Our bodies fight bad bacteria with good bacteria.
This article will explore how our gut microbiota works, what foods to eat, and address the issues of probiotic supplements.
Invisible Enemies vs. Gut Microbiota
There are bacteria and viruses in every environment and it is inevitable that you will eat some of them with your food. Your gut will protect you from most assaults with the army of microbes in your gut. This is called your Gut Microbiota. (you actually have beneficial bacteria throughout your body, and on your skin, but we will just focus on those in your gut).
Microbiota = bacteria + viruses + fungi + protozoa
It seems a little surreal that our digestive system is teeming with microbes, but this is a natural result of adapting to our environment. Like many other animals, we have developed a symbiotic relationship with some organisms (1). The microbiota and our immune system support each other. The microbes fight off bad bugs which help to keep us healthy. The microbes also produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that actually feed the cells lining the gut, which keeps those cells functioning smoothly. The immune system produces IgA, which among other things, helps to regulate the microbiota. This is a complex dynamic, but if you are looking to dive deeper into this, here's a good read:
Probiotics are the good bacteria in your microbiome, and they are getting a lot of attention lately. They not only fight off bad bacteria, but they assist with digestion, produce vitamins and hormones and immune factors (2). We can encourage the growth of probiotics by providing them with PRE-biotics.
Pre-biotics are foods that provide non-digestible fiber. This ND fiber does more than keep you regular and lower your cholesterol. Pre-biotic provide a base on which the good bacteria in your gut can feed and multiply. Without the pre-biotics, the probiotics will struggle to grow. It’s like expecting a flower to grow on pavement. The flower needs the right soil, and the right conditions to thrive. Your microbiome needs ND fiber.
Unfortunately, due to highly processed nature of most foods and meals, our intake of fiber rich plant foods has gone down. This will diminish the diversity of the microbiome, and its ability to support our immune system. Some researchers are exploring the link between our microbiota diversity and immune system dysfunctions.
The good news is that you can strengthen your gut microbiota by eating pre-biotic and probiotic-rich foods. Regular addition of pre-biotic and probiotic foods will support your microbiome and helps to support the immune system.
Pre-biotics: (ND fiber)
Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils
Vegetables: carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes etc.
Cultured dairy: Yogurt, Kefir, and some cheeses
Fermented products with active cultures: Kimchi (usually cabbage), Miso (from soybeans) and the popular fermented drink, Kombucha
Note: Dairy products are pasteurized first, then the probiotics are added afterward. The nutrition label will identify if there are active cultures in it.
"What about probiotic supplements?"
If you have considered buying probiotic supplements, there are more than a few things to keep in mind.
1) Most probiotics need to be refrigerated to keep them stable; some freeze dried versions can be left on the counter.
2) Work with a nutritionist or your doctor to determine exactly what probiotic you want. They will be able to guide you to either a specific recommended products or give you the genus, species and strain, such as lactobacillus acidophilus M23 (3).
3) Next you want a product that provides between 1-10 billion CFUs (colony forming units)
4) The quality of probiotics diminishes over time, so it's best to buy a month at a time. Don't expect the same results from a probiotic supplement that you've had sitting in the cupboard for 6 months.
5) Take them with food
6) Give it time. A least 6 weeks to allow your microbiota time to accommodate the new bacteria. The probiotic needs time to grow to the point where it becomes functional.
7) You may have side effects like gas or bloating while your gut adjusts.
8) Don't give them to children - just give them yogurt!
"What about Fermented vegetables?"
This is a great question! If you learn to properly ferment vegetables like pickles and cabbage at home, then you will be able to benefit from the probiotics produced during the fermentation process. BUT most people buy their pickles and cabbage from the grocery store, which have no probiotic benefit due to the heat of pasteurization. Some food manufacturers are now providing fermented products, but these must be found in the refrigerated section of the store.
You don't need to be an expert on any of this. Just be smart about balancing your diet by eating more whole grains and vegetables. This simple advice will improve your immune system and will promote a strong gut microbiota!
There is so much about food and health that differs from one person to another. I would be honored to work with you to find the balance that works for you. You can contact me through this website, email or call me directly.
~ Rose RN, Health Coach & Nutritionist
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Until next time...
~ Be Kind to Yourself!