If you’ve heard me talk, read my blog or seen me in clinic, you know I’m a fan of supporting gut health :-)
.. Why is gut health so important?
You’re made up of around 1.5kg of bacteria! That is a whopping 10 times as many bacteria than cells in our body. Having healthy beneficial bacteria levels is therefore crucial for supporting your gut health. Among digestive health, good bacteria contribute to a well functioning brain, balanced hormones, strong immune system, among much more.
When things go wrong
Unfortunately, dietary and lifestyle factors can throw out the crucial balance of the beneficial bacteria and can unfortunately compromise the health of your gut.
Contributing factors include distancing ourselves from traditional diets (consuming higher refined carbohydrates, sugar, artificial sweeteners and industrial seed oils) and the nutritional deficiencies which result from these poor diets. Higher stress levels also play their part, as does our increasing exposure to environmental and chemical toxins (including heavy metals, air and car pollution, oestrogen mimicking xenoestrogens such as BPA in plastics, glyphosate on conventionally farmed produce and toxins in cosmetics products). Other culprits include lack of sleep, pharmaceutical medications (particularly antibiotics and the Oral Contraceptive pill) along with being sedentary.
C-section birthed and exclusively bottle-fed babies, along with having viruses, parasitic and/ or fungal infections throughout life, can also contribute to imbalanced gut bacteria.
When the good bacteria levels are compromised, overtime this can lead to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and therefore poor digestion of foods, absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes.
This poor digestion can cause further health signs and symptoms, such as feeling run down, symptoms of a candida fungal overgrowth, iron deficiency, poor energy, skin conditions, low moods and hormonal imbalances. Interestingly your good bacteria helps to detoxify from dangerous oestrogen mimicking substances and therefore low good gut bacteria contributes to hormonal issues, such as endometriosis and fibroids.
Long term imbalances in good:bad bacteria (or issues with dysbiosis) can also contribute to chronic health conditions like autoimmune disease, allergies, autism, diabetes, depression, arthritis, heart disease, asthma, autism, obesity, parkinsons disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, liver cirrhosis and cancer.
An important step in healing the gut
It is important to understand that you can overcome digestive imbalances, along with the symptoms and conditions that occur from poor good:bad bacterial balance in the body.
Among eliminating aggravating foods, taking key nutrients and herbs, fermented foods have the incredible ability to enhance digestion, reduce inflammation and heal the gut, through supplying the body with beneficial bacteria.
When foods are fermented, the process creates a breakdown of the carbohydrates in the food, into simpler substances of alcohol and carbon dioxide. Bacteria, mould, yeast and enzymes can cause this process to occur in an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment. Sounds icky, but the result is an amazing gut healing food.
Bonuses of fermenting foods:
Enhances the flavour, aroma and texture of the foods.
Naturally preserves the food, through the production of lactic or acetic acid.
Breaks down enzyme inhibitors such as phytic acid in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Phytic acid can stop adequate digestion of these foods, resulting in poor absorption of the minerals they contain.
Fermented foods contain digestive enzymes, probiotic bacteria, lactic acid (allows healing of the gastrointestinal wall), vitamins (B vitamins, biotin, vitamin c and vitamin K2) and minerals.
Provides a higher nutritional value than other foods. Interestingly, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) has a greater level of vitamin C than unfermented.
Health benefits of including fermented foods:
Along with supporting the good bacteria in the gut, supplying enzymes, fermented foods enhance the production of stomach acid, a substance that is crucial to properly digest proteins. When beneficial bacteria and enzymes work together, foods are broken down very effectively, absorbed and used by our body.
Strengthens the immune system, through the enhanced good bacteria levels and production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (the fuel for the lining of your gut). The gut health is crucial for strong immunity, as up to 80% of your immune system is found in the gut.
Fermented food supports the body’s ability to detoxify the body. A clean, healthy digestive tract is crucial for optimal health and good bacteria encourage regular and complete bowel movements (we’re aiming for a daily # 4 on the Bristol stool chart).
A good functioning gut (through the consumption of fermented foods), positively affects the way you think and feel. The good gut bacteria are crucial for healthy production of brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. A deficiency in serotonin leads to low moods and contributes to depressive states. Increasing serotonin levels therefore helps to promote happy, uplift moods.
By supporting a healthy gut, you are assisting the repair of your cells, by freeing up enzymes, which control this process.
Fermented foods can prevent and treat colic when consumed regularly by pregnant and lactating mothers.
When you are initially introducing fermented foods, you can potentially experience some detox reactions. It is best to start slow and with sauerkraut juice, moving up to sauerkraut if you are free from any detox reactions. After which you can introduce other fermented foods, such as kim chi, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, coconut kefir and yoghurt.
Get gut healthy
Good gut bacteria balance is crucial for reaching your optimal health. Support your beneficial bacteria through tasty fermented foods and enjoy the health benefits they bring!
Kasey is a qualified Naturopath and Nutritionist who runs a busy Adelaide based clinic ‘Aloe Health’. For Kasey, Nutrition is such a fundamental part of achieving true health. With a special interest in digestive and hormone health and through her clinic, speaking, writing and online projects, Kasey aims to educate many others to reach their health and happiness potential.
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