Thanks to new emerging evidence that supports how important our microbiomes are to our health, gut health is at the forefront of health concerns today; it’s about time! Our guts control and deal with every aspect of our health. From our mood to our weight to our food cravings, hormones, overall wellness, how we digest our food and even the food sensitivities we have. Our guts are essentially what determine our overall health.
Research has shown that we have more bacteria organisms in our body than typical cells; we’re essentially walking forms of bacteria. But the good news is, many forms of these bacterial cells are beneficial and help us fight disease. It’s when unhealthy bacteria from certain yeasts, fungi, parasites, worms, and others take over that become a problem. We encounter bad bugs every single day in various ways most of us don’t realize. These bacteria are found in conventional animal foods, toxic and polluted waters (and fish from those waters), tap water, parasites from the environment and our food, foodborne illnesses, food poisoning, and they can also take over our body if we’ve ever taken prescription drugs, antibiotics, birth control pills, or have a long history of an unhealthy diet.
Establishing a Gut Health Protocol: Where to Start
The best way to regain gut balance and establish a healthy digestive system is to give your body more good bacteria than sources of bad bacteria. Probiotic supplements are a great place to start, but unless you find a reputable brand that seems to work for you, they can be a waste of time and money due to loss of bacteria cultures through transit time, manufacturing practices, and even due to heat damage from the weather if not stored properly in the store.
Foods that contain probiotic cultures are the best way to eat your way to a healthy gut, along with avoiding foods that feed unhealthy bacteria. Bad microbes’ favorite foods are sugar and anything that turns to sugar quickly in the bloodstream like refined grains and even natural sugars, processed foods, conventional animal products laced with bad bacteria, and alcohol. These foods fuel bad bacteria and allow them to take over, so work on eating more organic foods, especially greens and all vegetables, fiber-rich foods which cleanse the body like flax, chia and psyllium, and eat a variety of anti-fungal foods like coconut, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, oregano, cruciferous vegetables, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and olive oil. Next, add cultured and properly fermented foods into your diet which provide tons of good bacteria cultures for your body.
Probiotic-rich foods support the immune system, digestive system and can even reduce cravings for unhealthy foods like sugar and refined grains because they bring the good bacteria into balance and starve the bad bacteria from thriving. These foods feed the good guys, not the bad guys!
Top 5 Fermented Foods to Add to Your Diet
Sauerkraut has been around for hundreds of years and has been used as a digestive remedy, healer, and immune system booster. It’s also a great way to preserve your food and is easy to make at home. Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage which naturally has B vitamins for good gut health and natural prebiotics. See these tips for making your own at home and have a serving a day with any meal that you choose.
Kimchi is a fantastic source of probiotics and very similar to sauerkraut with a few differences. It’s normally spicier and is known as Korean kraut. Containing peppers and other vegetables, it’s also normally richer in antioxidants though still made in a base of cabbage. It does not contain caraway seeds, dill or other spices typically used in sauerkraut. Choose this option if you want more bang for your buck and more spice in your bite! See tips on making your own kimchi at home and why it truly is such a healing food to include in your diet.
3. Real Pickles
Real pickles (not those on the shelves) are much like sauerkraut except made with cucumbers and spices. Buy real pickles found in the produce section that are refrigerated. The best brands will just include organic cucumbers, salt (preferably sea salt) and water. Several brands also include herbs like dill or even garlic and onion if you like more flavor. Pickles are packed with good probiotics, and cucumbers that they are made from have many gut healing properties along with sources of minerals like silica which aids the health of the hair, skin and nails.
4. Raw Coconut Yogurt
Yogurt is fantastic cultured food to include in your healing plan and in your regular routine. Why? Because unlike fermented foods, yogurt is a cultured food meaning it is kept in a stabilized environment to ensure the right cultures develop and take place. Normally it is made with milk which mixes the cultures acidophilus and a few others that provide healing and regulating properties to the digestive tract. However, if you’re a dairy-free eater or just looking to avoid the negative issues that can come from eating dairy, opt for homemade raw coconut yogurt. Avoid those in the store that have a good bit of fillers and sugars that can actually hurt your gut instead of help it. Coconut yogurt also has the benefits of containing antiviral nutrients known as lauric acid and caprylic acid which have been shown to fight and kill yeasts and other forms of bad bacteria in the body. Coconut yogurt is also delicious creamy, filling, and so easy to make!
5. Water or Coconut Kefir
Water kefir is a great option to dairy-based kefir, which has 10- 12 times the probiotics than yogurt. However, one thing to keep in mind about kefir is that is made from yeasts, not just probiotic cultures. Kefir is made from kefir grains which are not grains but merely a cluster of yeasts that produce good bacteria during the culturing process. If you’re sensitive or allergic to yeast, you’ll need to opt for yogurt instead since it is not derived from yeast. However, if you are not sensitive to yeast, definitely opt for kefir whenever possible. It is one of the most ancient healing beverages to consume and is available as water or coconut kefir if you do not tolerate dairy. See more tips about coconut kefir here, or purchase water kefir at your local health food store.
Bonus: Raw Cacao or Dark Chocolate (90 percent or higher)
Unless you have candida overgrowth, (which can be triggered by chocolate due to it being fermented with wild airborne yeasts and not cultured in a stabilized environment), feel free to enjoy chocolate occasionally to support gut health. Why? Because dark chocolate, especially raw cacao, is actually rich in natural probiotics. The beans go through fermentation after they are harvested which is when the delectable tastes of chocolate actually forms. When purchasing cacao, always buy raw and organic if you can to avoid pesticides, chemicals, and possible toxins such as lead that can occur in regular chocolate. Dark chocolate that is organic and 90 percent is also a great choice, just be sure to avoid those especially high in sugar which feeds bad bacteria in the body. Cacao is also a great source of iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins that establish a healthy gut too. See more about chocolate for gut health here!
Now that you’ve got an array of healthy foods for your gut, have a look at all of our recipes and see how you can work these probiotic-rich foods into your plant-based meals. Got a meal idea you’d like to share? Leave us a comment and let us know!
For more on candida overgrowth, probiotics, fermented foods and gut health, also be sure to check out some expert tips from a professional in the field, such as Donna Gates of Body Ecology, and Ricki Heller, who you can find at RickiHeller.com.
Lead Image Source: Amy/Flickr