Research is showing that probiotics, or ‘good bacteria’ are no longer restricted to the diets of sauerkraut-munching hippies and home brewers; they are absolutely crucial for our gut health!
Bacteria outnumber human cells ten-to-one in our bodies, meaning we are made of far more bacterial cells than we are human cells. They deserve our attention!
The benefits of bacteria
The potential digestive benefits of having more fermented probiotic foods in our diet include improved pH balance, more efficient digestion (leading to improved energy levels), reduced bloating, and reduced personal contributions to the greenhouse effect. Who doesn’t want that?
Although most of these bacteria live in our gut, probiotics impact a lot more than digestive health. Our immune system remains healthy when we get the right amounts and types of bacteria into our bodies. Certain bacterial strains affect skin health, and reduce the likelihood and severity of eczema, allergies, and asthma.
By eating a standard Western diet we are missing out on a lot of the probiotic-containing foods and drinks that traditional cultures thrived on. Many ancient cultures rarely drank water due to the risk of bacterial contamination. In China, even to this day, you rarely see water served with meals – the beverages are soup, tea, or a fermented drink such as beer. Warm beverages are much gentler on the digestion than cold ones, and many traditional soups and beverages were and still are fermented and thus aid digestion.
Over the past ten years we’ve heard that lactobacillus strains of bacteria form a significant part of the natural intestinal flora. Large populations of this and other lactic acid-producing bacteria regulate the levels of good bacteria and reduce the levels of toxic pathogens.
Probiotics: food options
By regularly eating fermented foods you’ll be going a long way in getting plenty of probiotics and establishing healthy gut flora. Most people think of yoghurt, kefir, and aged cheese when they hear the words ‘probiotic foods’, but if you cannot or don’t wish to consume dairy products there are many other exciting options Delicious probiotic foods include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, lacto-fermented vegetables (like preserved lemons and pickles), fermented drinks (water kefir and kombucha), miso, natto, and raw apple cider vinegar (with ‘the mother’).
It’s just as important to get enough foods containing prebiotics, a type of fibre that feeds the good bacteria and thus keeps their populations steady. To get them, eat fibre-rich foods including high-fibre fruits and vegetables (avocado is a champion and also provides healthy fats), nuts and seeds (which also provide great amounts of magnesium, a common deficiency), and coconut. Go easy on refined carbohydrates and simple sugars and you’ll also be supporting the growth of the good bacteria rather than ‘bad’ ones.
Those who are not fans of fermented foods can supplement with probiotics. Look for a supplement that contains at least 30 billion CFUs of bacteria per serving. Also look for a list of individual strains and the quantities of each strain on the label. You want one that contains both lactobacilllus and bifidus strains.
Share this post