What is the gut and what does it do?
When it comes to our gut, otherwise known as the gastrointestinal tract, many of us have heard the saying that 'all disease begins in the gut' by Hippocrates. Not only does the gut aid in the digestion and absorption of food to fuel our bodies, it is also home to trillions of microorganisms now known as the gut microbiota (formerly gut flora). The probiotic bacteria are considered the 'good guys' here.
Historically, we had plenty of probiotics in our diet from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting our foods to keep them from spoiling. However, today because of refrigeration and agricultural practices like soaking our foods with chlorine, our food contains little to no probiotics and many foods today may contain antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies.
Our intestinal tract also forms a defensive barrier from what we ingest, and prevents harmful substances reaching the bloodstream. If this barrier is damaged then substances can pass through causing inflammation which can activate our immune system. If our body continues to send inflammatory cells in response to this, it can lead to chronic inflammatory health conditions. This is why it is vital to look after our gut health and bacteria.
Functions of the probiotic:
• Ensures proper digestion and absorption of food.
• Supports the immune system by way of a barrier effect strengthening the lining of the gut. If the gut is leaky allowing particles to enter that should not it can lead to inflammation. Most diseases have an inflammation connection.
• The right balance of beneficial bacteria keeps yeasts, fungi and pathogenic bacteria under control.
• Production of vitamins B and K for energy metabolism, nervous system functioning and calcium absorption into the bones and not arteries.
When imbalance happens:
When the bad bacteria overtakes the good bacteria it can compromise our gut health and immune system. It can effect our digestion, brain function, immunity, and ability to produce vitamins B1,2,12 and Vitamin K2. Some of the most common studied conditions are IBS, IBD, UTI's, high cholesterol and colitis. We know that a healthy lifestyle, balanced wholefood diet, limited use of processed foods, and fibre all contribute towards a healthy microbiome, but it's not always easy to tick all these boxes! This is where probiotic foods and supplements come into play to help restore the balance between the levels of good and bad bacteria.
How to boost good bacteria with food:
1. Kefir – Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy product is a unique combination of milk and fermented kefir grains. Kefir has been consumed for well over 3,000 years; The term kefir originated in Russia and Turkey and means “feeling good.” It has a slightly acidic and tart flavour and contains anywhere from 10 to 34 strains of probiotics. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but because it is fermented with yeast and more bacteria, the final product is higher in probiotics.
2. Cultured Vegetables (Sauerkraut and Kimchi) – Made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables, sauerkraut is not as diverse in probiotics but is high in organic acids, which give food its sour taste and support the growth of good bacteria. Sauerkraut is extremely popular in Germany today. Kimchi is a cousin to sauerkraut and is the Korean take on cultured veggies. Both of the fermented formulas are also high in enzymes, which can aid digestion.
3. Yogurt – Possibly the most popular probiotic food is live cultured yogurt or greek yogurt made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. Yogurt in most cases can rank at the top of probiotic foods if it comes from grass-fed animals and has not been pasteurized. Look for organic.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar – Great for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and even weight loss, apple cider vinegar is a great daily addition that will bring many benefits — including providing probiotics. Drink a small bit each day or use it as a salad dressing.
5. Tempeh – Hailing from Indonesia, this fermented soybean product is another source of probiotics. Tempeh is created by adding a tempeh starter to soybeans. The product is then left to sit for a day or two. The result is a cake-like product.You can eat tempeh raw or by boiling it and eating it with miso. It can also be used as a substitute for meat in a stir fry meal.
6. Miso – Miso is a traditional Japanese spice found in many of their traditional foods. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you may have seen their miso soup. It is created by fermenting soybean, barley or brown rice with koji. Koji is a fungus, and the fermentation process takes anywhere from a few days to a few years to complete. Miso can be made into a soup, spread on crackers, in place of butter or just about anywhere you want.
What about prebiotics?
There is no need to fret about this term. It basically means fibre which promotes with the growth or activity of a probiotic. When foods like the above are accompanied by a diet filled with PREBIOTIC fibre-rich foods like grains, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds that feed the bacteria and we are set for a healthy and diverse microbiota.
What to consider when choosing a probiotic supplement:
1. Brands that contain the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains as both offer extensive health benefits and have been clinically proven to help digestion and immunity.
2. Clinically studied strains
3. Look for about 5 - 10 billion CFU (colony forming units)
4. Avoid too many different strains of bacteria
5. Can survive gastrointestinal conditions
6. Does it need to be refrigerated? Some do, some don't
7. Check for any extra ingredients for intolerances or allergies
8. Pick a strain that works for your symptoms if required
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Disclosure: I am a professional Nutritional Therapist who may receive compensation from companies whose products I review. I am independently owned and the well-researched opinions expressed here are my own.