Get Cultured on Fermented Foods: 3 Keys to a Healthy Gut
Our way of eating today is likely messing with our gut health. An imbalance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria can lead to chronic diseases – such as diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal diseases – as well as allergies. Knowing this, what’s the best way to keep a healthy microbiome (also known as the population of bacteria in our gut)? Education is key.
Gut health was a topic of my fourth book, “Flat Belly 365,” which included recipes and meal plans containing probiotics and fermented foods. Now, I want to share this knowledge with you.
Fermentation: An Ancient Practice Gaining New Popularity
First, let’s talk about fermentation. Fermentation is an ancient practice, often used to preserve food or produce alcohol, that has recently gained popularity. While the terms are often used interchangeably, not all fermented foods contain probiotics, and not all probiotics take the form of fermented foods. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that we want in our gut. Both fermented and probiotic foods are made with bacteria. So what’s the difference? Well, only probiotic foods have enough live, good bacteria to deliver health benefits when eaten in the right amounts. Fermented foods may contain living cultures that can add probiotics to the digestive tract, but their health benefits have not been well studied.
Is There a Difference Between Fermented Foods and Probiotics?
Although fermented foods – such as aged cheese, kefir (fermented milk drink), sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, wine and beer – are made with microorganisms that sometimes remain alive after fermentation (check the label to be sure), they are not called probiotics because their health benefits have not been well defined or supported with adequate research to date. Yogurt can be considered a probiotic food because the good bacteria in yogurt, including Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, have been well studied for their ability to help with the digestion of lactose, the natural sugar in milk. This makes yogurt a go-to choice for people with lactose intolerance. Look for brands of yogurt that contain the “live and active cultures” seal on the package, indicating that a good amount of probiotics stay alive after the fermentation process.
3 Keys to a Healthy Gut
So how can I make sure I’m eating the right foods to keep my gut healthy? Here are three simple steps you can take for a healthy gut:
- Choose a variety of fermented and probiotic foods: While more research is needed, studies suggest that eating fermented foods may be linked to better health. So, whether the food is considered a probiotic or simply a fermented food, enjoy a variety in your diet for gut health benefits.
- Enjoy prebiotics and fiber: Prebiotics are foods that also serve as “food” for the good bacteria living in your gut. They also tend to contain fiber, and it’s well known that fiber is good for your gut and your overall health. Making sure you consume both soluble and insoluble fiber will help your gut and help the good bacteria in your gut multiply and thrive.
- Dare to pair: Maybe the old proverb “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should now say, “An apple and a yogurt a day keep the doctor away.” Eating nutritiously, and including more fermented foods and prebiotics, might just be the key to optimal health. Try these powerful pairs of prebiotics and probiotics for improved gut health:
- Apple slices dipped in vanilla Greek yogurt
- Vegetables paired with a fresh herb yogurt dip
- Overnight oats with kefir and berries
- Savory quinoa, cucumber and yogurt salad
- Sweet or savory roasted sweet potatoes with Greek yogurt
Check out our blog to learn more about dairy’s health benefits.