Our intestines have always contained bacteria, but only within the last decade have we been able to start decoding their true importance. This is a huge contrast from the recommendation to use antibacterial soap and antibiotics for everything. Turns out we really shouldn’t be trying to wipe out all of these germs because quite a few strains are likely to be powerful influencers to our health.
Beneficial gut bacteria can help your digestion to perform at top shape, so we feel more regular and can aide in halting uncomfortable GI issues. Our gut microbiota may also affect other aspects of our body, like blood pressure, cholesterol, immune system, and even our weight.
Certainly not all gut bacteria are beneficial, which is makes this topic all the more fascinating because people suffering from certain conditions tend to have a very different gut microbiome compared to healthy counterparts. The great news is our lifestyle choices, like the foods we eat, can assistance the good bacteria and keep the negative ones at bay.
How can you increase your good gut bacteria?
No, please don’t go running to eat handfuls of dirt; there are much better and tastier ways. And yes, still wash your hands.
Instead try to increase your intake of both probiotics and prebiotics. These two buzzwords are being used a lot throughout food and beverage industry, but if you select wisely with certain foods/drinks can help support a healthy and happy gut.
Probiotics actually contain the healthy bacteria, so when we consume these items we are actually ingesting the “good guys”. Probiotics are sensitive to stomach acid and heat. This means pasteurization kills a lot of the good bacteria, so look for raw probiotics.
You can find great probiotic sources in fermented foods and drinks. The process of fermentation helps kill pathogenic or harmful bacteria, while allowing the good guys to thrive.
Probiotic sources include:
Yogurt- Aim for an unsweetened options, and top your yogurt with added prebiotics like granola, cereal, or fruit.
Kefir-A fermented beverage, compared to as more liquidly yogurt. Can have alone, poured over cereal, or other dishes.
Pickles- Unpasteurized brined pickles can be wonderful probiotic source.
Kimchi-This is a mixture of fermented Korean vegetables, cabbage is a traditional staple. Look for unpasteurized versions.
Sauerkraut- Home fermented sauerkraut can pack a powerful punch of probiotics, even more than probiotic supplements. Store bought varieties are traditionally pasteurized. You might be able to find something refrigerated section, but it will likely be much more expensive.
However, it’s so simple to make your own sauerkraut and all you need are two ingredients, cabbage and salt.
- Shred two full heads of cabbage into ~1/8th thickness with a knife, processor, or slicer and put into a large bowl.
- Sprinkle the shreds with 2 tablespoons of pickling salt or non-iodized salt (iodine would prevent bacterial fermentation).
- Mix well, wait 5-10 minutes allowing the cabbage to start wilting.
- Pour the mixture into a nonmetal container (the acid from the fermentation could cause metal to leach into cabbage), like a plastic container with a good lid.
- Pack the salted cabbage down as much as you can, to allow its juices to rise above and cover everything.
- Fill a food grade closeable plastic bag with water. Place the water bag on top of the cabbage. This will block air exposure and prevent spoilage.
- Keep at room temperature for 3-4 weeks.
- Check the container daily to skim off any film; this is unlikely if the mixture remains covered by the water bag. However if you see anything just skim off the layer.
- Taste it! If it tastes like sauerkraut then it’s done! Wait another week if the taste isn’t right yet. Store in the fridge (or it will spoil) or freeze any unused amounts.
Other great probiotic finds include micro beers (if unpasteurized), unpasteurized miso, buttermilk, kombucha, pickled ginger, and tempeh.
What about prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a form of fiber. When eaten these intact plant fibers reside in the large intestine, helping to feed healthy bacteria. The great news is prebiotics are in a lot of foods, and you’re likely already eating quite a few. If not, it’s easy to add them into your daily diet.
Below are a few examples of prebiotic packed foods:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicory root
- Legumes (examples; lentils, chickpeas, edamame)
And what about supplements?
There are many supplements on the market claiming to contain a certain amount of probiotics. The bottom line is they are not all created equal, so if you are interested in trying out a new probiotic or prebiotic supplement ask your doctor or a health professional. Remember foods can be a naturally powerful source on their own.
Our final point: Nutrition fads come and go. However, this health food topic seems to be backed by some serious merit. Have fun and experiment with different probiotics and prebiotics to find what works the best for you.