1/1o/11: THE GOOD LIFE
Invite the friendly intestinal flora in
With all the strong anti-bacterial messages coming at us (from soaps to sanitizers to frequently prescribed drugs) it can be hard to remember that bacteria are actually our friends. The beneficial bacteria residing in our gut not only do a great job of keeping us well by fighting off “bad” bacteria, viruses, fungi and other uninvited bugs, but produce vitamins such as the B-complex and vitamin K, increase the absorption of minerals, and play a critical role in our digestive and our immune systems.
Good food sources are cultured and naturally fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tamari, tempeh, the Indian “lassi” beverage, or the middle eastern “leban” fermented yogurt-like product. In the photo above, I have plain yogurt, Korean kimchi, probiotic supplements, tamari, homemade sauerkraut, and miso (clockwise starting from front center). Making these foods a regular part of your diet helps to support a thriving friendly intestinal community. Unfortunately, many of these products available in our supermarkets today are not made with adequate live cultures to make a significant difference. Not too long ago, for example, yogurt-maker Dannon was required to reimburse customers and change the health claims on their Activia line packages as a result of a food labeling lawsuit.
The other option is supplements. While my children were on a course of antibiotics over the summer, I bought the bottle in the picture in order to replenish their good flora while the medicine was taking care of the bacterial infection we didn’t want. More and more probiotic products are coming on the market. It is important to look for one with a variety of live cultures with numbers of organisms in the billions. Most often, they come refrigerated.
Probiotics get hungry too, and like to be fed. They multiply very quickly and work up quite an appetite in the process. They do well on foods such as onions, chicory, garlic, leeks, fruits (especially bananas), soybeans, peas, legumes, eggplant, asparagus, burdock and Jerusalem artichokes. Some supplements will include “prebiotics” such as fructooliogosaccarides (FOS) and inulin to support the proliferation of the probiotics.
It has been postulated that the longevity of certain peoples, such as the Bulgarians (whose legacy remains alive in the name of the bacterial strain Lactobacillus bulgaricus), was related to their high consumption of yogurt and fermented dairy products. Whether you choose to make your own fermented foods (one of my goals this year), purchase high quality ones with live cultures or opt for a supplement, sustaining a healthy bacterial community in your gut will certainly contribute to your good health and happiness this year.