Did you know that adults carry an average of two kilograms of bacteria in their digestive system? There are more cells in that mass than there are cells in an entire human body!
Good bacteria for good health
Good bacteria need to prevail to keep us healthy. Their role in our health is so monumental, we can’t afford to ignore them. Boosting your probiotic intake is one way to keep your digestive system healthy.
What are probiotics and why do we need them?
Probiotics are microorganisms that boost the levels of good bacteria in our bodies, and do everything from improving digestion to fighting infections. Consuming extra probiotics is a good way to keep these important bacteria healthy and your intestines functioning well. They are most easily consumed daily in probiotic foods and drinks, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir and miso.
Probiotics and fermented foods
Fermentation is a great way to preserve food. Fermented foods - containing high levels of probiotics - were once a larger part of our diet. Fermentation is the process of adding lactic acid or yeast to a food to change its structure. Sugars and starches are broken down during fermentation.
For example, cabbage leaves used in sauerkraut are naturally covered in Lactobacilli—lacto-fermenting bacteria. As the Lactobacillus start multiplying in the fermentation process, they produce lactic acid - a powerful antiseptic. The lactic acid kills off any putrefactive and pathogenic microbes (the bad bacteria) and preserves the food. If covered by its own juice, a good batch of sauerkraut can keep for five to six years without spoiling.
Probiotic rich fermented foods are easy to make. Many are readily available in supermarkets and health food stores. Here's some of our favorites.
Homemade yogurt is likely to contain more beneficial bacteria and less sugar, preservatives and chemicals than store bought. All it takes to make yogurt is your choice of milk, a starter yogurt culture for the first batch and some basic kitchen supplies.
Homemade yogurt is a great source of calcium, protein, magnesium and other essential vitamins.
Kefir is a fermented/cultured dairy product originating centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains. Tasting like a drinkable yogurt, kefir contains highly beneficial bacteria and yeasts, is rich source of many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and is one of the best sources of probiotics available.
Dill pickle made the old fashioned way in brine (lacto-fermented) is delicious and good for you. During lacto-fermentation, healthy bacteria break the nutrients in food down into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that stops the growth of harmful bacteria while at the same time promoting the growth of healthy micro-flora in the intestine.
An Asian form of pickled sauerkraut, kimchi is an extremely spicy and sour fermented cabbage, typically served alongside meals in Korea. Besides beneficial bacteria, Kimchi is also a great source of beta-carotene, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C, B1 and B2. Kimchi is one of the best probiotic foods you can add to your diet.
Bread made using a sourdough starter improves its nutritional benefits by pre-digesting starches, making the bread more easily digestible; improving glucose tolerance; protecting the Vitamin B1 from the heat damage of baking and activating minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium.
Preserved lemons enhance the cooking of North Africa with their pronounced saltiness and a sourness that is oddly mellowed, rather than enhanced, through fermentation. The simplicity of salt and lemon, preserved lemons take on other unique and complex flavor profiles over time and after proper fermentation.