Are you turned off by the thought of eating bacteria? It’s not surprising. We’ve been taught to avoid germs and microbes ever since we were kids.
But as strange as it sounds, consuming bacteria can be good for you. Very good, actually. Many studies have found that foods fermented by lactic acid-producing bacteria (a beneficial kind of bacteria found in decomposing plants and milk products) can help keep your digestive system functioning properly.This is especially significant for those who suffer from gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or other digestive issues.
A hot topic
While gut health isn’t exactly polite dinner table conversation, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about fermented foods. Basically, because regular consumption boosts the population of good bacteria in the gut. Our internal ecosystem contains both “good” and “bad” bacteria. If the balance tips towards the bad – due to lack of sleep, stress, antibiotics, alcohol consumption and a variety of other causes – it negatively affects our digestive health. And much more. The latest research links gut health to brain function, weight issues, immune function (about 80 percent of your immune system is in our gut) and even emotional well-being.
Fermented foods and drinks versus probiotic supplements
As a professional nutritionist, I’m often asked to compare the two. Probiotics are certainly a convenient option, but I believe that eating (and drinking) friendly bacteria is a much tastier, cheaper and more effective way to get these beneficial microbes into your body. Here’s why:
- Fermented foods and drinks contain beneficial bacteria that are alive and active. Whereas, some probiotics might not even contain live organisms, at least not at the levels claimed on their labels. Some brands provide a live count “at the time of manufacture”, but this doesn’t guarantee the same amount will still be there when you buy the product or take it.
- Fermentation pre-digests vital nutrients for you. Packed with B vitamins, minerals and enzymes, fermented foods and drinks are whole foods full of nutritional value. Supplements are often just single strains of bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Supplements contain bacteria only, while fermented foods and drinks also contain “food” to help promote their growth. It’s like sending the good guys into your digestive tract with a lunchbox of goodies to sustain them on their long journey and to help them set up a cozy home once they reach their destination. Bacteria in a supplement need up to six hours to colonize in your intestines – IF they ever get there. The bacteria in fermented foods and liquids start working at once.
- Fermented foods are some of the best chelators available. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are highly potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals.
Since ancient times
Long before refrigerators or freezers, people used fermentation to keep foods from going bad. Simply put, it’s a chemical breakdown of an organic substance. When a carbohydrate gets converted by yeast, bacteria, or carbon dioxide, it’s fermented – like sugar turning to alcohol or milk turning sour. The process is anaerobic, meaning it takes place without oxygen, which is why fermented foods and canning go hand in hand. Now fermentation is making headlines for health benefits.
The latest trends
Products like kombucha (fermented tea), kimchi (fermented vegetables), miso (fermented soy), yogurt and kefir (fermented milk), and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) are popular because they contain live cultures or probiotics. Just remember that not all fermented foods are healthy. Bread, cheese, and beer are fermented by lactic acid-producing bacteria, but typically don’t contain live microorganisms due to cooking or pasteurization. Room-temp sauerkraut won’t have any living microorganisms and even yogurts can be heat-treated after fermentation, killing most of the helpful bacteria.
Kombucha may be the new “super drink”, but this fermented tea has been around for more than 2,000 years. It’s a living drink packed with antioxidants and probiotics, which makes it both delicious and good for you.
Kombucha is made by fermenting sweetened tea using a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. As the SCOBY “digests” the sugar in the tea, it generates a variety of probiotics, enzymes and amino acids, turning the initial tea into a nutrient-packed, tangy, effervescent health drink that’s also deliciously addictive. I know – I drink a bottle every day!
Readily available in health food stores, you can easily make your own kombucha at home. All it takes is a little patience and care. You only need four ingredients: water, tea, sugar and a kombucha culture (SCOBY). Selecting the right container is key to creating a healthy environment for your SCOBY to grow, and for a quality final product. The “mother” culture that homebrewers use to make kombucha produce “daughter” or “kombucha babies” that are shared with friends or sold online, the same way bread bakers pass along their coveted sour dough starters.
Fermented foods can take a little getting used to and the idea is to start small. If you dare to try, your gut will thank you – and your overall health will benefit!
For more advice on how fermented foods can help with your digestive issues and many other health issues check out the Foodwise Digestive Health Plan at: https://www.foodwise.life/program/digestive-health
And buy some kombucha and try this delicious recipe now!
Strawberry Kombucha Smoothie
2 cups frozen strawberries (other berries work well too)
3-4 ice cubes
1 cup Strawberry Kombucha (or other flavor)
1/4 cup coconut water
Add all of the ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Add more coconut water or chopped strawberries depending on your desired thickness.