There are a number of factors that contribute to a healthy gut, but by far, the king is a healthy flora of microorganisms.
The human gut contains approximately 100 trillion microorganisms found within 300 to 1000 different species. They’re bugs, and they are meant to be there. However, unhealthy bacteria in the gut, taking place of the good ones, can result in gas, diarrhea and other intestinal complaints. It’s easy for a doctor to label these issues as irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut syndrome – but rarely is the cause identified or addressed.
It’s essential to keep the good, healthy bacteria flourishing in the digestive system, overshadowing any of the bad.
You’ll often hear of people eating yogurt to improve their intestinal flora, but there is much, much more to the story! Lactobacillus and Acidopholus, the
These are only 2 of the several hundred strains of bacteria that are needed by the gut. The body needs diversity!
Most people are unfortunately unaware of several other incredible – and typically better – sources of healthy gut bacteria.
Best Foods for Probiotics
Fermentation has been used for centuries for both health benefits and to preserve the shelf life of vegetables. Most people told to increase the probiotics in their diet head straight for the yogurt aisle. And while yogurt is a good start, it often contains only one or two strains of the many bacterial sources that are needed by the body for healthy gut flora.
Here are some of my favourites:
Sauerkraut: This “sour cabbage” not only provides the probiotic benefit of Lactobacillus, it is also a great source of fibre, and easy to make at home.
Kimchi: This Asian preparation of cabbage typically also contains spices like ginger and garlic along with additional vegetables such as radish and scallions, which provide additional health benefits.
Kefir: Literally derived from the Turkish word, “keif”, meaning “good feeling”, kefir is a better option for consuming probiotics than yogurt, as it contains far more strains of health bacteria. In addition to the added strains of flora, its curd size is much smaller than the curd size of yogurt, making it much easier to digest and therefore be utilized within the body!
Pickles: The transformation of the cucumber into a pickle allows the vegetable to retain many of its phytonutrients and anti-cancer properties, although some water-soluble nutrients are lost. This loss is worth the trade for the activity of the microorganisms in aiding digestion and gut flora. (Most natural health advocates will, for this reason, recommend consumption of a balance between raw vegetables and their fermented counterparts.)
There are endless variations to these popular cultured foods. Cauliflower and asparagus are some of my favourite pickled foods. Tired of sauerkraut? You can make orange-kraut the same way.
There are additional food sources of probiotics: natto, tempeh, miso (fermented soy) and even artichokes, leeks, bananas, tomatoes, algae and honey are rich in probiotics. The beverage, kombucha, has become very popular in the past few years, as it offers an easy and tasty way to consume probiotics if one’s diet is low in the food choices named already – and it’s a breeze to make at home.
Can’t I just take a pill?
A daily probiotic supplement, to ensure enough healthy colonies replenish the gut on a daily basis, is sometimes clinically necessary. It’s a great way to drive healthy bacteria into the GI system. If you are going to take a probiotic supplement, be sure to look for whole food vitamins. Holistic health enthusiasts prefer the consumption of all nutrients through whole food forms (i.e. in the case of Vitamin C, it would be sources from oranges and red peppers – not generated in a lab on a petri dish.
When nutrients are consumed in whole food form, they come along with co-factors and other nutrients, allowing them to best be utilized by the body.
But nearly every culture that boasts centenarians has included probiotic-rich foods in the local diet – so
In the old-time movie, Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy’s character says, “The key to life is a healthy colon.” It was a great laugh and a great line – most people watching the film had no idea how true that statement was, and is. The first benefit of probiotics is better bowel movements. Probiotics have been shown to reduce both constipation and diarrhea in children. Whereas conventional medical treatments, such as laxatives for constipation, or bulking agents for diarrhea, aim to treat the symptoms, a healthy balance of bacteria in the GI appears to prevent conditions at both ends of the spectrum.
Consuming probiotics also improves the immune system. Our bodies are designed to live in symbiosis with ALL bugs, both good and bad. However, an unhealthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the body impedes much of the work done by the immune system. The bad bugs can operate as scavengers when there is an absence of good ones.
Even the common cold, to which no one is truly immune, has been shown to pass faster when faced with probiotics. Probiotics are vital in keeping the scavenger bacteria under control.
Probiotics: Too Much?
It’s possible that someone taking probiotics in supplement form could consume too much, resulting in a bacterial imbalance of a different sort. A person consuming cultured foods as part of a balanced diet will consume a greater variety of probiotics, along with the naturally occurring and necessary prebiotics found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains which are necessary for probiotic metabolism. Both are necessary for healthy GI function. The body’s natural response to feeling full will typically prevent one from consuming “too much!”
Germophobia – Stop the Insanity
Somehow the North American culture has developed a phobia about bacteria. We are overly sterilized as a result of anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners and disinfectants. We are quick to visit the doctor for antibiotics, and even if we can avoid the doctor’s office, we consume residual antibiotics found in livestock. In our efforts to keep our environments “clean”, most North Americans now suffer from some depletion of healthy gut bacteria. These antibacterial compounds wipe out ALL the bacteria, not just the bad ones. Our only defense is to consume probiotic-rich foods, and failing that, whole food based probiotics in supplement form. Those of us who do will experience better digestion, greater immunity and significantly better health and longer life.
Eat your bugs.