The human body is complicated and how and why it does certain things are still a mystery. One major mystery is how the body can house about 10 trillion microbes in the gut – the intestines to be exact. These microorganisms include viruses, fungi bacteria, and yeast. The bacteria are what we will be discussing further. Your body not only houses these bacteria but also depends on them for basic biological functions like supporting the immune system, nutrient absorption, neurotransmitter and hormone production, synthesis of vitamins and digestive enzymes, and maintenance of the brain and mental health. Good bacteria do this.
In the intestines, there are good and harmful bacteria. Normally, the beneficial bacteria are dominant which leads to optimum digestive health. On the rare occasion that pathogenic bacteria overrun the gut, you have a situation called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis happens for a variety of reasons (which we shall discuss in a bit) and when it does happen you see a definite change in the way your digestive system behaves.
- Nutrient absorption is compromised so you would be chronically fatigued.
- Trouble focusing, paying attention, or learning.
- Gas, bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux.
- Trouble urinating or defecating.
- Joint aches are the result of inflammation.
- Incessant itching in the vaginal and/or rectum.
- Skin breakouts, rashes, and acne.
- Food intolerances
If the imbalance in the gut is not severe, the gut has the capacity to right itself within a short time. However, should this condition persist and then be left unchecked you are in for some trouble. Dysbiosis is the foundation of many diseases and chronic conditions like leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, candida, colitis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, celiac disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, skin conditions, and liver or heart disease.
How to Keep the Gut Microbiome Safe?
If you are a fairly healthy person, you may have experienced dysbiosis at least once and didn’t think much of it. Any interruption to the gut microbiome sets off dysbiosis which is why the actual cause is difficult to pin down. It could be one or a cumulation of several factors. Here’s a list of possible factors that affect the beneficial bacteria and what you can do to set it right.
|Causes of Gut Distress
|How to Rectify the Issue
|Lack of physical exercise: Lots of us either lack the motivation or the time to get some exercise. Unfortunately, this causes digestive problems. Certain exercises encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria while arresting the growth of pathogens.
|Exercise doesn’t always mean hitting the gym. You could include movement in your everyday activities. Walk it instead of taking the car. Swabbing the house floors, gardening, and squeezing a quick jog can also get the job done. If nothing else, run up and down the stairs a few times each day. It does make a difference.
|Sleep disruptions: The probiotic bacteria follow circadian rhythms similar to your own. When giving up sleep becomes a habit, you are set up for dysbiosis.
|Sleep whenever you can. This doesn’t mean you start to let sleep interrupt your life but it does mean that you try to get your 8 hours of rest at night. Not only would you feel refreshed, but your tummy will also thank you.
|Stress: Chronic stress can cause gastrointestinal issues. The high levels of cortisol and the constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system signal to the gut that something is wrong. When stressed you often feel the need to empty your bowels – this means that your gut is affected.
|Stress is unavoidable but you can deal with it. There are several ways of doing that – meditation, yoga, or even a relaxing bath. Listening to music or learning a new skill could also help. Exercise is very effective in dealing with stress. The endorphins released during exercise help to alleviate the feelings of stress.
|Alcohol and tobacco use: Though the actual “how” is yet to be determined, it was found that elevated levels of alcohol can cause a disruption in the gut flora by promoting the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Exposure to cigarette smoke can elevate the pH levels of the intestines which may enable dysbiosis.
|If quitting is too hard, reduce it. An occasional drink is all right but excessive drinking on a daily basis is a surefire recipe to hurt the gut. Also, smoking is bad; not just for the gut but for your overall health.
|Use of artificial sweeteners: The calorie-conscious insist on using non-caloric artificial sweeteners for drinks and desserts. However, extended use of these sugars causes chaos in the digestive system and eventually leaky gut.
|There is always the option of natural sugars – honey being the most common. Honey can be used as an alternative to sugar almost everywhere. You could also switch to the use of fruits for sweetness in yogurts, desserts, and baked goods.
|Processed foods: They are easy and convenient but processed foods don’t do much other than fill your belly. They lack essential nutrients and because of various additives, they hurt gut the microbes in the intestines.
|Most take-out restaurants and fast-food joints tend to depend heavily on processed foods. Making yourself a meal is so much better for you.
|Meat dependency: The American diet leans heavily on meat. This is all right but when you put more meat than veggies on your plate, the digestive system tends to back up and run slowly. Also, too much meat increases your chances of introducing pathogens like E. coli and salmonella.
|Your body needs protein but not too much of it. It needs vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that can be had only from plant-based foods. Start adding bigger portions of salads, steamed vegetables, and stir-fries to your meals.
|Lack of prebiotic foods: The helpful bacteria in the gut need to be fed and they feed off what is left over from your meals. The bacteria need fiber and omega-3 fatty acids to keep them healthy.
|Adding items like carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, dandelion greens, whole grains, fruits like blueberries, apples, and bananas, low mercury fish, free-range eggs and honey can keep the friendly gut bacteria healthy. These foods are rich in prebiotic fiber. For more, here is a list of Prebiotic Foods you can take a look at.
|Low intake of probiotic foods: Keeping the beneficial gut bacteria healthy is not enough. Research says that a healthy gut has diversity. The lower the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome, the greater the chances of dysbiosis.
|Probiotic supplements almost immediately come to mind, find out about the Top 10 Best Gut Supplements. But in contrary to that, if you aren’t a fan of popping pills or adding another bottle to your medicine cabinet, adding probiotic foods to your diet is a great way to keep the gut healthy.
Various Health Benefits of Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide various health benefits when consumed. They work by improving the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota. Foods that contain such microorganisms are known as probiotic foods. You could mostly find them with food labels marked “live and active cultures” or “probiotic live cultures”. Most fermented foods fall into this category because for the foods to ferment, the bacteria would have to be live and active. However, not all fermented foods are probiotic foods. You must be careful to look at the label when you buy them. Probiotics need a certain temperature range to stay alive so you would probably find them in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
Apart from making a delicious addition to your everyday meals, probiotic foods have various health benefits that not only keep good gut health but influence overall health. Because healthy bacteria influence several biological functions, consequently consuming probiotic-rich foods would directly influence each of those functions.
- The foremost is that probiotic foods support healthy digestion and maintain healthy gut flora. When taken in sufficient amounts, probiotic foods can positively influence gut health.
- Probiotic benefits include weight loss and the maintenance of a healthy weight. With optimum nutrient absorption and better digestion and metabolic health, lesser fats are sent into storage. This is especially true for belly fat.
- The gut bolsters the immune system. The more probiotic foods you eat, the greater the influence on immunity. Many probiotic foods have been shown to improve the production of antibodies and boost immune cells.
- Many probiotic cultures can reduce the severity of certain digestive disorders like IBS, IBS, and ulcerative colitis.
- The health of the tummy shows on the skin, which is why an upset tummy triggers breakouts and acne. When probiotic food becomes a part of your regular diet, you would see results on your skin, it would be healthier, with fewer breakouts and you may even see a significant reduction in eczema and allergies.
- Better cardiovascular health is another health benefit to look forward to. Probiotics help to reduce bad cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check.
- Have you heard of the gut-brain axis? This is a messaging network that connects the gut with the brain. Some studies have linked the gut to mood, motivation, and mental health. Subjects were asked to incorporate probiotics into their diet and results proved that the symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, and memory loss were significantly reduced.
You always have the choice; probiotic supplement or probiotic foods. Ideally, foods are the easier option as they can be taken as a part of a meal and you don’t need to remember to take them. Adding probiotic foods to your diet is easy as the variety and scope of probiotic foods are rather wide.
The Best Probiotic Foods
There are many more probiotic foods as each cultural cuisine has its versions. Mentioned below are the probiotic foods that are the most easily found and easy to incorporate into your everyday meals.
- Raw Milk
Cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk are high in probiotics. When pasteurized, milk loses all healthy probiotic benefits. For milk to be probiotic, you need to get your hands on raw milk that is rich in beneficial enzymes and probiotics that can buffer the digestive tract and immunity.
- Raw and Aged Cheeses
Soft cheeses made from cow, goat, or sheep milk are particularly high in probiotics. Like all other dairy products, they are probiotics only if unpasteurized. Probiotics in aged cheeses last for as long as they are not heated. This includes hard and soft cheeses like provolone, Swiss, gouda, cheddar, Edam, and cottage cheese.
- Probiotic Yogurt
Dairy products are rich in probiotics and yogurt is probably one of the best probiotic foods when not pasteurized. Rich in nutrients and high in protein, eating yogurt benefits the heart, bone health, and immunity and helps with weight management. It is also best to settle the stomach after a heavy meal or if you have an upset tummy.
- Traditional Buttermilk
This is a by-product created when churning butter. Buttermilk is still had as a savory probiotic drink in India. The kind of buttermilk you find in supermarkets isn’t probiotic. If you ever try to make butter at home or if you have access to a local farmer’s market, you could find this probiotic drink then.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink whose consistency is similar to runny yogurt. Because it is fermented, it has a fizzy and viscous consistency and a hard-to-miss sour smell. Taste-wise, it is similar to traditional buttermilk. Often, you would find grains in the kefir. These kefir grains are living symbiotic colonies of yeast and bacteria that turn the milk into kefir. These colonies digest the lactose in the milk and contribute to the distinctive taste. If you are lactose intolerant, you have options like coconut kefir and water kefir.
The most popular of fermented foods, sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and is rich in lactic acid bacteria. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a diverse range of probiotics but is high in organic acids. It is even high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. Sauerkraut makes for a healthy and tasty side dish which is why it is so easy to incorporate into your diet.
Kombucha is black or green tea, the fermentation process of which is started with SCOBY – a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It has been around for almost 2000+ years in Japan and has just recently hit the world market. It is an excellent way to detox the liver and improve energy output – think of it as an energy drink. Moreover, it is packed with probiotics and is an excellent breakfast drink. When buying the bottle, please check for “live and active cultures” on the label.
Another fermented food from Japan, Natto is a fermented soybean product that is rich in Bacillus subtilis. This bacterial strain supports the immune system, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, and improves digestion of the K2 vitamin. Because natto is precooked, it is usually served with a bowl of rice for breakfast or brunch, along with sides.
Miso is a traditional spice from Japan. You will seldom find a Japanese meal without miso soup. It is added to meals as a digestive regulator. Miso is created with fermented soybeans, barley, or brown rice, and the fermentation is achieved by adding koji- a fungus. The easiest way to consume miso is to dissolve a spoonful in hot water. You can add seafood, mushrooms, or meats of your choice.
Kimchi is sauerkraut’s Korean cousin. Fermented Chinese cabbage with spices, red peppers, carrots, garlic, and onion, Kimchi is the ultimate probiotic and prebiotic food, read more on prebiotics and probiotics from here Eating fermented foods add to bacterial diversity and probiotics like onions, carrots, and garlic help to feed the bacteria in the gut. Kimchi does both. Kimchi is rich in mainly lactic acid bacteria and makes a spicy addition to your daily diet.
A fermented drink made from cereals, kvass is slightly alcoholic and has a sweet-sour taste. It is a source of manganese, vitamin B12, iron, copper, magnesium, and dietary fiber. From Russia and Ukraine, this drink is bolstered by adding berries or fruits. This makes it a great antioxidant as well.
- Brine Cured Olives & Pickles
A great addition to sandwiches and even better as sides to a meal, cured olives and gherkins are a great source of probiotics. However, these are bottled goods and many mass producers tend to process these products a lot more and use additives. If you wish to consume them as a probiotic food, opt to buy from a smaller or local manufacturer. Also, ensure that the product you buy does not add sodium benzoate – an additive that negates the health benefits of foods.
An Indonesian product with several major strains of healthy bacteria, tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans and is almost cake-like in consistency. It can be consumed raw, boiled, or by adding it to miso and other soups. It is sometimes used as a replacement for meat by vegans. Once boiled, it becomes similar to tofu so there are several ways you can consume tempeh.
Probiotic foods are beneficial only when the foods have undergone natural fermentation. Certain manufacturers may add taste enhancers to sell products. They aren’t harmful but will not have any probiotic benefits. Always ensure that you know the source of the foods before you buy them and the smartest thing to do is to either buy local or you could even try fermenting foods yourself.
- For those dedicated to bolstering their gut health through probiotic-rich foods, incorporating Biotics 8 can be a seamless addition. It’s a thoughtfully curated supplement that augments your gut’s microbiome with a diverse array of beneficial bacteria, synergistically enhancing the efficacy of your food-based probiotic intake.
When charting through the best probiotic foods, women should not overlook the potential of tailored supplementation. Yourbiology Gut+ complements your dietary choices with its precise formulation geared towards women’s digestive health, bolstering the probiotic benefits of foods and encouraging a balanced gut ecosystem.
Adding Probiotics to Your Diet
Once you begin to add probiotics to your everyday diet, you would slowly see an improvement in several health conditions. There are several healthy recipes available and you could start with drinks as they are an easier start. There is always the option of probiotics in supplement form. However, trying the foods first would be ideal. You need not have to take yet another pill. A word of caution – more probiotics would not give you quicker results, you would only have an upset gastrointestinal system. Start slow and pace yourself. A typical daily meal would look something like this:
- Breakfast: A probiotic yogurt smoothie with oats, bananas, and chia seeds. A bowl of fruit and some toast.
- Lunch: Stewed Chicken with steamed French beans and asparagus. A side of sauerkraut and a drink of your choice.
- Snacks: Carrot sticks, Whole grain crackers, and mixed nuts.
- Dinner: Steamed and grilled tempeh, steamed veggies, and miso soup with shrimp bits. A buttermilk drink with fennel seeds and ginger.
When eating for your gut, it is heavily recommended that you stick with a plant-based diet. If that is not easy, try to include meat or fish in only one meal a day. Your gut would be ever-so-grateful. Also learn more about Digestive Superfoods, from here!