The best probiotics come from food not capsules

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics should primarily come from the food we eat

– not from supplements because we need more than just a capsule a day!

Rotting mould, slime and fungus are not popular food groups but our beneficial gut bacteria are derived from similar items albeit in more palatable forms like cheese, fermented soybeans or mushrooms. These and other traditionally cultured foods provide the probiotic strains we call gut flora. Probiotics help us to process – break down or ferment fibrous foods (prebiotics) before we consume them and during the digestive process to produce what we call postbiotics - certain vitamins, amino acids, neurotransmitters, trace elements and so on. But most of us do not have access to these micronutrients because they are not released from the food we eat. They pass through the gut, still trapped within food morsels and disappear down the drain because our gut levels of probiotics are inadequate.

In our super civilized world our newborn babies lose out on the natural process of bacterial inoculation by the mother. If Mom is deficient in the vital strains of probiotics then the baby will not benefit from what seems to be one of the most important factors in preventing a number of ailments  from eczema and respiratory problems to leaky gut and asthma. During a natural birth the baby is exposed to vaginal bacteria that is essential to their immunity. Breast feeding and the touch of the mother provide more bacteria, believe it or not! The colostrum from the breast milk completes the process.

Today some research has discovered the benefits of combining colostrum with probiotics to increase their efficacy in adults. They say that a person with a healthy population of gut flora and hence a strong immune system is the best donor of beneficial gut strains. However, the process has not been perfected, but it may explain why some animals eat poo! The next best option is to follow the diet of people who have such healthy bacteria. You will find that most of them live in rural areas, live off the land and because they don't have dishwashers, detergents and refrigerators, the do not wipe out entire colonies of beneficial gut bacteria like we do. Here are a few examples of fermented foods:

People that don't have refrigerators eat food that is primarily fermented.

Highly cultured, even if made in a primitive habitat.

Ethipoia fermented foodCredit: Sue Visser

Ethipoia for instance, serve a cheesy dish called kudzu, made by fermenting the stem of a false banana tree. they bury it under the ground for six months. yummy bacteria to eat with injera, a sourdough pancake made from fermented teff grains.

Madagascar pickled fermented furitCredit: Sue Visser

In Madagascar pickled produce is sold along the road in plastic bottles. No sophisticated equipment required! Just chop up the mangoes, chillies and other vegetables, add salt and smack them into a bottle and voilà, lactofermentation takes place. They also ferment their unpasteurized milk and prefer to drink it that way.

Chinese fermented food for breakfastCredit: Sue Visser

Throughout China and Central Asia we enjoyed meals like this, they always included pickles and fermented vegetables. The potatoes in the foreground are raw - fermented and tasty! 

Today the obsessive consumption of antibiotics and anti-nutrients has plundered our reserves of healthy gut flora. Candida albicans (innocent yeast) then grows out of control and converts to pathogenic forms of moulds and fungi and causes candidiasis. If this happens, those gut bacteria seriously need a boost - from a diet rich in fermented foods!

People who embrace old-fashioned, slow farm-style cooking and eating uphold the art of pickling, brewing and culturing food. This enhances flavours, makes fibrous food more digestible and provides a steady stream of potent probiotics. We can easily maintain these gut friendly bacteria without the need for supplementation by eating regular helpings of traditionally fermented foods every day. Our gut health affects our immune system, digestion, our emotions, energy levels and our brain function. (Ref 1) So a sound mind in a healthy body really does depend on the consumption of bacteria, fungus, mould and slime! They come from delicious fermented foods we can easily make and take ourselves.

You too, can become a cultured, fermented food fundi and kick the tablet habit.

Introduction to fermented food - what is it?

 We are often reminded that our ancestors didn’t have fridges and so they had to preserve their food by salting, pickling and fermenting large quantities of produce as and when it was plentiful. Their GI tracts were teeming with good bacteria. Unlike modern health enthusiasts, they could digest food, absorb nutrients and enjoy peak health without taking an ever-growing line-up of food supplements. Indeed, food was their medicine and although it was grown without pesticides and fertilizers, the key to their longevity and robust health had a lot to do with what we call cultured or fermented foods. Yummy things, like pickles, cheese, sourdough, and fermented soy products. Ethiopian food is predominantly fermented as you can see: a plate of rolled up injera from fermented teff, a square of fermented banana stem and pastes made of sour milk and pickled leaves. 

Injera and kodjuCredit: Sue Visser

Fermentation is a “digestive” process that breaks down organic matter (the food we eat) into smaller particles to release their essential enzymes, trace elements, neurotransmitters, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids and even hormones. Harmful substances such as protease inhibitors and nasty agricultural chemicals are nullified and starches and sugars are transformed into lactic acid. This gives fermented food its characteristic sour taste and adds the fizz to beer, wine and Kombucha. The smell of freshly baked bread is from yeast that ferments, releases carbon dioxide bubbles and makes the dough rise light and fluffy. This is a delicious way to nourish the microbiota, because these resident bacteria outnumber our human cells by 90%! Even corn can be fermented and this one from South America has quite a kick!

corn beer from South AmericaCredit: Sue Visser

Today our traditional food-enhancing skills have flown out of the window                                                              Natural and slow give way to quick and easy and we take pills to compensate     

We toss out food that goes mouldy, milk that is sour and vegetables that look rotten. Then we take probiotics that are also made of “rotten” stuff because we suffer from a deficiency of the beneficial bacteria that are present in these fermented foods. That is why we experience an overgrowth of the yeast we call candida albicans. Yoghurt and amasi (rotten milk) provide lactic acid based bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus. For vegans, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and other anaerobically fermented vegetables provide a tasty alternative. No capsules, pills and supplements are necessary in this case. Vegetarians can stock up on trillions of microbes that come from other fermented delicacies such as yoghurt, buttermilk, kefir, amasi, cheese, beer, wine, Kombucha, soybeans, olives, and even cocoa, tea and coffee.

Fermented food provides a host of gut flora that help to

control candida and a lot more

Candidiasis is a good indicator of a probiotic deficiency. So eating a variety fermented food every day is very beneficial. Lactic acid is a by-product of anaerobic fermentation and it is a strong sterilizing compound. It suppresses harmful micro-organisms and breaks down and ferments the fibre (prebiotics) we eat such as lignin and cellulose. It also produces antibacterial compounds that are known as bacteriocins that attack pathogenic bacteria, yeasts (including candida albicans) and moulds. Candidiasis or yeast overgrowth is thus controlled. Within the gut probiotics help us to neutralize toxins, remove heavy metals and create vitamins. They also speed up the elimination of toxic waste in the bowel and naturally bulk up the stool and balance the water content. Thus, naturally fermented vegetables actually do the same job as laxatives and fibre supplements. They also keep cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check and break down excessive hormone levels to control oestrogen dominance.

It is not about the amount of each microbe you need out of an expensive little capsule but more the variety of strains that can grow, once introduced to fermented food. (For some, the capsules may not even be digested because chemical toilets often contain such items intact in their reservoirs of sewerage.) Consuming probiotics as a bulky food instead of taking pills or capsules provides safety in numbers – it guarantees their colonisation within the gut. This creates a more synergistic effect and is more permanent and sustainable.

Add probiotics to yoghurtCredit: Sue Visser

We can mix the supplements into our food, especially yoghurt to introduce more strains. A liquid starter culture with 10 or even 15 strains will grow on food, molasses, or yoghurt. The TMA (total microbial action) of a glass of water containing a teaspoon of liquid probiotics doubled overnight. Unlike a closed capsule, starter strains that are introduced to fermented foods just keep on growing, and growing!

Ass liquid probiotics to juices

We need to ask ourselves how many medicines we need and trips to the doctor we take because we are not taking probiotics but especially because we are not maintaining our gut flora by eating properly! Here is a reminder of why the are so important......

“They protect against many gastrointestinal problems including diarrhoea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic bowel diseases, and even colon cancer. And research suggests they help to prevent allergies, skin issues such as eczema, depression and other mood disorders, obesity, diabetes, and urinary and vaginal infections.” “Consumption of fermented foods that contain probiotics may serve as a low-risk intervention for reducing social anxiety. In fact, the more fermented foods the participants ate, the fewer symptoms of social anxiety they experienced.”  (Source: The many benefits of fermented foods by Brian Matthews)

Here are some ways to get back into the habit of using food as medicine - open up to fermented foods - they also taste good! Kimchi, Sauerkraut, home made cheese, pickles, olive and sourdough bread. What a feast of probiotics! Follow the Infobarrel link or see it  below.

Kimchi and pickles to makeCredit: Sue Visser