Bacteria are vindictive, life-sucking demons who must be shunned with every antibacterial scrub and spray made available. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom to date. Thankfully, news is leaking out of a surprising, life-supportive relationship with bacteria. Yep, I did say it: bacteria supports life all over, inside and outside, of your body.
Many of you already understand that bacteria is a huge topic, and I don’t want to insult those of you who are already savvy.I can’t possibly discuss everything about bacteria that deserves acknowledgement in this single blog post. A lot stands yet to be discovered through research. One thing is for sure: antibiotics, not bacteria, which are intended to save life, are now harming us. The reason is simple: we overuse them. The biggest contributor to antibiotic resistance is in factory farming. When you eat factory farmed meat and dairy, you are also consuming the antibiotics. These antibiotics are destroying your friendly bacteria, and assaulting your overall health.
Let’s tip our hats to pay respect to the bacteria that are constantly batting for us. At the risk of dramatically oversimplifying this topic, we have only one practical goal: Help get the most out of your relationship with your sexy gut bacteria.
Beneficial bacteria are also called “pro-biotics”, or “pro-life”.
Your gut contains thousands of different species of beneficial bacteria. This amounts to about three pounds, or the weight of your brain, in gut bacteria alone. It’s a good thing these are “friendly” bacteria, don’t you think?
They possess super-powers:
- They increase our immune system;
- They manufacture vitamins (such as vitamin K and B12)
- They manufacture antioxidants;
- They improve our digestion;
- They contribute to our mental and emotional well-being, shaping our behavior in many ways;
- They impact our metabolism;
- They effect our body odor.
You can protect them in some of the following ways:
- Reduce your intake of antibiotics to absolute emergencies. I’ve used them only once in the last 5 or so years, and it was an emergency (I was getting married in a week, and couldn’t afford for my bronchitis to become pneumonia!)
- Reduce your intake of factory-farmed meat. The reason antibiotics are used is that the animals are raised under filthy, disease-ridden, and stressful conditions. Animals would die if antibiotics weren’t pumped into them to keep them alive.
- Ingest less sugar. It promotes yeast growth, which can compete with your friendly bacteria. And yeast overgrowth is totally not sexy (you know what I mean if you’ve suffered candida).
- Ingest more probiotic and prebiotic foods (see below).
You can find PRObiotics in aged, fermented, and cultured foods.
Dairy products: Yogurt, kefir (drinkable yogurt), buttermilk, and aged cheese
- Fermented soy: Miso paste, tempeh (fermented grains & soy)
- Pickled foods: Cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, etc. Just be sure these are unpasteurized products, as the heat of pasteurizing kills the bacteria.
- Fermented cabbage: Sauerkraut, kimchee (again, choose unpasteurized or raw forms)
- Fermented liquids: Kombucha (it’s an acquired taste for many people), vinegar (try raw apple cider)
- Other fermentable foods: Vegetables, grains, meat, milk, fruit
You can find PREbiotics (these basically feed the PRObiotics and help them grow) in foods with soluble fiber.
- Breast milk, barley, oats, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, dandelion greens, onion, garlic, leeks, soy beans.
- The most common prebiotic is from the soluble fiber inulin.
Helpful tips when adopting fermented food habits:
Eat a little fermented food every day. Eat it like a seasoning.
- Many foods that are pasteurized, such as dairy products, are then fortified with probiotic cultures. Look for “live active cultures” on the label of such products. A decent product will supply at least four different active cultures. If it doesn’t meet those standards (looking at you, Yoplait), pick another product.
- Sugar drains the life out of probiotics. It’s a food for yeast, helping yeast grow. Yeast, a natural bacteria rival, knocks out the bacteria, making it wimpy and lifeless. Buy your products, such as yogurt, unsweetened. If you like it sweet, add maple syrup, jam, or whatever, just before eating. You’ll probably use less sugar than the food manufacturers would have used, too. (Hint: if you avoid stirring the sugar into your yogurt, it will trick your tongue and actually taste sweeter with less sugar because its concentration hits your tongue.)
- Experiment! Use buttermilk and vinegar in dressings. Try a little miso with hummus on toast. Try fermenting your own foods – it’s easier than you think, and crazy cheaper than buying it.
Dr. Eisen, in his TedMed talk 2012 about bacteria says,
“The microbial community is in and on us: it’s an organ. We should view it as a functioning organ part of ourselves. We should treat it carefully and with respect.”
Let’s read this quote again. Put it on your bathroom mirror. It’s shocking and beautiful.
- “Guts”by Radio Lab, NPR. (If this link rebels, just search for “Guts” within Radio Lab. You will find it. Promise.)
- “The Art of Fermentation”, by Sandor Ellix Katz
- “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon
- Dr. Eisen at TedMed talk 2012
- The Intestinal Gardener blog
Okay, okay. It’s your turn. What is one thing that you will do as a result of this discussion to love your sexy guts?
Do you have any favorite fermented foods recommendations? Do you have any resources to add to the discussion? Please share your insights to help us all learn and grow.
Cheers to bringing back sexy guts!