We all know that we have lots and lots of good and bad bacteria in our bodily systems (thanks, Yakult!) but do you know how much damage can actually be done when the bad bacteria outnumber the good?
This balance of bacteria is called our “microbiome”, and everyones’ is different. Our gut microbiome (or microbiota) is responsible for a good many necessary tasks, but this can become unbalanced by eating too much processed food, too much meat or sugar, excessive alcohol, medications (such as antibiotics and oral contraceptives) and chemicals like pesticides used in agriculture.
When the bad bacteria rule the (gut) roost, symptoms may arise such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. But even when there are no digestive symptoms, the microbiome can still be out of balance – often leading to disastrous consequences for our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Anyway, gut health is a whole other topic itself. Today, we’re focusing on one proven way of helping the good guys in our guts – Fermented foods! An amazing source of probiotics.
What’s the Difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Prebiotics are foods that our gut bacteria like to eat and are contained in foods such as: root and dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and pulses.
Probiotics are any food, drink or supplement which contain beneficial bacteria. One of the best sources of probiotics is fermented food and drinks, that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
You might be familiar with some of the most famous fermented foods; sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso. Many cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, but with the advances in technology and food preparation, these traditional foods have been largely lost in our society, but they are making a come back, with new, almost boutique, ‘fermenters’ out there doing their thing.
Check out these guys if you fancy trying out some gut-loving goodness for yourself!
But why do we need them?
• Digestion and absorption
As some of the sugars and starches in food have been broken down through the process, fermented foods are easier to digest, which helps when you have a sensitive tummy!
• Synthesis and availability of nutrients
Fermentation can also increase the availability of vitamins and minerals for our bodies to absorb from food. Additionally, colonic bacteria manufacture many B vitamins and folic acid and synthesise vitamin K – WIN.
• Immune functions
Weirdly, a large proportion of the immune system is housed in the gut. By consuming probiotic-rich foods, you are supporting the gut lining as a natural barrier, making the immune system more robust. A lack of beneficial bacteria allows disease-causing microbes to grow causing inflammation in the gut wall. Which is why probiotic foods are particularly helpful if you have recently taken a course of antibiotics.
• Mood and behaviour
The gut and brain are inextricably linked; the gut is lined with neurons that can influence our emotions and feelings. Serotonin – a neurotransmitter involved in mood – is made in the gut and research suggests that as probiotic bacteria contribute to a healthy gut, they are also linked to a healthy mind.
In conclusion – admittedly, they do take a bit of getting used to (both the taste and the effect!), but with hundreds of years of history supporting the use of these probiotic rich foods, it can’t hurt to add a spoonful or two to your lunch box!