There’s a constant battle between good and bad within our bodies — the battle of bacteria. Many of these little microbes live in our digestive system, and a healthy amount of good bacteria is actually beneficial to our health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, good gut bacteria serve many purposes, including:
• Metabolizing nutrients and drugs.
• Helping the immune system fight off germs.
• Maintaining the structure and function of the gastrointestinal tract.
Jennifer George, a St. Joseph librarian, has been interested in how food can hurt as well as heal. Food allergies run in her family, and her brother has a rare intestinal disease.
“I became even more invested in learning about gut health when I was finally diagnosed with dairy intolerance, which turned into an allergy,” she said.
George also has some other food intolerances and now eats a mostly plant-based diet and said she feels better than ever.
“… I have fewer headaches, fewer digestive issues and a lot more energy,” she said. “With gut health in balance, there is likely less inflammation in the body and less pain, less bloating, less fluid retention.”
There are two ways to maintain this balance, by consuming prebiotics and probiotics, the Mayo Clinic reports. Prebiotics, found in many fruits and vegetables, are specialized plant fibers, which spur the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system.
Probiotics, commonly found in yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut, differ in that they’re live organisms that increase the number of healthy microbes in your gut.
George said she enjoys making her own fermented foods.
“Sauerkraut and fermented veggie sticks are the easiest things to make,” she said. “Bacterial super foods can be made with veggies and salt water. It’s the best science experiment in your own kitchen.”
To make sauerkraut, she takes one head of cabbage and 1 tablespoon of salt, a jar and enough salt water to cover the cabbage. She lets it sit and in about seven days, the sauerkraut is ready.
“You can also add all kinds of other veggies to your kraut,” she said. “I absolutely love to add carrots and beets and fresh garlic and ginger.”
She also enjoys yogurt and kombucha, but warns to be careful of added sugar in these.
“Added sugar is counterproductive to the benefits, in my opinion,” George said.
She recommends adding fruit and honey to give unsweetened yogurt a touch of sweetness.
Books that George has found helpful in her gut health journey are: “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” and “The Ultramind Solution” by Dr. Mark Hyman, and “Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It” by Dr. Josh Axe.
George swears by apple cider vinegar, a probiotic, to keep her belly flat. She drinks raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar every day with a 1/2 cup water.
“When I eat a lot of legumes (lentils and beans), sometimes I can feel my digestion slogging along,” she said. “If I drink vinegar, it really helps my digestion.”