“All disease begins in the gut” – Hippocrates
I’ll take that quote a step further, Hippocrates, and say that if all disease begins in the gut, then all healing begins in the gut. An incredible amount of our body’s functions originate in the gut — not just digestion but also immunity, weight management, skin health, mental health and more. In fact, 80 percent of our immune system is located in the digestive tract, and without a healthy gut and immune system, it’s very hard to heal from anything.
So it makes sense that, in order to begin healing, we must first nourish the gut. And in today’s world, most of us are walking around with damaged gut bacteria. You see, in our digestive system, there are two kinds of bacteria:
- Good bacteria
- Bad bacteria
Antibiotics, sugar, GMO foods, processed grains, stress, chemicals and other toxins destroy good bacteria. So you can imagine in a world where all of these “food” items are running rampant, that our good gut bacteria are suffering immensely. And what happens when our good bacteria are killed off is the bad bacteria come in. This is what leads to all sorts of diseases, from colitis and Crohn’s disease to leaky gut and also a number of mental conditions (see the GAPS diet book for more on this).
This is where probiotics come in.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the good bacteria that support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight disease by lining and protecting your digestive tract. In fact, we humans are made up of more probiotic cells than human cells — 10 times more!
Probiotics occur naturally in our bodies from the moment we are created. When a baby passes through it’s mother’s birth canal during delivery, the baby is exposed to its mother’s bacteria, which kickstarts the good bacterial growth in the baby’s digestive tract.
Taking prescription drugs, consuming sugar and processed foods, drinking chlorinated and fluoridated water, and eating non-organic and GMO foods can quickly inhibit this growth. All of these substances can kill of a person’s probiotic system over time, which in turn damages your digestive tract, weakens your immune system, and sets off a domino effect of other issues.
So to restore health, we need to increase our intake of probiotics! There are two ways you can consume probiotics:
- Pill-based supplements
- Probiotic-rich foods
There are hundreds upon hundreds of probiotic brands out on the market today, and which one is right for you depends on what your health history looks like, what you eat (and what you ate growing up), any health conditions you have now, and more. If you want a consult on how to approach probiotics, request a session with me here. What I will tell you here, though, is that more often than not, the brands sold in major stores like CVS, Walgreen or Target are usually just dead strains of bacteria, meaning they’re not going to do anything for you. So don’t waste your money on those.
But pills aren’t the only way to consume probiotics; in fact there are some great ways to easily consume probiotics on a daily basis through your food (assuming you enjoy the product of fermentation!).
1. Cultured Vegetables (Sauerkraut + Kimchi)
Cultured vegetables are not probiotic-rich themselves, but they encourage the growth of good bacteria. You see, as vegetables like cabbage ferment, they create organic acids (hence the sour taste), which support the growth of good bacteria like probiotics. They are also high in enzymes, which promote good, regular digestion.
Recently I’ve started making sauerkraut at home (in fact I have a batch fermenting right now!). It’s so easy to make and much more economical (I’m talking $3-4 total for a huge batch compared to a $7 small jar at Whole Foods). But if you’re strapped for time and would rather cut to the chase and just buy pre-made sauerkraut or kimchi, go for it! I usually do this on weeks where I’m busy all weekend and have a busy week ahead. It makes eating probiotics a lot easier.
Especially if you’ve never had sauerkraut before, I recommend you start off with a small jar to see how you like it, and if you do, then start making your own.
But if you have the time and are feeling craft, I encourage you to try making it yourself!
Here’s how to make sauerkraut:
- Cut cabbage into thin strips, leaving the other leaves aside for the end (see step 5)
- Place in a large bowl with 1.5 tbsp sea salt, sprinkling it in as you add in the shredded cabbage
- Massage the cabbage with your hands for 5-7 minutes until there is a lot of water in the bowl and the cabbage is soft and flexible
- Transfer the cabbage and the water into mason jars — pack it in tight!
- Top each jar with a slice of the cabbage leaves to cover and keep it packed in
- Put the cloth cover over the jar, secure with a rubber band or string and store on a countertop out of direct sunlight or heat
- Every day, press the cabbage down a bit to keep it submerged in its liquid
- In 3-10 days, the sauerkraut should be fermented and can be transferred to the refrigerator to slow down fermentation. You’ll know it’s ready when you smell the strong aroma of sauerkraut! Don’t be afraid to taste test it along the way.
- Enjoy! (and if you have enough, share it with friends!)
Here’s what mine looks right now mid-fermentation:
I haven’t made kimchi (yet) but here’s a recipe you can try.
Kefir is a probiotic-rich cousin to yogurt and can be made with a dairy or non-dairy base. Kefir contains 10 to 34 strains of probiotics because it’s fermented with yeast, so a high concentration of bacteria are present.
I personally can’t have dairy, so I’ve made kefir with coconut water and almond milk (which I also make at home). You can also make kefir with coconut milk, goat’s milk and, of course, regular dairy milk.
To make kefir, you need starter grains. I get this brand.
How to make kefir:
- Pour 1 quart of your dairy or non-dairy base liquid into a glass (or BPA free plastic) container
- Add 1 packet of the kefir starter grains and stir gently until all the grains are dissolved
- Cover the jar with a cloth lid secured by a rubber band or string
- Let sit on the counter (out of direct sunlight) for 12-18 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when:
- Dairy milk has thickened to a heavy cream
- Coconut milk has a sour, less sweet smell (it won’t be thick)
- Coconut water will become cloudy and less sweet
Here’s a look at my DIY almond milk and the kefir grains:
I highly recommend you make kefir at home once you know you like it. I say that because the store bought brands contain a lot of additives including:
- “Natural flavors”
- Lecithin (a fatty substance which is under a highly contested debate right now, I avoid it at all costs personally)
- …and more
Again, it’s far cheaper than the store bought stuff! And if you want to get really DIY, you can make coconut milk or almond milk at home — I do 🙂
Kombucha has been rising in popularity over the past few years, and if you’ve been to a Whole Foods recently, chances are you’ve seen a shelf dedicated entirely to kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented black tea and has been around for over 2,000 years, originating in Japan. It’s made using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY), which sits in a large jar of steeped black tea and a bit of sugar (for the yeast to eat in order to ferment).
From the same brand of kefir grains I linked to above, here’s a video on making kombucha at home. Again, if you’ve never tried it, I recommend first buying a glass at the store to see how you like it. And if you’re busy and/or don’t care to make it (the SCOBY can be really weird to work with, especially at first!) just buy it from the store.
If you do want to make it, buy your SCOBY on culturesforhealth.com, or you can find it on Etsy or Amazon. It’s a pretty funky looking creature, you have been warned!
Here’s a look at me making kombucha last year:
The only downsides of kombucha are if you’re trying to avoid sugar altogether, this isn’t the drink for you. And if you are working through digestive issues such as parasites (which I have had, gasp!), stay away from Kombucha until that’s cleared up as sugar feeds those little buggers! (If you’re interested in learning more about testing for digestive issues and infestations like that, let me know because I work with an awesome functional diagnostic nutritionist who can run tests to find out!
Yogurt is perhaps the most widely known and consumed probiotic food, however there are a lot of downright nasty brands out there (I’m looking at you, Yoplait!). One tiny cup of Yoplait yogurt contains 27 grams of sugar—that’s more than five teaspoons! Gross.
Your best bet is to buy:
- Raw, grass fed yogurt…
- From goat’s or sheep milk…
- That is organic
Yes, this means it will be more expensive (and harder to find — try Whole Foods) but it keeps the nasty sugar, “natural flavors” and colorings and other unnecessary, processed additives out of your body, giving you the best chance for the probiotics to survive and thrive in your system.
(I don’t eat yogurt much at all anymore, mostly because it’s really hard to find a good brand and I enjoy kefir more, so I don’t have any pictures for this one!)
So whether you are in great or poor health, probiotics are a great way to promote health, support digestion and boost your immune system. For even more tips on how to boost your immune system, especially as the colder weather sits in, check out my 9 immune boosting tips to beat the seasonal cold and subscribe to my blog for more updates like these!
Until the next time,