What you are about to read may shock you.
But if you haven’t already heard of “probiotics”, this may be the more important health information you ever read…
We usually think of bacteria as something dangerous which causes disease, right? Disinfectant cleaning solutions, anti-bacterial soap, antibiotics… it seems like a never-ending battle.
But did you know that we are actually more “bacteria” than “human”?
The average adult human is made up of about 30 trillion cells. But we carry just as many, or possibly many more, microbes (bacteria) in our mouths, intestines, skin, and hair.
But wait! Before you rush for the hand sanitizer, realize that the vast majority of these bacteria are actually friendly and play an extremely important role in our health and well-being.
So what is the amazing role of these friendly bacteria (also called probiotics)?
- They fight off harmful bacteria.
- They teach our immune system how to distinguish between good and bad.
- They feed us! They produce vitamins such as B2, B6, B12, and K.
- In the lungs, they help prevent asthma and infection.
- In the mouth, they help prevent tooth decay.
- In our nose, they can actually manufacture antibiotics!
- On our skin, they help prevent infection and form a first line of defense.
- They help regulate our metabolism- how much energy we store and how much fat we burn.
Where does this healthy bacteria come from?
We all start off in a sterile womb, and as we pass through the birth canal we obtain many of these microbes from our mother. Breast milk also contains microbes. Then as we grow up, play in the dirt, and get kissed on the cheek thousands of times, we pick up the rest of our bacterial friends, which make a home in our intestines and continue helping us throughout our lives.
Children who are born by C-section or take too many antibiotics will not develop this healthy population of microbes, and will be more likely to develop diseases such as asthma, eczema, hyperactivity, autoimmune disorders, frequent infections, and intestinal disorders.
In adults, a poor diet and over-use of antibiotics can also damage this microbial population, leading to digestive issues, frequent infections, obesity, colon cancer, colitis, depression, anxiety, allergies, eczema, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disorders, and more.
So how can you get more of these healthy bacteria?
- Don’t eat a lot of sugar, grains, and starch- these foods decrease your probiotic balance.
- Don’t eat artificial fats (canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, margarine) – they also decrease your beneficial bacteria and cause inflammation in your body (read more here about the dangers of artificial fats).
- Eat REAL food- like vegetables, proteins and healthy fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil). Get in the habit of reading the label on everything you eat and avoid artificial ingredients.
- Don’t over-use antibiotics- let viral illnesses run their course and get in the habit of questioning your doctor- is this antibiotic REALLY necessary?
- If you must take antibiotics, take a probiotic supplement with it.
- Eat foods which are naturally rich in probiotics- fermented foods.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Our ancestors all over the world ate a diet rich in nutritious, fermented foods. Unfortunately, today’s modern diet is mostly composed of factory-made, sugar-laden “dead food”.
Examples of fermented foods include:
- Lebneh and other fermented cheeses (cheddar, swiss, parmesan and gouda)
- Kefir: my personal favorite! A delightful, thick, creamy beverage made from fresh milk which contains over 30 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast.
- Sauerkraut (recipe for Homemade Sauerkraut): a deliciously sour and salty food made from cabbage, loaded with probiotics and immune-boosting vitamins
- Sourdough bread
- Pickles (naturally fermented)
- Prebiotic foods: While probiotic-foods have live bacteria, prebiotic foods feed the good bacteria already living in your gut. You can find prebiotics in items such as honey, bananas, oats, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, pure maple syrup, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils).
I’ll leave you with this wonderful video from NPR (National Public Radio) which explains more about the importance of probiotics: