I believe that health is everything. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t and like most, I want to feel and look good. My health was the main reason I started writing this blog and studying to become a nutritionist. However as I continue down this pathway, I learn more and more and I now believe that gut health is everything.
I always believed myself to be healthy and fit (both inside and out) but it was in my mid 20s that my health started to decline – you can read more about my story here. What I quickly discovered is that I wasn’t so healthy because even though I was athletic looking and worked out a lot, I had constant gut pain or discomfort after eating certain foods, was bloated/gassy, got nasty pimples, suffered from PMS and nasty period pain, craved sugary foods, was extra moody and got headaches A LOT. I was progressively getting sicker until I started to find ways to heal myself… and probiotics – or gut health – played a massive part in this journey.
Probiotics today are commonly found (and taken) in the form of a pill. This is a potent way to get the good bacteria into you and help your body to heal from the inside out. There is a lot of choice when it comes to probiotics and you have to do your research to find what may serve you best (if you’ve got candida or have certain intolerances/histamine problems, you may need to focus on specific strains of bacteria etc) and then try them to see if you react or feel better.
There are plenty of brands on the market and it is important you get ones that are reputable; the generic brands are weaker compared to others and some require refrigeration which is a pain if you are travelling. During my period of healing, I used a number of products. I started out with colostrum[1. NCBI]: the first milk a mammal gives to her baby that is full of immunoglobulins, its main purpose being to provide protection to the child from the inside out, helping to colonise the child with healthy bacteria etc. I then moved onto probiotics shortly after, knowing that these were created with the healthy adult in mind. I used the Biokult brand (made by the GAPS people) and I found these fantastic. Combined with diet, these probiotics healed me significantly, even to the point where my lactose intolerance was no longer an intolerance and gut pain? What gut pain?! Seriously speaking, without probiotics, I would probably not have healed as quickly as I did.
However another way you can get good bacteria is with probiotic foods. These include good quality, home-made Greek yoghurt, and foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, miso soup and pickled veggies like dill pickles. They differ in their bacteria (there are more than 400 strains of bacteria in the gut)[2. Global Healing Centre][3. NCBI] but the main strains found in the gut are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum. That being said, this is a field that is still so new to the scientific world with so many studies being conducted that new information is being found all the time.
Sauerkraut has to be one of the most delicious and simple probiotic foods to make. With the good old German sausage, sauerkraut is widely accepted and eaten by many and tastes tangy which is a great compliment to any fatty meat dish, not to mention its digestive benefits. Sauerkraut is raw fermented cabbage. You can make it with both the green or red cabbage and is super good for your gut. Not only does fermented cabbage include a bunch of good stuff like antioxidants (vits A and C) and anti-inflammatory vitamins (K1 and B vitamins), it increases one’s immune system feeding our good bacteria. Sauerkraut usually contains the following bacteria:
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Pediococcus pentosaceus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus bavaricus[4. Power of Probiotics]
Studies have also shown that sauerkraut helps prevent cancer because it reduces inflammation[5. Dr. Mercola]
So why do I eat probiotic foods and still take probiotics if I am now healed??
Basically our bacteria have a lot of control over us, especially the way we feel, after all, it is known as our second brain![6. Hopkins medicine]. The ratio of bacterial cells to human cells is often stated as being 10:1 but a recent study showed their were much less than this, around 1: 1.3. Either way, we have A LOT of them and they influence us in more ways than we know and we need to care for them, giving them what they need to thrive and therefore, live in harmony inside (and outside) of us. Also, our bacteria is forever changing and evolving from birth to death. We start with very few microbes/species as a bub (picking them up from our mum and environment, things touched, food and so on) and then by the time we are adults, we have around 1000 different species living in and on us![7. Learn Genetics Utah].
In addition to this, our bacteria changes at major times in our life (puberty, pregnancy etc), but also when we are ill or take antibiotics, change location, change diet and so on… so, even if you are a person without symptoms or food allergies like I was, it is still recommended to introduce new bacteria into your body, preferably via food but in people like me, a daily probiotic is a must.
Everyone has their own “fingerprint” when it comes to bacteria, mine is not the same as yours, and depending on our birth (cesarean or vaginal), exposure to differing environments, food and stress, depends on which bacteria is present or dominant in your body. It also depends on how frequently you get sick and how you feel. Check out this awesome simulator to see how different influences can change one’s bacteria.[8. Learn Genetics Utah]
If you eat a lot of processed foods, the “bad” bacteria can overpopulate. Someone who eats a lot of sugary, processed foods may be prone to getting candida overgrowth for example. This is where the pathogenic bacteria candida albicans (nasty ones) are fed and overpopulate causing candida symptoms which are not nice. So diet is one of the hugest factors when it comes to our microbiome today.
So now that I live in Shanghai, I am being exposed to new bacteria all the time, or, external influences that impact upon my good bacteria: from food (that may or may not be organic), to the polluted air that I breath, to the water that, although filtered, I don’t know is always safe. Because I eat well, I give my body the best chance to thrive still but knowing my gut issues from the past, I will continue to take probiotics daily and because I want to have as much variety of beneficial bacteria as possible, I incorporate food like sauerkraut into my diet.
So what about those of you who have gut problems currently. What do I think will help to heal you of your gut problems which will in turn heal your skin, hair, nails, reduce your bloating/gas, help with your moods, headaches, PMS and make your evacuations perfect amongst so many other things…? (yep, I just went there)
First and foremost, I am not a doctor and I cannot give you personal advice so you need to speak to a functional medicine doctor or practitioner for their professional recommendations. I went to a doctor, a dietician and a gastroenterologist for help and they all knew nothing about gut bacteria and made no suggestions about healing in this way. There are many people practising this type of medicine though and if I knew about this option, I would have taken it…so research someone who you know can correctly advise you about your bacteria and who would recommend a probiotic as treatment. Not someone who is going to give you an antibiotic or medication to treat your symptoms. It will only mask the problems and kill the good guys in the process. #sadface
So, how did I heal myself?
- I cut out all sugar and processed foods.
- I cut out all alcohol. (Once I felt better I reintroduced a drink here and there but even today I don’t drink much, mainly at special occasions and only minimally anyway).
- I started taking immune-boosting and friendly gut bacteria-promoting probiotics
- I started making and consuming probiotics in the form of food (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and gelatin were my favourites)
- I tried (and continue to try) to limit the stress in my life… meditation, yoga + other exercise helps.
One thing I didn’t do until around Feb 2014 was quit the pill. This is another thing I recommend regarding healing your gut as it is a major player in messing with your hormones. I will post something about that experience soon.
Finally, some people complain about how bad they feel after eating sauerkraut or taking probiotics or what it does to one’s bowel movements. They may also experience side effects of headaches, stomach aches etc. This can be the die off reaction occurring and it is your body’s way of getting rid of the bad and re-populating the good. However, if you are a chronic sufferer you need to consult a doctor as this treatment may just exacerbate your problems and not be helpful whilst you are chronically sick. You may need to address your problem another way first and then when you have begun to heal, you can start to incorporate it into your lifestyle. So be aware…these bacteria are powerful stuff!
So with all of that, if you’re good to go, let’s make some sauerkraut!
- 1 head of organic cabbage (your choice as to which colour)
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
To break it down, there are a few steps to sauerkraut:
- Massage with salt.
- Stuff in jar (making sure it is covered in liquid).
But here is the detailed version:
- Make sure all utensils and jars are clean. (Most people recommend sterilizing in boiling water but as there is bacteria everywhere, can we really control the environment too much? As long as everything is clean, you should be ok and it is not going to mean that your cabbage doesn’t ferment).
- Chop up the cabbage, it can be fine or roughly chopped, your call on how you like it.
- Put the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt on it.
- Slowly massage the cabbage and you will notice that the salt softens it and pulls water out of it (via osmosis).
- Pick up a handful and squeeze it. If water comes out, you are looking good 😉
- Keep massaging until there is a big puddle of water in the bowl and all the salt is mixed in.
- Taste the cabbage and see if it is salted to your liking. Add more if you want it saltier.
- Stuff the cabbage into a mason jar or other airtight jar (push it down hard) along with all the juice that came out when you massaged it.
- The key to the cabbage fermenting is the juice. When in the jar, the cabbage should be submerged in the juice. If not, you can keep it pushed down with a weighted jar (just make sure it is clean) or you can even top it up with filtered water but the kraut has to be immersed.
- Put the lid on loosely and leave to ferment for 3-10 days. Ideally you want it to be in a warm temperature, around 18-25°C. The colder it is, the longer it will take to ferment.
- Each day, you will notice bubbles forming as the cabbage ferments and the juice may rise further. The longer you ferment it, the more tangy (and tasty) it will be. Taste it daily after 3 days and continue to ferment until you are happy with the taste. Once ready, put in the fridge and it is ready to consume.
What’s your favourite probiotic rich food and why do you eat them? Feel free to comment below…
Love (and healthy fats) Bianca x