It is often said that your body is home to trillions of bacteria that outnumber your human cells by 10 to 1.
While the exact ratio of bacteria to human cells is still unknown, this complex eco-system of good and bad bacteria is largely concentrated in our digestive tract as well as on our skin, saliva and mucosal surfaces. And it plays an important role in both our inner health and outer appearance.
Research is ongoing but scientists believe cultivating better gut flora is the key to robust immunity, more energy, healthier digestion, detoxification, weight loss, longevity, better brain function and the production of the happy hormone we all want more of: serotonin.
Most adults have 500 to 1000 species of bacteria living in their gut and the goal is to have more good bacteria than bad.
However good gut flora can be reduced by taking antibiotics or antibiotic residues in foods, eating too much sugar, stress, and alcohol. (NB: Even though wine is fermented it can encourage the growth of candida yeast.)
All of which can lead to a proliferation of bad bacteria or an unbalanced microbiome (called dysbiosis) which has been linked to obesity, digestive complaints, skin problems (such as acne, rosacea and premature ageing), depression, anxiety and even cancer.
Too much bad bacteria can even damage the integrity of the intestinal wall (causing a condition known as “leaky gut”) allowing toxins to pass directly into the bloodstream where they trigger an inflammatory response around the body and often on the skin.
Put simply, the more diverse the intestinal bacteria in your microbiome, the better your overall health and the better your skin will be. So it pays to treat your complex inner ecosystem kindly.
That means it’s time to tap into the probiotic healing powers of the gut-loving lactobacilli in fermented foods and start repopulating your gut with healthy flora.
The power of lacto-fermentation
Lacto-fermenting foods increases their nutritional value of and also helps you better digest the other foods you eat with them.
This process also makes the nutrients more bio-available, meaning your body will be able to absorb more nutrients from your meal, which is especially important from a beauty perspective to ensure your skin is getting the nutrients it needs to repair itself, maintain good elasticity and produce collagen. In other words, beautiful skin begins with good gut health.
The Beauty Chef use the power of lacto-fermentation in its inner and outer beauty formulas to super-charge the nutritional value of the ingredients and create natural probiotics.
So to help get you get your daily dose of gut-friendly lactobacilli, here’s a guide to fermented foods, drinks and condiments to try.
Think of them as the fertilizer for your inner garden and try to mix them up. Because consuming a variety of probiotics helps diversify the beneficial bacteria in your gut…
- Apple cider vinegar – Raw ACV enables better digestion and encourages the growth of friendly gut bacteria. It’s also high in minerals and potassium. Look for the unpasteurised kind with the “cloudy” mother floating in the bottle. Drinking a tablespoon of ACV in a glass of warm water about an hour before a meal can enhance digestion. Or mix a 1:3 ratio with some extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of pepper for an easy probiotic salad dressing.
- Coconut yoghurt or kefir – coconut yoghurt is a dairy-free way to get digestive enzymes and probiotics. Plus it’s simple to make at home using the flesh of a young coconut and probiotic capsules. You can make coconut kefir drinks using kefir grains and coconut water.
- Cultured dairy products – buttermilk, cultured butter, some soft cheeses (such as cottage cheese), sour cream and kefir all contain probiotics along with natural enzymes, vitamins, minerals, protein and calcium.
- Dark chocolate – is not technically a probiotic but the good news is your healthy gut microbes like to eat it as much as you do. Researchers have found when you consume dark chocolate, good microbes eat it and then ferment it, producing anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit your gut and heart health.
- Fermented cod liver oil – A nutrient-dense fish oil in a capsule or liquid form. It’s rich in omega 3 fats and vitamins A, D and K2 that are made more bio-available by the fermentation process.
- Kefir – A fermented and slightly tangy drink with a thin yoghurt-like consistency. It can be made from dairy or coconut water using globules of live kefir grains that grow in liquid. Remember though they take a little work as they need to be strained and immersed in new liquid daily.
- Kimchi – Sauerkraut’s spicy Korean cousin which is also made from fermented cabbage believed to be help lower blood pressure, improve immunity, boost metabolism and protect against cancer. Be wary of kimchi made with excess salt and sugar.
- Koji – Basically a fragrant, umami flavoured Japanese paste made from rice that has been inoculated with the koji mould. You can use it as a marinade, toss through steamed vegetables or whisk it through a salad dressing.
- Kombucha – A fizzy, probiotic tea brewed from a rubbery clump of bacteria called a scoby which has been brewed in China for thousands of years. It’s rich in B vitamins (which help reduce inflammation), vitamin C, digestive enzymes and probiotics. Plus you get the benefits of the antioxidants in the tea. Just avoid brews with too much sugar.
- Kvass – A traditional Eastern European fermented drink brewed from beetroots or stale bread.
- Miso – Made from fermented soybeans or grains and rich in nourishing minerals such as potassium. Choose raw, unpasteurised miso and stir it into hot (not boiling) water. Or add to a homemade salad dressing. Or blend 1 tablespoon of miso paste with 1 tablespoon of grass-fed butter for a delicious miso butter to put on fish, chicken, steak or even steamed veggies.
- Natto – Another Japanese staple made from fermented soybeans but it’s not for every palate as it has a pungent smell and taste.
- Olives – Can have probiotic benefits but only if they are traditionally cured with a probiotic starter culture.
- Pickles – Lacto-fermented pickles can be made from everything from carrots and radishes to watermelon. Just press them into a sterile, airtight jar with salt or whey and wait for the sugars and juice to ferment. Add some herbs and let your imagination run wild. See The Beauty Chef’s recipe for Sweet and Sour Fermented Vegetables here.
- Prebiotics – Many plant foods contain an insoluble fibre known as inulin that ferments in the colon and feeds your good gut flora. Eating prebiotics and probiotics together builds better gut health than just eating one without the other. Think fibrous plants such as avocados, bananas, onions, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, oats, oranges, legumes and leafy greens to name a few.
- Rejuvelac: This cloudy, non-alcoholic fermented liquid made from sprouted grains (such as oats, rye, rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley) is less common but also rich in live enzymes and beneficial bacteria. It can be drunk on its own or used as a starter culture for other fermented foods.
- Sauerkraut –Raw fermented cabbage is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes and probiotics. Look for raw, lacto-fermented (not-pasteurised) kind that is refrigerated. The sauerkraut in jars on the supermarket shelf has been pasteurised at high temperatures and contains a lot of salt. Also avoid added sugar and artificial preservatives.
- Switchel – is a traditional drink making a comeback among healthy hipsters in the US. It’s brewed from water, apple cider vinegar and a sweetener such as maple syrup, molasses or brown sugar.
- Tempeh – Made from fermented soybeans and a complete protein with all of the amino acids. It’s also rich in B vitamins and great in stir fries or on veggie burgers.
- Yoghurt – Steer clear of the flavoured yoghurts or those with added sugar. If you can tolerate it go for natural, unflavoured cow, goat or sheep’s yoghurt. Otherwise try soy or coconut yoghurt instead. Also don’t strain off the watery whey – that’s where most of the good stuff – the lactobacillus acidophilus – resides, so stir it in.