It’s kind of creepy to think that our bodies are made up of 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, but it’s true. Good bacteria and other microbes live throughout our entire body, not just in our digestive tract. There are actually 100 known benefits to taking probiotics, among them are a strong immune system and a healthy gut. Recent studies shows that our gut flora even determines how easily we gain weight. So yes, we are big ole’ bags of bacteria and it’s important that we keep them properly balanced…because when the bad bacteria take over, it’s not fun. Even a short-term imbalance can lead to undesirable effects like gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and yeast infections. Over time, an imbalance can lead to more serious problems like IBS, sinusitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. The good news is that we can influence our bacteria with good nutrition. And by that I mean we can keep the bad bacteria in check by taking in the good ones on a regular basis.
I like to get my bacteria straight to the source. I prefer to add bacteria-rich fermented foods to my diet, rather than rely on processed foods that add bacteria to their products. Most of the time when a probiotic culture is separated from its original source and added to a processed food, the health benefits don’t go along with the ride.
So instead of energy bars, ice cream, and cereal that claim to have probiotics added to them, get your good bug fix from one of my 3 favorite fermented foods:
Why it’s great: Similar to what sprouting a grain does, sourdough does it through a starter that’s amped up with good bacteria. When you use a sourdough starter to make bread, you up the nutrition ante tenfold. For one, the fermented starter and slow rising time offsets the effects of phytates, which are inherent in grains. Phytates are mineral blockers that inhibit the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc and neutralize your digestive enzymes. The fermentation and super slow rising time also helps break down protein and gluten, making it easier to digest — even for those who are gluten intolerant. Make sure you buy your sourdough bread from an artisan baker, not a commercial bakery — get the real thing!!
Why it’s great: Tempeh is made by fermenting slightly cooked whole soybeans. The fermenting process initiates the growth of a beneficial bacteria called Bacillus subtilis, making tempeh another great way to get some natural probiotics. You usually find it pre-formed into a rectangular patty in the grocery store and you can slice it, dice it or crumble it into recipes. Choose organic brands when possible or read labels for use of non-gmo, organic soybeans. I really like tempeh because it’s not processed like tofu, and tastes a lot better. It has a rich, nutty flavor and gives nice balance to a vegetarian meal.
With sauerkraut you get the combined benefit of cabbage and fermentation. Cruciferous veggies are known for their anti-inflammation and antioxidant effects, but they become superfoods when allowed to ferment. The friendly lactobacilli bacteria created in the fermenting process turns cabbage into sauerkraut, which aids in digestion and helps promote the growth of healthy bacteria throughout your gut. Studies show that fermenting cabbage also produces isothiocyanates, which appear to be protective against cancer growth. Buy your sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, canned ‘kraut has been pasteurized and the bacteria are destroyed in that process. I love Bubbies brand and take in a few spoonfuls each day straight from the jar!
Now you tell me….what’s your favorite way to get in good bacteria?