eating it. Although I love a good burger and fries, if I have one the night before an early morning run, I’ll feel sluggish and won’t run as well.

I started to be more strategic about when I ate treats like burgers, pizza, chocolate, or pancakes. And then I started to think more about what else I was eating. Soon, I found I was using food as a way to care of myself, and not just to treat myself.

So, what does this mean exactly? At first, it just meant eating more vegetables and cooking more meals at home. But several years ago my husband began adding a bottle of milk kefir to our grocery cart each week. He said he simply felt better when it was a regular part of his diet. I was happy to let him do his thing, until the morning I woke up dead set on a smoothie for breakfast, only to discover the only liquid in the fridge was his kefir. I tried it, and it made an exceptionally creamy smoothie with a gentle tang I really liked.

Soon, I was fully on board, finding other ways to drink and eat more of it. Drinking it on the regular I discovered quickly that my digestion was also … well, to be blunt, regular. Without going into detail, my stomach felt more balanced and settled than it had in years. This felt even more important when I became pregnant. I was no longer simply nourishing myself, but also nourishing my growing baby and helping him develop a strong microbiome. It felt like a win all around.

Credit: Maria Siriano
Kombucha Floats. Recipe available in The Probiotic Kitchen

I had learned the power of probiotic food, and it wasn’t long before I was a full-on probiotic convert: I started including big forkfuls of funky fermented veggies on my plate, sipping on kombucha, picking up blocks of aged cheese, and swapping regular cottage cheese for the cultured variety. The top shelf of my fridge became a home for jars of fermented kraut and kimchi.

I loved eating this way so much, I wrote a cookbook called The Probiotic Kitchen. The goal of my book is to help others incorporate more naturally probiotic-rich foods into their everyday meals. Since they taste so good — they’re bold, often tangy, sometimes a little sour or spicy —and they make me feel so good, I wanted to fit more of them into my life. I figured others might feel the same way.

When I set out to write the book, I didn’t think of it as a project deeply rooted in self-care; I just wanted some more ways to eat probiotics. But it turns out that self-care is exactly what this book is about. It’s a tool for the kind of self-care I practice, and the best kind I know — nourishing my body through good (and good-for-me) food. The idea is to leave readers with recipes and ideas that are so easy and approachable that including probiotics into their daily diet becomes habit-forming, just as it did for me.  

Credit: Maria Siriano

But taking care of yourself isn’t just about feeding your body — it’s about enjoying yourself and feeding your soul. From overnight oats, smoothies, fancy toast, and eggs, to Buddha bowls, salads, sauces, and sandwiches, I chose recipes for the way they made me feel good while eating, as well as after. 

I promise you the recipes aren’t complicated. Adding probiotics to your meals can be as easy as layering a generous blanket of kraut or kimchi over avocado toast for a punch of tangy flavor, adding a scoop of cultured cottage cheese or yogurt to make smoothies extra creamy, or swapping some of the milk for kefir in your overnight oats. I love using kefir or yogurt as the base for creamy dressings and no-cook pasta sauce, or mixing chopped kimchi into noodle bowls, fried rice, and omelets. It’s often about unexpected combinations that surprise and delight as much as they comfort. 

It’s hard to make time for self-care, I know. It’s particularly hard for me this year, as I’m a new mom with a 6-month-old. Throw in the typical post-holiday blahs, and it would be easy to let self-care fall very far down the priority list. But I also know that caring for my physical, emotional, and mental health is more important now than ever. In order to take care of my baby and my family, I have to take care of myself first. 

The way I see it, self-care is about deliberately doing the things, big and small, that simply help us feel our best. There’s no more basic way to care for and nourish ourselves than with food. That means choosing foods that taste good and make us feel good too.