The Magic of Probiotics and Why You Should Be Eating Fermented Foods

miso soup

For some reason, when I hear the word fermented, I think of it as being synonymous with festering. It’s not. That’s such a putrid, incorrect association that was so unfortunately formed in one of my synapses. But there we go. No, fermentation is actually the chemical breakdown of a substance by one or more microorganisms that convert sugars to acids, gases or alcohol. And when it comes to foods, fermentation makes things better (not like festering, which means something gets worse…). I’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and I believe that stuffing my face full of fermented foods has made all the difference. The usual side-effects that I get were not to be seen, so they clearly did something! And I’ll definitely be carrying on with having them in my diet for numerous other reasons.

Fermented foods include the likes of sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, kombucha, probiotic yoghurt, natto, tempeh, and so many others that you may not have heard of. They’re pungent, acquired-taste-required foods that I feel are losing the battle to the more bland and processed foods on the market. Sure, they’ve got a noticeable taste, but adjust your palette and you’ll be loving them in no time. Especially when you think about all the good that they can do for your body.

When you hear about fermented foods being described as those that are full of bacteria, I realise how that might make you wince. But make no mistake – these are good bacteria. Not the kind that will make you ill. They are species that aid our bodily functions. These include aiding digestion, boosting the immune system, keeping our, ahem, downstairs regions free of nasties like thrush and UTIs, boosting healthier skin, and increasing energy levels. You see, pumping your system full of good bacteria forces out the bad bacteria and yeast that can otherwise take over. The good outcompetes the bad. And these common species fall within two genera: Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp,.

Bifidobacterium spp. are natural inhabitants of our gut, vagina and mouth. Treatments where Bifidobacterium was given to those suffering from colitis was found to reduce inflammation in patients and improve rates of remission. That’s pretty astounding when you think about it. But it doesn’t have to be limited to those suffering from a terrible bowl condition. It reduces inflammation caused by any irritating foods and will combat nasty bloating. There’s also evidence for it helping IBS sufferers, so if you’re one of the many, definitely start consuming.

Then there’s Lactobacillus spp. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most popular for its ability to prevent thrush caused by candida, as well as helping with the gut. It creates by-products that include lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide when it metabolises the foods in our body. These kill off candida yeast. Candida are found naturally in our body and in low numbers do no harm. In fact, they even aid functions like digestion. But when we consume too many sugary carbohydrates, they proliferate. When this happens, it’s bad news. They make us feel tired, cause various autoimmune diseases, cause vaginal infections, make us irritable and make us crave yet more sugary food.

Probiotics are a healthy addition to the diet of anyone at any time, but they really come into their own for those on antibiotics or those having eaten irritating, processed foods. I’ve just been dealing with the former, unfortunately. And I can say from first-hand experience that they have done me the world of good. I’ve had to take antibiotics a good few times in my twenty-six years and every time I do I am met with nausea and thrush. Every. Single. Time. And it sucks. But it’s normal. If you’ve suffered from the same thing, I’m here to tell you that you are not alone! Nausea is listed as a common side effect, but I read about thrush being this ‘very rare’ potential side effect and I’m like, ‘but everyone I know who takes antibiotics gets thrush?’ *bewildered shrug*.

Antibiotics kill off all the bacteria in your body. The aim is to kill what’s made you sick, but a negative side effect is killing everything else off in the process. This includes the healthy, wonderful helpers that keep our bodily functioning nice and efficiently. Combating these side effects can be done by consuming probiotics, whether that’s in food form or in a pill. I put sauerkraut on everything I could this past week, ate a bowl of miso soup every day and took an L. acidophilus capsule daily with a meal. The trick, however, is to try to consume these as far apart from your antibiotics doses as possible, to minimise how many are killed by the antibiotic. I took my first antibiotic when I woke up, but didn’t take my second until 3-4pm, so lunch around midday was a great time to get the probiotics in my system. The same thing occurred for dinner. My last dose of antibiotics was around 10pm, so dinner around 6 or 7pm gave me another opportunity to get my fill. The result? I suffered no negative side effects. Pretty incredible, considering what I’ve experienced in the past.

While I love the strong flavours of kimchi and sauerkraut, they’re obviously not the kinds of foods I’ll be eating every day for the rest of my life now that I’m off the meds. However, I now think of them as delicious medicines, in a weird way. If I’m going to have a veggie dog in a white bread roll, a sauerkraut topping will definitely help the digestion along. Or if I ever have a heavy lunch of pizza and dough balls, an afternoon miso soup will do wonders.

No one likes the bloat, or feeling like their body is heavy and holding on to all that processed, difficult-to-digest material. Do yourself a favour and introduce probiotics as a way of helping yourself along. I know I certainly will be. Now to go make myself some kimchi, because ohmygodit’sthebest. Recipe might follow soon on that one, hmm…

Probiotics! What are your thoughts?!

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