When we talk about probiotics, we’re talking about bacteria. What’s special and trendy about these bacteria is that these greatly benefit your health.
You’re likely thinking of yogurt right about now. Maybe you’re even thinking about kefir (fermented milk which has become so popular there are all kinds of commercial brands now). You may be thinking about the bottle of probiotic supplements sitting in your pantry somewhere. You wouldn’t be wrong. These are all sources of the ‘for life’ good-guy bacteria, but there are so many more wonderful and delicious places to find them.
Fermented and cultured refer to the process by which a food or drink is broken down chemically by bacteria, yeasts and several other microorganisms. Dairy gets cultured and becomes yogurt, kefir, and cheese. Meat gets cured, and you’ve got pastrami, corned beef and even bacon. Veggies get pickled, and you get kimchi, sauerkraut and real pickles. Fruits get fermented into chutneys, teas become kombucha, flour becomes sourdough bread. Yes, beer and wine and spirits are also made through fermentation.
Fermented foods have been around for a long time because:
- It’s a great way to preserve food
- It’s a great way to preserve our health.
The gut is known as the second brain. It is intricately linked to our hormones, the nervous system, and our immune system. More than 70% of our immunity is handled in the gut. In the inner lining of the gut, you’ll find over 100 million neurons, which allow for the complex process of digestion; of breaking foods down, assimilating nutrients and excreting waste.
Our moods and emotional states are governed here via the vagus nerves which communicate what’s going on to the brain. It’s also here where we get that feeling of hunger or fullness. Many diseases have been associated with gastrointestinal issues and food intolerances, from depression to infertility, from autoimmune disorders to cancer.
Many things can disrupt the natural order or functioning of this delicate system such as, stress, environmental toxins, food, etc. We can’t escape most of these things so we have to help the body along in its many amazing tasks. Enter probiotics.
The role of probiotics is to mop up the mess and leave a healthy foundation behind so that all these intricate systems work better for us. The bacteria in probiotics, mainly lactobaccilli and bifidobacterium, are special in that they have a protective covering to shield them from the acids of the stomach (which kill bacteria to protect us) so they can travel to the small intestine to start working their magic. They also tend to move quickly through the stomach, bypassing the harmful stomach acids.
Once there, these bacteria get to work by re-populating it with strong, friendly microbes that help the body absorb nutrients better, get digestion working more efficiently and boost immunity. When the gut has plenty of these bacteria, they ward off harmful bacteria and can suppress the ones that stick around from making a home in our bodies. Probiotics in essence create an inhospitable environment for bad-guy bacteria.
So, where do you get these magical little microbes?
I am wholeheartedly biased towards probiotic foods as opposed to probiotic supplements. Supplements tend to get stuck in the stomach and little benefit can come from them. The most common foods are yogurt (not laden with sugar), kefir, sauerkraut, pickles (lacto-fermented) miso and kombucha. Other lesser known foods are tempeh and natto, fermented soy beans.
Getting these to be part of your regular diet will take time and dedication. Start slowly but build yourself a nice repertoire of foods that you can rely on, that you get used to and that you miss if you don’t have for a while. This may be one of the best habits you can form. Also, you’ll want to increase the amount of probiotic foods you eat by a lot when you are on a course of antibiotics.
That’s the lowdown, where will you start?