Good Guys to the Rescue!

goodbacteria

You may have heard the terms good bacteria, probiotics, prebiotics or healthy flora being used in the marketing of yogurt and other foods, or in conversation with your friends.

Using probiotics for digestive support has increased tremendously since the mid-1990s. But why are probiotics so important? What benefits do they have for health other than the regulation of digestion?

Your digestive process

Once the mouth and stomach have broken down our foods, the small intestine works to absorb the nutrients. Any undigested food that the small intestine is unable to use enters the large intestine where our bacteria further breaks it down and absorbs anything that’s leftover.

The role of the “good guys”

The large intestine is not a sterile place. It is home to bacteria called “flora” that are made up of approximately three pounds of bacteria and other micro-organisms; both good and bad, competing for nutrients and space.

Good bacteria:

  • Supports the immune system
  • Stimulates the gut mucosa to produce antibodies to pathogens
  • Produces natural antifungal and antibiotic substances
  • Produces vitamin K, which is essential for the formation and repair of our bones
  • Produces B vitamins required to maintain the muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract that regulates digestion
  • Reduces the low-grade inflammation that can contribute to obesity
  • Uses nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, making it easier to digest foods properly and efficiently, so we store less energy and fat
  • Metabolizes and recycles hormones, including estrogen, thyroid hormones, and phytoestrogens

Good bacteria are known to help prevent food allergies, decrease gas, bloating, indigestion, acne, eczema, psoriasis, bad breath, colds, flu, chronic fatigue and high cholesterol levels. This is because they properly break down the remaining nutrients of your foods, control the acidity (pH level) of the intestines, and secrete acids that less friendly microbes cannot tolerate well.

Unbalanced flora and disease

Almost 80% of your immune system is located in your large intestine. This means supporting your digestive health is essential to supporting your immune system, your number one defense system against all disease. If too many bad bacteria are present in your digestive tract, it can lead to imbalanced intestinal flora with disrupted or slowed digestion.

Slow digestion is like leaving food lying around in a dark, damp, warm germ-infested tube for a day or more. Bad bacteria gladly assimilate anything that you are slow to digest and spews their excretions into your intestine. These toxins can prevent good bacteria from growing, and can provide a comfortably toxic environment that permits other bad bacteria to grow and thrive.

Supporting healthy bacteria

We can support our healthy bacteria by feeding it living microorganisms that, once ingested, will directly become our healthy flora (probiotics), or by consuming non-digestible food that selectively stimulates the growth of “good” bacteria (prebiotics).

Probiotics can be found in foods with lactobacillus and/or bifidobacteria like yogurt, butter, milk, goat’s milk, coconut water, and soy milk products. These good bacteria also grow naturally in fermented milk, kefir, natto, miso, kimchee, tempeh, and sauerkraut.

As mentioned, prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. But healthy bacteria need to be in the gut before they can be stimulated to grow. Start off with probiotic sources to build up the good guys and then support growth by consuming sources of prebiotics such as dandelion greens, spinach, kale, artichokes, legumes, onions, leeks, garlic, oatmeal, flaxseed, barley, and soy yogurt.

What you eat and your level of stress have a huge impact on the balance of bacteria in your gut. Incorporating foods that will build and grow your flora while supporting a balanced state of mind through yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, and smiling, will ensure that you’re building and supporting healthy flora for years to come.

Do you supplement your diet with probiotics? If so, what’s your routine?

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  1. What kind of tempeh do you use? I have tried “Light Life” Organic Tempeh Soy (also comes in flax and multigrain). The tempeh soy gave me a bit of intestinal discomfort ;-) I was wondering if you know of a brand or kind of tempeh that won’t cause this? I appreciate your help! Thank you!

    • Do you also have an issue with other fermented products such as kimchi, kefir, raw sauerkraut or miso? The only reason I ask, is many people who have a slight issue with yeast or imbalanced flora can have that type of reaction to fermented foods. I use Green Cuisine Tempeh – http://www.greencuisine.com/tempeh.html

      • I haven’t tried kimchi, yes to kefir (but not plain greek yogurt) and all kinds of kraut (cabbage is not a friend of mine so I assume kimchi wouldn’t be either)…not sure about miso. I just bought a miso soup from my local health food shop…so I guess I’ll be finding out ;-) I know that I don’t tolerate “beans/legumes” very well. I wonder if I don’t tolerate soy in general. Soy milk does that to me too…I use almond milk. I’m still on that journey of trying to find what my gut likes and doesn’t. It’s becoming a long and frustrating journey. I’ve recently started eating clean….I’ve gotten blood work done twice (don’t think that he’s tested me for yeast) and everything keeps coming back in the normal range. Thank you for your help…I will look into the Green Cuisine Tempeh.

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