Have You Had Your Bacteria Today?

BY April Reigart TIMESeptember 20, 2014 PRINT

Probiotics. You know this word. Everyone is talking about it. You may have already visited your local health food store and had a deep conversation with the person working there regarding which probiotic supplement might be right for you. If you are now taking a probiotic supplement, you are on your way to better digestive health.

However, it is time to up the ante. Eating probiotics can prove to be far more beneficial than supplementing alone. We can eat beneficial bacteria in healthful amounts by consuming fermented foods.

Bacteria Benefits

Firstly, it is crucial to understand just how important it is to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is like any other microbiome–think of healthy soil on a farm, for instance–in that it relies and thrives on having a plethora of friendly bacteria living and working together.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, your intestines are responsible for about 85 percent of your immune system. Throwing this balance off in any way–which may happen with the overuse of antibiotics, eating dead, processed foods that are full of chemicals but devoid of living organisms, and being unaware of food allergies or sensitivities–can greatly compromise your overall health.

As noted in another article by Dr. Mercola, where he cites scientific research, the presence or lack of bacteria in the digestive tract affects behavior, as well as gene expression. Scientists have linked certain bacterial deficiencies to such disorders as autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.

All of this is to say that it is imperative to take care of your digestive health, and to make sure you are host to many beneficial bacteria. One action you can take is to participate in the American Gut Project. By sending in a sample for research, you will be able to learn more about the bacteria present in your gut.

Another, more immediate, action to take that will directly impact your health for the long term is to start eating bacteria. This doesn’t mean you have to start scooping up handfuls of dirt. You can start by adding more fermented foods to your diet.

Lacto-Fermented Foods

Yogurt and kefir are not the only way to include probiotics into your diet, which is great news for many who don’t want to consume dairy or try to avoid sugar. Fermented vegetables and drinks are easy to make at home and teeming with live cultures.

People have been consuming fermented foods for thousands of years. It is only recently in history–since the dawn of industrial agriculture in the early 20th century–that we have begun to process and strip our foods of nutrition.

Historically, our ancestors used fermentation as a means to preserve foods for long-term storage. These foods take advantage of the Lactobacillus bacteria, which are naturally present on vegetables, in the air, and on our skin, to create lacto-fermented foods.

The fermentation process calls for the use of saltwater brine. Salt is necessary to kill off harmful bacteria, without affecting Lactobacillus, and lactic acid is also able to deter harmful bacteria. Once these bacteria are eliminated, the beneficial bacteria are free to grow

Eating lacto-fermented foods helps to break down the other foods we eat because they are rich in enzymes and vitamins. This also helps us to more readily absorb other nutrients.

Lactic acid promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut, and this greatly enhances immunity and overall well-being.

Bought or Homemade

Many fermented foods are readily available at natural food stores, including sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and natto (traditionally fermented soy foods), and even fermented fish. However, it is also quite simple to make them at home.

The lacto-fermentation process is very direct. Naturally occurring Lactobacillus is combined with the natural sugars present in vegetables, fruit, grains, or milk, some salt is added to help ward off harmful bacteria in the beginning stages, and an anaerobic environment is provided to allow fermentation to proceed. 

For example, place gherkin cucumbers in to a clean jar with any desired spices. Add salt water to well above the top of the cucumbers. Cover loosely with a lid so that gases can escape, and leave the jar at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks. Then refrigerate.

It is important to have the right amount of salt and to keep oxygen away form the vegetables, so be sure to find and follow detailed instructions if you are new to fermentation.

People have been consuming fermented foods for thousands of years. They make great side dishes, additions to sandwiches, and toppings for salads.

April Dawn Reigart, CHHC, AADP, is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She offers individual and group coaching to help people achieve healthier living and eating.

April Reigart is a certified holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She does private and group coaching and lectures monthly to a Web-based fitness group.
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