Benefits of probiotics for our digestive health
Did you know that about 2/3 of our immune system resides in our digestive system? Throughout our lives, we are told that in order to prevent catching a cold or flu we should incorporate a lot of vitamin C into our diets. But nobody has told us that the skin is our body’s first line of defense against pathogens in the air or that our digestive system is where 70 percent of our immune system resides.
The good bacteria that are in our intestines require probiotics in order to keep functioning at their optimal level. There are varieties of natural, healthy foods that are high in probiotic cultures. Some of those foods are common and consumed often, while others are unknown or even never heard of.
Majority of probiotic rich foods consist of bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus Bulgaricus just to name a few. These bacteria can be found in most fermented foods. For example, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus is most commonly used in the fermentation of yogurt. Bifidobacterium as well as Lactobacillus acidophilus are both bacteria that are found within our digestive system and produce lactic acid.
Probiotic rich foods:
One of the foods with great probiotic properties and that many people don’t know about is dark chocolate. Natural, raw cacao contains prebiotic factors that beneficial bacteria feed on. Prebiotics act as an aid to probiotics, meaning that they help the bacteria in the gut to perform their job. Cacao is made up of two compounds, namely: catechin and epicatechin. These two compounds cause the bacteria within the stomach to start a fermentation process. As a result, the polyphenolic polymers are broken down into small anti-inflammatory molecules. In this way the overall health of the gut gets a boost. The raw cacao powder has bitter taste, but when combined with a fruit such as pomegranate or banana or sweetened with honey it makes enjoyable and easy to consume combination.
Another common and well known food rich in probiotics is gherkins, kimchi (spiced Korean sauerkraut), sauerkraut or any other pickled vegetables. Picked veggies are lacto-fermented, which means they are preserved with natural fermentation process without sugar or vinegar. The fermentation process occurs because of the lactic acid that the pickles produce on their exterior, with some added salt. The fermentation process is slow, but the health benefits are great. Home-grown or organically produced pickles are the best healthy choice. Preserved pickles might be irradiated or with added synthetic preservatives which kill the living bacteria and greatly lower the health benefits.
Another great food that is easily available at shops is yogurt. Yogurt is typically made from fermented cow’s or sheep’s milk. The probiotic cultures in yogurt help to support the immune system because they help to increase the cytokine function in the immune system. Cytokines are protein cells within the body that the immune cells use to communicate with the rest of the body. This helps to keep the intestines free from any pathogenic bacteria.
Some other products that are also great probiotics, but are not so well-known or readily available are products such as kombucha tea, kvass and kefir. These are products that you can do more extensive research on if you would like to benefit more from a diet that is high in probiotics. Kombucha tea, which is also known as “immortal health elixir” is an ancient Chinese tea that has many health benefits. It is believed to help fight and prevent cancer and arthritis along with being high in probiotic cultures. It is made from fermented symbiotic culture of bacteria and has a sweet taste to it. The bacteria and yeast in the tea helps to aid in digestion and helps to fight candid overgrowth (yeast). It is a probiotic drink that not only aids in digestion, but also helps to improve your mental clarity and makes your moods steadier.
Kvass, like that of kombucha tea, is also made using the fermentation process. It is typically made out of sourdough rye bread, but can be made from beetroot as well for those who are on a lower carbohydrate diet. This refreshing drink is said to have a very similar taste to beer, but with a very low percentage of alcohol (about 1.0 percent), but the longer you ferment it the more alcoholic it will become. As it is fermented, the bacterial cultures in the drink have great probiotic properties which helps to boost the immune function.
Kefir, a refreshing fermented yogurt drink, is made when you add kefir grains to the milk of either cows, goats or sheep. The grains are lacto acid bacteria and yeast cultures. They ferment over 24 hours and cause the sugars in the milk to ferment. The lacto bacteria causes the milk to become lactic acid, giving it a sour taste, which could be compared to that of yogurt. The kefir grains are removed from the liquid and they can be reused. This is one of the highest probiotic rich foods and it can be made with different probiotic strengths.
Generally speaking, most people will imagine the immune system to be the white blood cells, also known as Leukocytes that make up part of our blood. They are known for their ability to kill off any bacteria or pathogens that enter the blood. In actual fact the immune system is made up of whole lot more than just these tiny cells. The stomach, small intestine as well as the colon all play vitally important roles when it comes to our health. Within these three intestines bacteria resides. These bacteria are responsible for protecting our bodies against harmful pathogens that might enter our system through the food we ingest. The gut flora is important when it comes to regulating inflammation as it helps stop the body from over reacting to pathogens. By keeping the gut flora in a healthy state, one can prevent diseases such as bowel cancer as well as helps us keep a healthy weight. The bacteria in the gut flora help to break up the nutrients supplied by the food we eat and so when we take prescribed antibiotics the bacteria, both good and bad, get broken down. Antibiotics are also seen as growth promoters and so they actually cause a person to gain weight.
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus acidophilus are bacteria that are commonly found in the intestine. The Bifidobacterium is of the first to colonise the intestines of newborn babies and so babies that are fed with formula instead of breastmilk tend to have a lower Bifidobacterium count. As we get older, the amount of bacteria in our intestines begins to decrease, which is why having a diet rich in natural probiotic foods is so important.
Being a student who stays in residence, it is not always easy to eat food that is full of nutrition. The food is cooked in bulk and so the vegetables are often found to be lacking in the nutrients, such as the cabbage that is always over boiled and tasteless. As a result, I found myself catching colds a lot more frequently compared to when I was staying at home. On a student budget, it is not easy to be able to afford extra food that actually has the natural probiotic qualities that is needed to increase the immune function of the gut flora. Towards the end of last year I was sick for four weeks, because I was not getting enough nutritional food into my system, my immune system got weaker and as a result I was sick for much longer. I was put on two rounds of antibiotics, which was not healthy because I did not have the right food to eat to replace the natural probiotics that I was losing within my system. This experience made me realize the importance of eating food with natural probiotic cultures in it.
It is important that one keeps a healthy balanced diet where you include at least some of these different probiotic rich foods, eating them a couple of times a week. In this way, you will be able to reap the benefits of these different foods by being able to prevent diseases such as bowel cancer and overall will be able to have happier gut flora.