Fitness & Nutrition Tips

The Microbes Within: Probiotics & Prebiotics

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We have become a germophobic culture. We use antibacterial soap at most sinks, ultra-pasteurize our food, and even disinfect our shopping carts before we touch them. Most of us appreciate good hygiene and sanitation as much as the next person, but are all bacteria bad? When it comes to food, our digestive tracts and our immunity, the presence of bacteria is essential to overall good health.

Bacteria generally have a bad rep, so the idea of throwing a few billion down the hatch per day for your health might seem hard to swallow. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria called probiotics!

What in the world are probiotics?

Probiotics (pro + biota, combined to mean “for life”) are living bacteria that line our intestinal walls. These “friendly bacteria” not only aid digestion and strengthen immunity, they also help ward off pathogens, balance out the aftermath of antibiotic therapy, improve tolerance to lactose, clear up skin disorders, regulate emotions and mitigate depression.

The human GI tract contains more than 500 species of bacteria. This community of trillions of microbes together weighs up to 2.2 pounds and its cells outnumber human cells by a whopping 10:1- no wonder they’re so important!

If probiotics are alive, how do they thrive?

Probiotics feed on a special form of naturally occurring dietary fiber called prebiotics. Prebiotics foster an inviting, lush environment in our bodies and nourish the thousands of good bacterial species already living in our gut. Fortunately, they are found in thousands of edible plants so if you are a vegetable monger, you’re set! Green vegetables, Jerusalem artichokes, oatmeal, and legumes are particularly rich sources.

Making friends with “good” bacteria

Probiotics can be found in dairy, fruit or vegetable foods that are allowed to sour or ferment deliberately out of refrigeration. This ancient practice is called lacto-fermentation, and it not only makes food easier to digest, it also boosts nutritional value and provides many of the  health benefits described above. Yogurt and kefir, cultured vegetables, and fermented beverages like kombucha are some of the probiotic foods eaten throughout the world today.

In addition to buying the many probiotic rich products on the market, you can easily make your own tasty and nutritious probiotic foods at home to boost your health with surprisingly little effort or expense. The time and energy spent to prepare these tasty, curious delights is truly worth it. You’ll see exponential returns in your health and you may even have fun experimenting in your kitchen lab too!

Get Cultured!

Traditionally preparing foods can sometimes be a bit intimidating. Fermenting at home is not nearly as complicated or time consuming as you may think. Sauerkraut, for example, requires very little equipment, and will save you loads of money. By using a few simple ingredients (cabbage and pink Himalayan salt) plus minimal tools (a cutting board, large bowl, knife and Mason jar) a boatload of homemade sauerkraut is at your fingertips. Once you understand the process you’ll be delighted by the end product. There’s just something extra special about creating healthy foods from scratch!

 

To keep you inspired and exploring the edible microbial world, you can find tons of fantastic recipes online. Master Fermentor, Sandor Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation is a great resource that explores the fun and delicious world of cultured foods. Here are just a few ideas to start exploring: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso, microalgae, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha.

See you Saturday!

 


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