Who would have guessed that bacteria are our best friends when it comes to being healthy and happy? We’ve spent over 50 years killing off bacteria with the excessive use of antibiotics, antibiotic wipes, gels, soaps and cleaners, only to discover that we live in synergy with over 100 trillion bacteria in our digestive system alone. Bacteria are an integrate part of our wellbeing - so much so, that I often designate antibiotics as a special interest/food group in their own right. They are an essential part of who we are and they can be life changing! Let’s have a closer look….
It’s mind-blowing when we explore what bacteria can do for us: they train our immune system to keep us well over our lifetime, they make vitamins for us, they activate our hormones, they make our happy brain chemicals, they detox us and keep us safe, they fight off pathogens, they digest our food and even determine our weight. They literally are our friends and need to be treated with great respect.
So How Do We Support And Nourish Our Bacteria?
It’s actually quite simple: by eating and feeding them and by avoiding things that injure them.
Eating and Feeding Bacteria
Let’s start with eating them. Almost every culture in the world has a tradition of eating probiotic foods, foods that brim with bacteria through a natural fermentation process. In Europe, people eat cultured (or fermented) dairy products such as yogurt and kefir. My German grandmother always fermented her left-over produce from her garden and we had pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables to enjoy all year long. Korea is famous for their spicy version of sauerkraut called Kimchi, and the Japanese enjoy Tempeh, Natto, and Miso. In the Middle East Torshi is eaten with almost every dish, and in Russia Kvass is very popular. These foods introduce and colonize our digestive system with healthy bacteria.
If you are ready to introduce these good guys into your system, start slow. The bad guys in your gut may rebel, but persevere. I often recommend my clients start with just a teaspoon of sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice or a small fermented pickle (found only in the refrigerated section) and build from there. For those of you adverse to the sour taste of fermented vegetables, try our coconut kefir, made locally in Grafton, WI. This is also a good option for kids. If you tolerate dairy, full fat, cultured yogurt (Brown Cow and Seven Star’s) or kefir (Lifeway or Redhill) are delicious options. Eventually you want to eat a minimum of 2 TBSP of a fermented food every day. They are easy to incorporate into your salads, shakes, or as a condiment to any dish.
If you want the good guys to take residence and flourish in your digestive system, you also need to feed them with what makes them happy. This is where vegetables play an important role, as gut bacteria thrive on fiber, in particular resistant fiber. Some of the best foods to eat regularly include garlic and onions, leeks, shallots, asparagus, chicory root, artichokes, konjac root, jicama, dandelion greens, sea-veggies, cabbage, fennel, radicchio, green apples, flax and chia seeds. You can’t go wrong with a vegetable and diversity is key!
Things to Avoid that Injure Bacteria
What you do want to avoid is sugar laden foods, processed carbs and grains. These foods will allow the bad bacteria in your gut to proliferate and take charge, putting you at a higher risk of developing disease.
Our good bacteria are also vulnerable to other harms, such as drinking too much alcohol, antibiotics (also found in our tap water, conventional dairy and meats), not getting enough sleep, artificial sweeteners and other food chemicals, lack of exercise, medications and even stress. Unmanaged stress can actually change the nature of a neutral, harmless bacteria into a virulent one. Yikes!
Choosing Pro- and Pre- Biotic Supplements
If you would like a quick jumpstart, you can explore the option of adding a pro and prebiotic supplement to your diet. There are hundreds of choices on the market, but we are here to help you pick the right one for you and your specific concerns whether they be: brain health, mood, energy, weight loss, digestion, immune support and more. Some of my favorites include Garden of Life’s Mood+ and their Colon Care probiotic. I also like their Organic Fiber powder. Probiotic supplements should not be taken indefinitely. I recommend you finish off one supplement bottle, pause for a week, and find a new probiotic with different strains. There are also beneficial yeast probiotics (Saccharomyces Boulardii) and soil based probiotics (Bacillus) to choose from depending on your health wishes.
In summary, make new bacterial friends by including a minimum of 2 TBSP of probiotic foods into your diet daily, eat a wide variety of vegetables rich in prebiotic fibers, and avoid the bacterial stressors. And finally, please know we are here for you to help choose the right foods and supplements for you.
In good health,
Naturopathic Practitioner, Nutritional Therapist, Neurofeedback Clinician