Blog 130 Start 2023 with a Healthy Microbiome
Flourishing, stable and wholesome gastrointestinal flora help insure the health of all the body’s systems, including musculoskeletal, circulatory, neurological, digestive, reproductive, detoxification, immune system and more. Some people take supplemental probiotics to support their intestinal flora, and some consume cultured or fermented foods that are rich sources of healthy bacteria. Both these are good approaches to achieving better gastrointestinal and overall health. Even better, and longer lasting approaches are lifestyles that support sound digestion and homeostasis.
Certain lifestyle choices and foods will stress the mind and body and make the digestive system less hospitable to healthy bacteria. Smoking tobacco, significant prescription medication or recreational drug use, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption, insufficient sleep, involvement in highly stressful relationships or work situations, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive screen time, breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, and eating processed and other unhealthy foods all will not support a healthy microbiome. Instead, other opportunistic microorganisms that usually are present in small amounts and are kept under control by a healthy immune system and beneficial microbiome, may proliferate and eventually cause problems. Mild health problems may include excessive gas, gastric reflux, sleep disturbance, and irritable bowel syndrome. More severe problems may include migraine headaches, depression, food allergies, autoimmune problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, and various opportunistic infections, some of which, like Salmonella and Clostridium difficile can be serious or even life-threatening.
A diet full of fresh, preferably organically grown fruit and vegetables, with organic seeds and nuts, wild caught fish, and grass-fed meats (if you are an omnivore rather than vegetarian or vegan) will help support a healthy microbiome even without probiotic supplements or cultured and fermented foods. Vegetarian and vegan diets also can support a healthy microbiome. A healthy diet supplies prebiotic nutrition upon which beneficial intestinal flora can thrive. If you decide to use a probioticsupplement, I suggest you choose one that is kept in the refrigerated section of the store. Some of these supplements have many types of bacteria, but look for supplements that contain at least these three: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
My personal three favorite fermented foods are yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, so I will cover these three.
Yogurt and Kefir can be good sources of healthy probiotics. Full fat and organically produced milk is preferable, and milk from grass-fed animals is best. It is important that there are no sweeteners or foods other than dairy and culture present in store bought yogurt or kefir. Fresh fruit and sweeteners, such as maple syrup or raw honey can be added just before eating. You also can make yogurt at home with a special yogurt kit or even just high quality milk, a culture, and a warming element. You can cut and paste the link below in your browser for instructions regarding homemade yogurt.
The EASY Way to Make Homemade Yogurt (with fewer dishes!)
Sauerkraut and Kimchi are also relatively easy to make at home, and are less expensive than store-bought versions. They are, in my opinion, the most wholesome of all the fermented foods, and consist of just vegetables, usually at least cabbage, plus salt. Sometimes a culture is added. Kimchi recipes also include one or more spicy ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, radish and hot red pepper. If you purchase these products at a store, make sure that they are in the refrigerated section and are preferably organic and stored in glass containers. Below is a link with instructions for making homemade fermented vegetables (sauerkraut).
Another excellent fermented food is miso, traditionally a Japanese soy, salt and koji (fermented grain) dish, which also sometimes contains alternate beans or grains. Because so many soybeans are GMO products, it is important to select only organically grown soybeans and other ingredients to make miso. Normally, the process takes several months to years, but the excellent article below presents several options, including a way to make miso in several days. Miso is high in protein and in plenty of other nutrients, including friendly bacteria. For those who cannot consume much salt, this particular fermented food may not be for you. To learn more about making miso, from the perspective of a top British chef, just cut and paste the first link below into your browser to read an excellent article with clear instructions. If the miso making process seems overwhelming, remember that there are several good quality brands of organic miso that you can purchase at the store. My favorite brand, which is hard to find, and usually must be purchased directly from the family who makes it traditionally, is South River brand. If you are interested in South River brand miso, the best miso I have ever tasted, you can learn about the company through the link below, which supplies lots of information, including three videos.