Gut health – it’s all the rage these days, and not without good cause.
Our gastrointestinal tract is an amazing piece of anatomy that mediates the delicate interplay between our outer and inner environment. It absorbs nutrients, eliminates toxins, and samples every piece of organic and inorganic matter that passes through it to determine the level of threat and an appropriate response.
However our GIT is not invincible, and it will become damaged and dysfunctional if not treated kindly. One of the key areas of gut health is the diversity and volume of the microbiome, that vast collection of bacteria, yeasts and parasites that can either help or harm us depending on levels of various species. An important way to ensure that your microbiome is healthy is to ensure generous amounts of probiotic species are present, which will keep the potentially pathogenic organisms that are always lurking around in check.
Ask most people how best to inoculate your gut with good bacteria and they will suggest taking a probiotic supplement. Unfortunately, whilst probiotics are great at treating acute issues of the GIT they are not great at restoring your microbiome. This is because your microbiome contains thousands of species of bacteria, and a supplement contains a dozen at best. These supplement species also tend to be transient, meaning they will eventually leave your GIT once you cease taking the formula.
The best way to achieve a healthy microbiome is to incorporate plenty of fermented foods into your diet. I heard a talk on the GIT the other day, and the presenter made a great point: Refrigeration is both a blessing and a curse of modern civilization. A blessing, because it allows us to keep foods fresher for longer and have access to a wider variety of nutrition from season to season. A curse, because it has eliminated the need for practicing the art of fermentation to preserve foods. For hundreds if not thousands of generations mankind has used fermentation to store all types of food, and this has in turn provided a steady supply of a huge variety of beneficial bacteria for our guts. We have evolved to use this bacterial diversity to our advantage, however in just a few generations this supply of beneficial bacteria has been largely eliminated in Western countries.
If there is one thing you can start doing today to help you live a healthier life, it would be to introduce fermented foods into your diet. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, quality unflavoured yoghurt, and kombucha are all excellent options. Do your gut a favour and give it some ferments – it will love you for it.