Putting the “Ferment” in Probiotics

The term probiotics is popping up everywhere these days. You don’t need to search out niche markets because the mainstream media has decided to cover the topic for you. Despite the seemingly new interest in the probiotic supplements, fermented foods, which accomplish the same goal of healing the gut, have been around for thousands of years. Most every traditional culture has fermented foods as part of their regular diet.

In short, probiotics are live bacteria found in yogurt, dairy, and pill form. Many people are familiar with the pill form which provides various bacteria strains to help balance out the good and bad bacteria in the gut. This balance is responsible for maintaining the health of the gut lining. Doing this helps prevent intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, thus warding off a host of autoimmune diseases, food intolerances and allergies, skin disorders, and brain health to name a few. Bottom line: 85 percent of our immune system is located in the gut.

Fermented foods, on the other hand, provide a larger amount of the good bacteria and in a much wider variety than probiotics. So actually eating foods that provide good bacteria are way more cost effective than taking it in pill form.

I view these “living” foods as medicine…tasty medicine! I consume kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut on a daily basis. Beet kvass and kimchi are also very popular for many people. It can be as easy as taking a few bites or sips while cooking a meal or adding it to the recipe itself. And while it might seem intimidating to make your own, there are plenty of online sites that can guide you through the amazingly easy process. I know most people probably won’t undertake the homemade versions so here are the current recommendations from my refrigerator:

Bubbies or Farmhouse Culture sauerkraut: These are found in the refrigerated section. Avoid sauerkraut located on the non-refrigerated aisles because they have been pasteurized which kills off much of the good bacteria.

GT’s Enlightened Drinks: These can be found in many traditional grocery stores as well as specialty stores. Before you drink it, gently tilt the bottle back and forth to mix. Don’t shake it. It will explode when opened!

Redwood Hill Farm Plain Cultured Goat Milk Kefir: I recommend the goat milk kefir because many people have an intolerance to cow’s milk. Goat milk seems to be better tolerated in these people.

Some final points:

•    In addition to fermented and probiotic foods, there are other ways to prevent leaky gut. Avoiding grains, sugar, processed foods, and vegetable oils, getting good sleep, avoiding chronic stress and chronic infections, and limiting the use of antibiotics are all beneficial.
•    Start with small amounts of fermented foods, especially if you have a weak immune system. Sometimes a teaspoon is all that is tolerated in the beginning. Remember, it’s not necessarily the total amount that’s important but rather a steady, daily dose that does the trick.
•    It is okay to take probiotics or eat fermented foods when taking an antibiotic. They have been shown to minimize some of the side effects associated with antibiotics. If a 7-10 day course of antibiotics is necessary, consider taking a month’s worth of probiotics to rebuild your digestive system. In this scenario, I would also eat a daily cup of bone broth to aid in repairing gut health such as the recipe found on this site.