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The Benefit Of Fermented Foods For Gut Health

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Modern medicine has taken an interesting turn lately in its relationship to bacteria and other microbes. We used to believe that only a sterile environment was a healthy one, but with the discovery of the *microbiome* came a new understanding of how we should view these tiny forms of life and what kinds of foods we should be eating to maintain the relationship that nature gave us. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/bacteria-1832824_1280.png" alt="Bacteria"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> The microbiome is the living network of microbes, both good and bad, living inside, on, and all around us. There is a living network of microbes in your home that helps determine how often you get sick, a network stretched across your skin that works with your skin cells for healthy or unhealthy skin,<sup>1</sup> a network in your mouth to predigest food and to protect or harm your teeth-you get the idea. Microbes are everywhere, and they’re not the big bad wolf of health that we once thought. </div> </div> Today, the fastest growing field of study in health is that of the human gut microbiome, which is the network of microbes that live in our intestinal tracts. From our mouths to the toilet bowl, there is a complex and ever-changing community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and *archaea* (microorganisms that lack a cell “brain”) all working with both each other and the cells of our body to digest our food and turn nutritious meals into nourishing substances to help us and themselves thrive.<sup>2</sup> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Why Gut Health Matters</p></h4> <h5><i>That’s cool and all, but how does that affect us on the day to day?</i></h5> Well, our microbiome, particularly the microbiome in our guts, is monumentally important for a vast array of body processes. For example, did you know that 90 percent of the happy-making hormone, *serotonin*, is made in the gut?<sup>3</sup> A by-product of the relationship between our cells and our gut’s bacteria creates the serotonin our brain cells need in order to feel happy and fight off depression. And that’s not all a healthy gut can do. * The bacteria strain *bacteroidetes* and *firmicutes* have been reported to dominate the gut in obese individuals as opposed to healthy weighted individuals who had very low amounts of either strain.<sup>4</sup> The studies are still being done, but from the looks of it, by changing the composition of your microbiome, you can change your weight! * The microbiome is the first line of defense against harmful pathogens in our bodies. In fact, our white blood cells, the major cells of our immune system, collect along different parts of our digestive tracts to communicate with our microbiomes and react to the triggers directed at them.<sup>5</sup> * Individuals with more diverse microbiomes, those that carry more strains, have been shown to suffer from fewer allergies and get sick less often.<sup>5</sup> * According to the creator of the *GAPS protocol* (Gut And Psychology Syndrome), Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, children diagnosed on the autism spectrum have irregular microbiomes, fewer strains, and more toxic strains of bacteria, and by working to fix the microbiome they have a high rate of seeing relief from the symptoms of their diagnosis.<sup>6</sup> * The microbiome has been called “the second brain” as it does a lot of communicating with the brains in our heads via the *vagus nerve*. This nerve is what makes our stomach upset when we’re nervous and gives us anxiety when we eat too much sugar. It’s a communication pathway that makes the state of our microbiome and the things we feed it as integral to our decision-making and moods as our thoughts themselves.<sup>7</sup> As mind-blowing as all of this information is, it is still only the tip of the iceberg. We are only just seeing the beginnings of research into our microbiome, but just as bacteria and other microbes have played an integral role in our survival since evolution, humans have found ways to live with them and use them to our advantage over the centuries. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Fermented Foods for Gut Health</p></h4> <h5><p style="color: #000000">Where do these bacteria come from? Should we eat food that’s fallen on the floor, then? Or not wash our veggies?</p></h5> No, not quite. Just because some microbes are healthy contributors to our microbiomes does not mean that we should go around eating all the different “dirty” things we can get our hands on. In fact, there is a particular category of foods we should be reaching for when we want a fresh culture for our gut microbiomes: fermented foods. Fermented foods are foods or liquids that have undergone the process of fermentation which works much like rotting only in a controlled environment. The fermentation process grows thousands to millions of microbes per spoonful of food.<sup>8</sup> Because all of the fermentation recipes have been developed over centuries,<sup>9</sup> if done correctly, each spoonful of fermented food is going to give you healthy microbes called *probiotics*. You see, fermented foods were phased out of the American diet in the last century, but their time on our plates stretches back centuries. Every culture has some form of fermented foods or liquids, from northern Europe’s *kefir* to Korea’s *kimchi*; every culture developed a safe method to utilize fermentation to replenish the healthy probiotics in the gut. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/sauerkraut-574170_1920.jpg" alt="Sauerkraut"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> Popular types of fermented foods for gut health: <br /><ul> <li>Kefir</li> <li>Kombucha</li> <li>Kimchi</li> <li>Sauerkraut</li> <li>Yogurt</li> <li>Raw Milk and Cheeses</li> <li>Pickles</li> <li>Tempeh</li> <li>Apple Cider Vinegar</li> </ul> </div> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Making Your Own</p></h4> The variety doesn’t stop there; in fact you can put almost any produce from your fridge through fermentation to create your own living probiotic supply. The process of fermentation is actually quite easy from the human’s perspective, meanwhile the bacteria are busy at work. You fill a jar with brine or a starter culture, pack it with foods like string beans or strawberries, top it off with a jar lid that will allow air to escape, and let it sit at room temperature. Fermentation will happen on its own, and the amount of sugar content in the food will change how long the foods can ferment for. String beans can sit on your shelf for a week where strawberries will turn to wine if they sit for more than two days. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/water-1632314_1920.jpg" alt="Water"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> If you are chomping at the bit to get more beneficial bacterial strains in your gut, you should understand that fermented foods pack a punch! They contain so many strains that most cultures developed these foods as a condiment to a main meal. They should by no means make up the bulk of your diet or take over your plate. </div> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Probiotic Supplements</p></h4> Due to the new popularity with fixing our microbiome cultures, fermented foods have again found themselves back in our diets, along with their manmade counterpart: *probiotic supplements*. Probiotic supplements are created with handpicked strains of bacterias and fungi meant to increase the diversity of microbes in your gut. Because the strains are handpicked there is no wiggle room for your probiotic source to go bad (as can happen when you don’t care for a fermented culture properly.) At probiotic’s first emergence the products were rendered useless because the strains weren’t surviving past the body’s stomach acid. In fermented foods the fibers of the food become a sort of shipping container to deliver healthy strains to the rest of the gut, but when probiotic supplements first came out they had to be refrigerated to keep the strains alive and very carefully selected and billions of CFUs (colony-forming units) in order to have even a slight impact on the rest of a person’s GI tract. Today we have better science that understands the barriers and hurdles of replicating fermented foods. There are products that are designed to survive stomach acid, like our Probiotic 40 supplements, which allow the supplements to reach the rest of the GI tract alive! From there the probiotic strains can do the good they were chosen to do--balance your microbiome and make you healthy. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Prebiotics: the Missing Link</p></h4> <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img style="padding-bottom: 15px;" class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/belly-3186730_1920.jpg" alt="Belly"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> With all the buzz going around about probiotics, the stuff required to keep these healthy strains intact gets lost in the cracks. You can’t just eat all of the probiotics and expect to fix your microbiome; it’s a living network, and like all living things, it needs constant care. That’s where <em>prebiotics</em> come in.Prebiotics are the foodstuffs that probiotics eat. Resistant starches like those found in green bananas and sunchokes are an excellent source of prebiotics, and it’s also possible to buy <i>prebiotic fiber</i>. </div> </div> When we eat prebiotics with our probiotic foods, we are ensuring that the strains we are welcoming into our digestive tract will want to stay and fight the good fight for us as well as maintaining the happiness of the bacteria we’ve already accumulated. It’s interesting to see that our diets are coming around full circle. Long ago, we were eating whole and fermented foods to maintain the living network of microbes inside of us, and after a small period of sterilizing everything, we’ve come full circle to see that we ate those diets for a reason. Although new discoveries are happening every day with regard to our microbiomes, we now understand quite a bit more about the advantages of working with our microbiomes instead of against them. By taking on fermented foods and diversifying your diet, you may find that you’ve not only expanded your horizons but come to a newer understanding of health and how the food you eat can change all the wonderful physical components that make you, *you*. <h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5> 1. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28631091">The role of microbiota</a> 2. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28945458">Health benefits of fermented foods</a> 3. Stoller-Conrad, J. (2015, Apr). Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut. Caltech. Retrieved from <a target="_blank" href="http://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495">Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut</a> 4. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258740/">Frequency of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes in gut microbiota</a> 5. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/">Impacts of Gut Bacteria</a> 6. “GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD 7. “The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory: the Transformative Power of Feeling Safe” by Stephen W. Porges 8. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30197628">Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms</a> 9. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27998788">Health benefits of fermented foods</a> 10. “Gut Thrive in 5” with <a target="_blank" href="https://thewholejourney.com/">TheWholeJourney.com</a>

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