Our bodies are made up of 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. Good bacteria and other microbes live in our digestive tract and throughout our entire body. Our guts alone are home to over 100 trillion bacteria! That’s right, trillion. This collective mass of bacteria is called the “microbiome.” The health of your immune system is directly related to the health of your microbiome. Proper care and management of your microbiome is essential for achieving and maintaining optimal health and wellness.
The health of your microbiome and your immune system are directly related. Keeping your gut healthy is the first step in keeping your immune system strong, and ultimately keeping you from getting sick! Allowing bad bacteria to take over your digestive tract can lead to serious health problems. Even a short-term imbalance can cause undesirable effects like gas, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, and yeast infections. Over time, an imbalance can lead to more serious health concerns, ranging from IBS and inflammatory bowel disease to autoimmune disease and cancer.
The good news is that we can influence the makeup of our microbiome by consuming good bacteria on a regular basis.
How Do I Increase My Good Bacteria?
I like to get my good bacteria from my diet by consuming bacteria-rich fermented foods on a regular basis. Fermented foods contain healthy, probiotic cultures that help to maintain optimal gut microbe balance. In other words, fermented foods contain lots of the good guys!
What Are Fermented Foods?
Fermentation is the process by which microbes consume the sugar in food and produce lactic acid, alcohol, and gas. Wine and beer are made by fermentation, as is yogurt and soy sauce! The lactic acid is what provides the tart flavor you often find in fermented foods, as well as the increase in micronutrients. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and various strains of beneficial bacteria, called probiotics.
Why Should I Eat Fermented Foods?
Besides the fact that they taste great, there are several reasons to start making and eating fermented foods. As mentioned above, fermented foods and beverages like Kefir and tempeh introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help balance your microbiome.
If you’re constantly suffering from digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, start incorporating fermented foods, about ½ cup each day, and monitor your symptoms.
How Do I Eat Fermented Foods?
The most common fermented foods you can consume are:
- Raw cheese
When looking for fermented food at the grocery store, make sure the label says “fermented,” “raw,” or “contains live cultures.” Naturally fermented foods have not been pasteurized, and need to be refrigerated.
A common question I get with my clients is about pickling. Most of the pickles you find on the shelf at the grocery store are pickled––not fermented. Pickled foods are not the same as fermented foods and will usually not be refrigerated. That being said, even refrigerated pickles are not necessarily fermented, so it’s important to read labels, and know what you’re buying!
To get you started, below are a few healthy recipes from Registered Dietitian bloggers using fermented foods. Click on the images to see the recipes!