A balanced microbiome in your gut is like a beautiful garden that helps digestion and supports your immune system, brain function, mood, metabolism and weight management. We have about 300-500 different species of bacteria living in our gut that form a community of multiple trillions of organisms! And if that is not crazy enough, these microbes have their own DNA and also carry our genetic signature. They are intimately influenced by our lifestyle, the food we eat, the environment we live in and even the thoughts we think.
If you are eating a diet high in processed foods, sugars, starches, preservatives and toxins – you are not cultivating a healthy garden. This can cause problems with digestion, food intolerances, chronic inflammation, foggy brain, sleep disturbances, disease and depression. I don’t know about you – but I want a beautiful, thriving and diverse garden.
People have included fermented foods in their diets for thousands of years. Originally fermentation was used to preserve foods and distill alcohol, and up until now very little has been known about the benefits. Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization WHO as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” 1 Fermentation is the anaerobic conversion of sugar which occurs naturally or with the help of a starter culture. Examples of microorganisms that have the capacity to ferment are yeast and bacteria. Yogurt, creme fraiche, sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, pickles, sourdough, kombucha, miso, vinegar, beer and wine are all examples of foods that have been converted with a little help from their friend bacteria.
So why are these cultured foods so healthy for our microbiome environment?
According to a recent article in Biotechnology – Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond, “The ingestion of fermented foods potentially increases the numbers of microbes in the diet by up to 10,000-fold and consuming ‘living’ fermented foods on a daily basis could be equivalent to introducing new, albeit transient microbes into the indigenous, intestinal microbiota.” 2 Many of the species of bacteria in fermented foods are similar to existing bacteria in the gut and help to support a healthy microbiome environment. They offer a balance to the highly processed, high carb, high fat western diet. It has been demonstrated that when foods of different types share a species of probiotic bacteria, the health benefits of the foods will be similar.
What is surprising is that fermented foods are not well defined and are not considered to be probiotics – a common misconception – although they may contain probiotics. There are probiotics and probiotic containing food – and dairy varieties are the most common in western culture. When fermented foods are supplemented with probiotics, they become even more beneficial – offering immune as well as metabolic advantages.
Just a note – Beer, wine and bread are fermented but don’t have the live organisms that define probiotics!
Foods are divided into 2 categories – prebiotic and probiotic.
Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that promote a healthy environment for your gut and feed the probiotics so that they can thrive. They include:
coconut based foods
Probiotics include most fermented foods:
naturally fermented sauerkraut
natural high quality soy sauce
apple cider vinegar
We are all biodiverse so some of the foods on the above list will be easier for you to include than others. Listen to your body. You may also want to consider supplementing with a basic probiotic blend capsule – make sure that it is enteric coated so that it will survive the journey through the acidic environment of your stomach to benefit your intestinal microbiome.