Hello friends! I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful week. Just a quick note to say I’ll be at One Yoga Saskatoon between 12-4pm tomorrow, Saturday March 1st, to answer any and all of your nutrition questions! That’s why the post is coming today rather than on Monday.
Anyhoo, without further ado let’s get to today’s Dear Cait topic. I’ll be breaking this post down into a few parts as I think probiotics are just that important. Today we’ll cover some of the basics and some great food sources of probiotics. Then in the next couple installments we’ll look at specific strains of bacteria and how they function in our bodies. Let’s check it out.
I’ve been hearing a lot about these things called probiotics, but I’m really not sure exactly what they are or why they’re important. I thought bacteria were bad for our health and made us sick? Could you help me out? Thanks! –F
Hey there F, thanks for sending in your question! To really get a good understanding of the role of probiotics in a healthy body, we can look at the meaning of the word itself: pro-for and biotic-life, so literally probiotics are “for life.” They help us with tons of bodily functions such as digestion, absorption, and immunity, which are all requirements for a healthy life. The old saying “You are what you eat” is quickly being replaced by “You are what you absorb!” and probiotics help us absorb all the awesome nutrients we’re eating in our delicious whole-foods diets. In healthy people you’ll often see a balance of good bacteria & yeasts to “bad” bacteria & yeasts of about 80-20. When this balance gets out of whack due to an overconsumption of processed foods, sugar and alcohol, smoking, or an overuse of antibiotics, it can lead to a many issues in the body starting with constipation or diarrhea and leading to compromised immune function and a whole host of illnesses!
When the bacteria in your digestive tract become imbalanced it is a state called dysbiosis and published research has shown this imbalance can be at the root of many different symptoms such as:
- Autoimmune illness and disease
- B12 deficiency
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression, anxiety, & mood swings
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Cystic acne
One of the major players in dysbiosis, Candida albicans, (a type of fungus) itself can be the cause of a ton of the above mentioned issues such as aches and pains, brain fog, depression, PMS, gas and bloating, eczema, and mood swings. This fungus is also the culprit behind yeast infections and thrush. When we’re overprescribed antibiotics, which kill all bacteria in the body—good and bad—, Candida is given the opportunity to flourish in our digestive tracts where it then burrows through the intestinal lining to colonize itself throughout the body. (Check out Elizabeth Lipski’s excellent book Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion for a more in-depth look at dysbiosis, probiotics, and supplements).
As you can see, it’s important that we maintain a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract, not only because of their effect on immune function, but also because of their digestive function in our bodies. We have a symbiotic relationship with beneficial bacteria in that we give them a place to live and food to eat and they help break down foods that our bodies can’t digest and in the process create nutrients, such as some B vitamins and vitamin K, which we can then use and absorb. We can maintain a healthy digestive microflora by consuming fermented food products, as this process of fermentation is what cultures the beneficial bacteria and yeast. You can pretty much ferment or pickle any vegetable you want and come up with a delicious and super nutrient-rich probiotic food. Amazingly, even before we understood the science behind the benefits of probiotic foods, cultures around the world have been fermenting and eating them as a regular part of their traditional diets. Here’s a great list of some readily available and delicious fermented foods:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Brine-cured pickles (such as Bubbies)
- Kefir (cow, goat, or coconut milk)
- Yogurt (cow, goat, or coconut mik)
- Some cheeses
In order to ensure you’re getting all the benefits from your fermented foods make sure you’re buying unpasteurized products, as the process of pasteurization kills off all bacteria, good and bad.
Alrighty, so now that we’re colonizing our digestive tracts with all these awesome bacteria and yeasts, we want to feed them the right foods to ensure they are functioning optimally. We call their food “prebiotics,” which are typically different types of fibre that our bacteria love to munch on. These fibres are indigestible to our bodies, but make an amazing food source for our healthy gut bacteria. The main two prebiotic fibres are inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which have been shown to increase lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two strains of probiotics that typically colonize the small and large intestines respectively. We’ll go into more detail in the next post, but the gist is you want these guys happy and fed, so make sure you’re getting a few grams of prebiotic fibre every day. Some great sources include:
- Jerusalem artichokes (perhaps my favourite on this list!)
- Dandelion greens
These are some delicious foods to start incorporating into your diets! Jerusalem artichokes make delicious fries, chips, and purees that you can use to replace potatoes to increase your prebiotic intake. One word of warning, sometimes when you make a radical switch towards including higher levels of prebiotics in the diet you can get a little… farty. This gassiness should pass (hehe) in a few days as you start rebalancing your probiotic population and don’t worry they shouldn’t be very stinky, just loud and hilarious 😉
Alrighty, well that’s it for Probiotics: Part 1.
If you’re looking for more ways to get your fermentation feet wet, check out my FREE e-book Eat Your Way to a Happy Belly with Fantastic Fermentables. It’s packed with information on the benefits of probiotic foods and 15 easy peasy, vegan & paleo friendly recipes. Click here to download it now! Enjoy!
See you next week folks! Have a wonderfully whimsical weekend!
Want more? Read Part 2 here!