The human body has evolved to become a self-organizing and self-healing organism that conceives of truly magnificent ways to maintain vitality. One of the most important ways the body maintains health is the digestive system. Not only are hormones regulated through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but roughly 80% of our immune system is found in the gut!
The GI tract is 30 feet long and is found to have an immense impact on mood, weight control and eliminating toxins from the body. Eating a balanced diet assists the body in sustaining balance and vitality. Our level of wellness begins with what we eat as it has the ability to ward off illness and harmonize the internal environment with the changes in our external world.
And there in lies the secret power of probiotics.
Probiotic foods boost immunity, improve digestion (which improves mood), prevent urinary tract infections, stabilize blood sugars, manage some skin disorders and can help heal inflammatory disorders of the GI tract. These foods are easy to make and so chock full of live microorganisms, your body will be buzzing from the boost.
DIY: Probiotic Foods
You don’t have to be super crafty to make these delicious and super gut healthy foods at home. It requires a bit of planning because some take more time than others (like 6 months for a good miso). And others you can plant in your garden, toss in your smoothie or whip up for a breaky on the go.
- Kefir: Yogurt’s cousin, kefir grains are combined with milk and fermented. The fermentation of milk is caused by bacteria and yeasts in kefir grains which breakdown lactose. It has been consumed for over 3,000 years and can be enjoyed by individuals who are lactose intolerant.
- Sauerkraut: Lacto fermented cabbage with cancer fighting compounds and belly slimming savvy. It has more probiotic power than yogurt when unpasteurized and prepared without vinegar.
- Fresh snap peas: Plant them in the early spring and reap the benefits all season. These veggies have a natural low temperature fermentation process.
- Pickles: Not all pickles are created equal because not all of them are actually fermented. You can make your own at home without risking that the good bacteria is killed off by pasteurization with chopped veggies, salt and water.
- Kimchi: Cultured veggies like sauerkraut, Korean style. Chopped veggies like cabbage, ginger, onion, fish and carrots are left to ferment ( with a little fish sauce) for 1-2 weeks.
- Apple cider vinegar: Full of enzymes and easy to make at home with whole apples or left overs from your crisp. It takes 2-3 months from start to finish and it is best to use organic apples as the skins can be loaded with pesticide.
- Kombucha: Fermented black tea that has gained popularity. It is started with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast or SCOBY and originated somewhere around 211 B.C.
- Beer, wine and cider because anything fermented, but it can wreak a bit of havoc for gluten intolerant folks and these bubbly beverages burn like sugar.
- Yogurt: A heavy weight champion of probiotic foods because if comes from goat, sheep or grass-fed, A2 cow’s milk and it’s organic you are getting all the goods. The sugar content in most yogurt on the market kills the cultures and defeats the purpose of eating it.
- Salt-water brined olives: Naturally fermented by a lactic acid bacteria present in olives. They can decrease bloating and are fun to eat.
Probiotic Foods to Try
Tempeh: fermented soy made with a yeast starter, but make sure the soy is non-GMO!
Miso: a macrobiotic staple made with fermented soybean, rice or barley in Chinese and Japanese diets for nearly 3,000 years
Kvass: an ancient Eastern European fermented beverage made with rye or barley.
Raw cheese: goat or sheep’s milk cheese, unpasteurized.
Yummy Probiotic Supplement
Dark chocolate- a fermented prebiotic and a probiotic food that fights inflammation. This might be cheating a bit to call it a supplement, but I couldn’t resist. Proper supplements get tricky and require a deeper look, suffice it to say reputable brands with a high CFU count usually between 15-100 billion are a good start. Look for strain diversity 10-30 different strains and always keep them refrigerated.
Technically, you can also supplement the probiotics already alive in your body by eating a high-fiber diet.
Probiotic Health Benefits
Critical to disease prevention, maintaining vibrant health, glowing skin, super immunity (because nearly 80 percent of your immune system is in the GI!) and balanced emotional health is the health of the digestive system. The second largest part of the GI is the nervous system which may indicate why so many diseases can be traced back to gut health.
Besides amping up our ability to fight infection, mediating mood and literally preventing chronic disease, what could be a bigger benefit?
One of the worst crimes against digestion was the invention of the refrigerator! When humans had to ferment food to keep it from actually spoiling, probiotic supplements were unnecessary because the food itself was medicinal. A few other culprits for killing the beneficial bacteria in the gut? Sugar, GMO foods, prescription drugs, emotional stress, tap water (fluoride and chlorine) and grains. When you make these foods a part of your daily diet you give your body what it needs to do what it does best.
A little mantra to live by ‘sour food is power food’.