Published on July 6th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor0
5 Ways to Eat your Probiotics to Boost your Digestive Health and Immunity!
Perhaps you’ve heard of probiotics? These good little bugs live in our gut and help boost digestion, immunity, and even your mood. Eat your way to better gut health with good food: here are 5 ways to eat your probiotics.
Gut health has been a popular topic for natural healing folks for a long time, but in recent years it’s become a bit more mainstream– and with good reason. Researchers are now finding that gut health affects our whole body, and maintaining (or rebuilding) gut health is imperative for true wellness.
Wellness advocate Kris Carr sums up digestive health like this:
“Your gut holds trillions of bacteria that help process your food, produce nutrients, and fight disease. In fact, there are ten times more bacteria in your gut than cells in your entire body! These little guys are super important and they need your help. Since what you eat, drink and think affects the environment in your gut, your daily choices play a critical role in whether those trillion plus bacteria help or hinder your well-being.
It’s all about balance when it comes to gut health. When your gut is in tip-top shape, about 80-85 percent of bacteria are good guys and 15-20 percent are bad guys. You feel great, your body is strong and nimble, you rarely get sick, your energy is consistent, you poop like a champ, life is good. The healthy bacteria are free to do their job with ease. They assist with digestion, produce disease-fighting antibodies, crowd out bad bacteria and produce certain hormones, vitamins and nutrients.”
Research shows that a balanced gut can help with many aspects of wellness. The New York Times notes that, “Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity.”
Probiotics and a healthy, balanced gut can help with an array of symptoms:
Mental health: Scientific American shares that ongoing research makes it clear that our gut– our second brain– has a huge impact on our real brain. “The brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.” There is also a lot of work being done about the connection between gut health and autism. SA says that initial research in rodent studies show that autistic behavior might be rooted in the gut, rather than in the brain.
Anxiety: Huffington Post reports that when patients were given doses of prebiotics (food for the probiotics), they showed less negativity, less anxiety and paid more attention to positive information than a placebo group, and that those taking the prebiotics had lower levels of cortisol, the hormone linked with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Mood: The New York Times writes, “Our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals.” Bacteria in our gut actually create these brain chemicals, proving they have a role in intestinal disorders and are correlated with depression and anxiety.
Brain function: Mercola shares research from UCLA that shows the connection between the brain function and the gut. Because the brain sends signals to your gut, stress is directly linked to digestive issues, and the opposite is true too. Patients with gastro-intestinal disorders felt new or increased depression and anxiety as digestive issues set in. The foods that we feed our body affects our gut flora too. Dr. Emeran Mayer says, “people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates. [Now] we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.”
Immunity: Dr. Mark Hyman writes on EcoWatch: “Your gut wall houses 70 percent of the cells that make up your immune system. You might not attribute digestive problems with allergies, arthritis, autoimmune diseases (irritable bowel syndrome, acne, chronic fatigue), mood disorders, autism, dementia and cancer. Many diseases seemingly unrelated are actually caused by gut problems.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that probiotics are a link to better health in so many ways. The best thing about building your gut health is that it’s easy and pretty affordable since it comes from FOOD! Here are five ways to eat your probiotics for better health. Don’t forget: we’re bloggers–not doctors– so check with your health care professional before starting any wellness program.
1. Yogurt and Kefir: Yogurt is a thick and creamy fermented dairy or non-dairy product, while kefir is more like a drinkable yogurt. This is one of the most popular ways to introduce good bacteria to your gut, but be careful with the ingredients in yogurt, as most commercial brands will contain a host of nasty ingredients like added sugars, food color and artificial flavoring. The sugar can ruin the healthy effect of the probiotics in the yogurt by feeding the bad bacteria in your gut, and too much sugar suppresses the immune system. Look for yogurt and kefir that contain only milk and cultures. If you don’t eat dairy, choose a plant-based yogurt or kefir with minimal sugars added. Or, make your own homemade coconut yogurt for a fun DIY project– it only takes a few jars and one night for homemade yogurt.
2. Sauerkraut and Vegetable Ferments: Over the past two years vegetable ferments became my favorite food. I started fermenting for a cooking class, and then it became an easy habit that we enjoy the benefits of everyday. Homemade sauerkraut is easy and requires just cabbage, salt and some jars; for a spicy version, follow our recipe for Homemade Kim chi. Not only are fresh, homemade vegetable ferments a wildly tasty addition to sandwiches, salads and snacks, it’s crazy good for your body. In addition to all the probiotic benefits offered by sauerkraut, there are lots of other nutrients too. Mercola says that fermentation helps unlock the nutrients in cabbage: “the amount of bioavailable vitamin C in sauerkraut is 20 times higher than in the same helping of fresh cabbage!” All fermented vegetables will have similar benefits: try sauerkraut, kim chi and other fermented veggies to keep your gut happy.
3. Water Kefir and Kombucha: Water kefir is different than dairy kefir in that the medium is just water and sugar, rather than milk. But the benefits are pretty similar: the culture of bacteria and yeasts digests the sugars and produces carbon dioxide for fizz and turns into healthy gut bacteria. Water kefir is easy to make at home: all you need are some jars, some dried fruit and some sugar to combine with kefir cultures. Give it a few days, then boom: homemade fermented beverages to call your own! Learn how to make water kefir here. Kombucha is a pretty similar, and decidedly more popular, fermented beverage. It’s made from a culture of bacteria and yeasts (similar to kefir but different) called a SCOBY or mushroom. The SCOBY is added to a large jar of sugared, brewed tea that then cultures over a few days to a week. The resulting beverage is subtly sweet, fizzy, and slightly alcoholic. It can be good to treat upset stomach and can help improve digestion overall. Learn how to make kombucha tea here.
4. Miso: There are so many health benefits to miso, and it’s versatile in the kitchen and tastes amazing, meaning it’s a SUPER superfood! If you’ve not yet tried miso, here is a little introduction I wrote on Vibrant Wellness Journal, “Miso is a fermented paste of cultured rice (called koji), beans and salt. The ingredients are simple, but the biochemical processes that turn beans and rice into miso is pretty amazing. Koji is a mold that grows on rice, which is then mixed with cooked beans, most often soybeans. The mixture is salted and then left to ferment- sometimes for a few months, sometimes for a few years! Lighter, sweeter miso (white, chickpea and yellow miso) is aged less than a year, while darker miso is often fermented much longer.” This fermentation process makes miso full of highly bioavailable vitamins, protein and beneficial bacteria. Similar to miso is tempeh, a cousin of tofu made from fermented soybeans. Tempeh is delicious and easy to cook: learn more about tempeh here and find some tempeh recipes here on Vibrant Wellness Journal.
5. Edible Supplements: Sure, you can take boring probiotic supplements for a gut boost, but why not take it in the form of something delicious? I’ve written previously about Inner Eco, a drinkable probiotic supplement made from coconut water, but there are many others available. Sometimes it’s nice to to sip your bacterias with a bit of flavor. Inner Eco is my favorite because it’s totally vegan, made from coconut water, and has just a little bit of flavor that tastes very natural, unlike some others with have a very strong flavor. Find drinkable probiotics in the fridge next to all the other capsule supplements. Be sure to read the label to ensure freshness.
Image credits: probiotics illustration from NYT by Andrew Rae; miso soup image from Vibrant Wellness Journal; yogurt, kombucha images from Shutterstock.