There are millions of microbes in your gut that keep your brain and body healthy. You need these friendly bacteria to function; they influence so many processes in the body, dictating everything from your immune system response to your neurological performance. Unfortunately, because gastrointestinal problems are so common, people often ignore what their gut is telling them, thinking that it’s a minor issue they’ll get over in due course. Sometimes that is all it is – but sometimes, the problem can be more serious. Adding probiotic foods to your diet can be a great way to restore any balance issues in your gut, addressing a lack of natural probiotics and countering a surplus of bad bacteria. So for those looking to rejig their nutritional regimes and improve gut health, which foods can you turn to?
Having the wrong internal distribution of bacteria can set you up for a lifetime of gastrointestinal issues including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea and bloating, and even contribute to severe disorders such as obesity and cardiac problems. In addition, it’s recently been widely accepted that your stomach can affect your mood. There’s an entire nervous system in your gut (sometimes called ‘the second brain’) that communicates with your actual brain. Gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, which regulate your mood, and may contribute to bouts of depression or anxiety. Taking all of this into account, it’s extremely important to keep your gut functioning properly. Here are four foods that can help you do it naturally.
Yoghurt is one of the prime sources of friendly bacteria, which is great for gut health. The key to good probiotics is a process called fermentation; this creates the bacteria as the product is given time to ferment. Yoghurt is made from fermented milk, and is brimming with prominent probiotics, namely bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria. If you want to avail of all the probiotic benefits yoghurt has to offer, it’s important to get your hands on yoghurt with active, live cultures (in many cases, the probiotics are killed off during processing). Ideally, you also want yoghurt which is natural and maybe even homemade. Further, the fresher the yoghurt and the less heat-treated, the higher the amount of residing beneficial bacteria.
Kimchi is a Korean dish that is eaten almost religiously in its home country. In recent years, as Asian foods spread west, people from other countries have fallen in love with kimchi, and not least of all for its probiotic benefits. The dish is essentially fermented cabbage; though this is the base, there are many variations depending on your preference, including vegetable and seafood kimchi. It’s flavoured with a diverse mix of seasonings, and usually enjoyed as a side dish to the main meal. It’s high in numerous vitamins and minerals, as well as containing the lactic acids Lactobacillus kimchii and Lactobacillus sakei, among others. Once again, it’s important to source live kimchi to avail of all the benefits. This can often be found in Asian food stores and locally run shops. Jarred kimchi found in supermarkets is not likely to be active, so will have fewer probiotic benefits.
Sauerkraut is very similar to kimchi, but it’s a European variant popular in Germany. It consists of finely shredded cabbage fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It’s a very traditional dish and has been around for many years; it’s most commonly eaten as a sausage dressing or on its own as a side dish. Sauerkraut is a fantastic source of probiotics, but it’s also great for fibre, an important ingredient that keeps the digestive system ticking over. So if you add sauerkraut into your diet, you can potentially solve two gut issues at once. You’ll need to track down unpasteurised sauerkraut, however, as the pasteurisation process lays waste to all those beneficial bacteria.
Miso is a type of Japanese seasoning that often ends up in soup. If you’ve ever visited a Japanese restaurant, chances are you’ve sampled miso soup – it traditionally accompanies most meals, especially breakfast. The crucial ingredient of miso is fermented soybeans, which give the dish its unique, salty taste. A fungus called koji is also mixed in during the fermentation process. In addition to its copious probiotic benefits, miso is also associated with numerous other health advantages, and is a fantastic source of vitamin K, copper and manganese. The best place to try miso is probably at traditional Japanese or Asian restaurants, but if you fancy a culinary challenge, you can always try whipping some up yourself!
You can also benefit from probiotics through natural supplements. These supplements are often crucial for fighting back against chronic diseases, as much of the immune system’s functionality and effectiveness is dictated by the gut. A robust, healthy diet supported by all-natural supplements is often the best foundation for a successful treatment plan. Make Well produces a line-up of such supplements, providing doctors and patients alike with the means to support chronic disease treatment through natural methods.
Many fermented and probiotic foods can also be self-made. Continue reading in our Do It Yourself section for more information!