Maintaining healthy gut bacteria is a game of fine balance. We must firstly understand all the factors that may affect the our digestive tract. Then, we must learn to treat our own bodies accordingly to our individual needs. Keeping up with all of this while going about our daily business, may seem impossible. Nevertheless, improving our digestive health may prevent a range of diseases. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, asthma and eczema and depression.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
People often misunderstand pre and probiotics as opposing ways to treat bad gut bacteria. There is also usually an implied competition between these two digestive health supplements. In fact, pre and probiotics should be used in conjunction to achieve digestive health. They feed off one another (quite literally), to promote balance in the intestinal tract.
Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibres which feed the good bacteria already found in the large intestine. Used simultaneously with probiotics, they may increase this good bacteria. Prebiotics can be found naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables, especially ones high in soluble fibre. Examples of foods high in prebiotics include, berries, bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, oatmeal and apples (with the skin on.) Legumes such as lentils, beans and peas are also great sources of fibre.
Prebiotic supplements come in many strains as well. They may be marketed to aid weight loss, bone health and other illnesses. Make sure to research these supplements thoroughly before paying a bucket load for something you don't need. Regardless, prebiotics have been shown to decrease inflammation in the intestine. So, make sure to include them in your lifestyle choices one way or another.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods or nutritional supplements. They are produced by the process of fermentation in foods such a yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, for example. Of course, there are many different varieties of yogurt available in stores. Plain Greek yogurt and Bulgarian yogurt varieties are recommend as the most beneficial to digestive health. These yogurts also contain less sugar than flavoured varieties. If you are put off by the tangy taste of plain yogurt, add a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of natural honey to your serving for extra sweetness.
Alternatively, make a batch of your own sauerkraut at home. All you will need is about 1 kg of white cabbage, sea salt, an empty glass jar, large mixing bowl and a tea towel.
- Sterilise the glass jar, mixing bowl and any other utensils you will be using. Make sure your hands are impeccably clean as well.
- Grate or shred the cabbage to your desired consistency.
- Place the grated cabbage into the mixing bowl. Add 4 - 5 teaspoons of sea salt. (The ratio of salt to cabbage is pivotal to the fermentation process. Experts suggest that you weigh your shredded cabbage to estimate the amount of salt needed. The salt ratio should be between 2.25 - 2.5% of the cabbage weight.)
- Rub the salt into the cabbage. It should start to release its own salty brine. Leave the mixture to stand for five minutes before rubbing again.
- Transfer the cabbage and brine into a clear glass jar. Press the cabbage down into the jar with a wooden spoon. The brine should just cover the top of the cabbage.
- Leave the mixture to ferment for at least 5 - 7 days at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Open the lid after the first day to release pressure. Make sure to keep the mixture pressed firmly down into the jar - you can cover the top with cling wrap or weigh it down with leftover cabbage leaves.
- Place your homemade sauerkraut into the fridge once you are happy with its taste and texture. It should keep for between one week to a month refrigerated.
Adapted from BBC Good Food Recipes
Probiotic supplements are also readily available from health stores and pharmacies. Dischem has a wide range of probiotic supplements available.
However, it is important to remember that there are millions of probiotic strains out there. Each of these may be used to treat a different set of digestive problems. Therefore, always consult your doctor first to find the right strain for you. You may have to use more than one kind to achieve gut balance. Using one type of probiotic supplement for an extended period may also prove ineffective. This is why it is so important to include as many fermented and fibrous foods in your diet as possible.