In recent years, the popularity of gut health has sky-rocketed and products such as ‘Activa’ have landed in our grocery store dairy section. Is improving your health as simple as these companies would like you to believe? NO. Read on to find out more about gut health and why yogurt just isn’t enough.
Why gut health is essential
As Hippocrates said “all disease starts in the gut”, so to does all health.
Gut health is essential as it is the good bacteria in the gut that assist in food breakdown, help produce essential nutrients and allow for greater nutrient bioavailability (via pre-digestion).
Without the right balance, nutrient production, absorption, digestion and assimilation is sub-optimal. This has powerful implications for health and vitality; immunity and protection from food allergies and intolerances; cognition, memory and overall brain health; natural detoxification pathways; growth in children and adolescents; exercise performance and recovery; weight loss ability; and the list goes on…
Did you know that over 95% of serotonin receptors (our happy hormone) are located in the gut? Take a minute to consider what the mood implications of poor gut health could be. Hmmmm….
The truth about yogurt claiming Probiotics
When you think of it this way, it’s actually not possible that non-organic, pasteurized, sugar-laden dairy could ever be considered healthy, let alone a way of improving your “second brain”. Here’s why:
- Non-organic dairy
Non-organic dairy can be subjected to hormones; antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and the cows are often fed cheap grains to fatten them up. Grain-fed produce is high in inflammatory omega-6 and should be avoided at all costs.
Pasteurized dairy is subject to high temperatures to destroy impurities, which at the same time, destroys the nutritious qualities. The truth is that the calcium actually becomes insoluble, the vitamin C is damaged, and 20% of the iodine is destroyed, just to start.
- Sugar laden
A large majority of store-bought yogurts are packed with sugar. This applies especially to the low fat/non fat/skim/light/lite versions, where the fat is reduced or removed, and sugar is added to improve the texture, taste and addictive qualities of the product. In addition, pasteurization turns the milk sugar, lactose, into beta-lactose, which is far more soluble and therefore more rapidly absorbed in the system. This causes a rapid rise in blood sugar and the associated crash, both of which are detrimental to our hormonal control, level of satisfaction, energy management and long-term health.
- Poor quality and artificial ingredients
“Yakult contains high quality, simple ingredients including water, sugar (sucrose), skim milk powder, dextrose, flavors and live Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain. Yakult LIGHT also contains polydextrose (dietary fiber) and sweetener (955).”*
Sucrose? Skim milk powder? Sweetener 955?!
In case you’re not sure, 955 is sucralose, more commonly know as Splenda. It’s an artificial sweetener known to be up to one thousand times sweeter than sugar, and definitely not something you should be putting in your body.
So if not yogurt, what?
There are some fantastic natural alternatives to store-bought sugar-laden pasteurized yogurt. This list should provide plenty of variety, which is essential to ensure you get a large variety of bacterial strains and rotate your choices frequently:
- Probiotics (vegan, if a dairy free option is selected)
To get started, supplement with high-quality practitioner brand of probiotics. Choose a high strength product and one that contains the most strains of bacteria. The reason you don’t buy sub-standard probiotics is exactly the same reason why you don’t put sub-standard fuel in your car.
- Kefir (dairy free and vegan option)
Kefir is a probiotic drink made from “grains” (tibicos), which act like the starter culture in yogurt. Traditionally the grains are added to milk and fermented via the lactose, or milk sugar. For dairy free and vegan options, both water kefir and coconut kefir can be made. To get started, buy your grains online and you will be provided with a full set of instructions. It’s really like a fun science experiment watching your grains come to life! If you’re not quite ready to DIY, a fantastic brand is Peace, Love and Vegetables. Their coconut kefir is dairy free, sugar free, delicious and available in health food stores.
- Fermented vegetables (dairy free and vegan)
Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut are one of the easiest and most convenient sources of good bacteria. Fermented foods in general contain billions of beneficial microbes, which drive out pathogens and therefore protect gut integrity. In addition, the bacteria pre-digest the food for us, which means we have greater access to nutrients. There is actually 20 times more bioavailable vitamin C in sauerkraut than in fresh cabbage!
To make your own sauerkraut, finely shred one cabbage and transfer into a large bowl. Add one tablespoon of rock salt and use your hands to squeeze as much juice out of the cabbage as possible. If you’re patient, you should get enough liquid so that when transferred into an airtight container, it is completely covered. For large cabbages, you may like to split this process into two. Salt is essential to create the right environment (pH) for fermentation to take place. From here, all you need to do it store your well-packed cabbage for 4-7 days. From there, transfer into the fridge and enjoy. You can actually use any vegetables you like (e.g. carrots, cucumbers, raddish, artichokes), in any combination, and add any herbs and spices you desire. Serve 1-2 tablespoons on your eggs, in a salad, or as a side to any main dish.
- Bone Broth (dairy free)
Bone broth is one of nature’s true superfoods. It is packed full of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus and provides gelatin and collagen for cell integrity and healing. While everyone will benefit from adding bone broth, it is absolutely essential for those with leaky gut, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions.
This mineral rich drink or stock is also one of the best ways to ensure your kitchen is wastage free. Simply save your meat bones or chicken carcass and cover in water, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt, in a large pot. Bring to the boil on the stove before simmering for 24-48 hours. Allow cooling before straining and retaining only the liquid yield. This can then be used as a stock for soups and stir fries, or reheated on the stove as a side to your main meal.
- Kombucha (dairy free and vegan)
My final gut health item is kombucha. It is made from a starter culture (known as a “scoby”), sugar and tea. When double fermented, it becomes a fruity fizzy drink and a great replacement for soft drink, as hard as it may be to believe! To make your own, obtain a scoby from someone already brewing their own kombucha tea, purchase one from a reputable source or grow one from a bottle of raw (i.e. unpasteurized) kombucha tea. Cultures for Health is one of the best online resources and you can find out more here.
If you’re not ready to make your own, grab some Remedy Kombucha from your local health food store.
How to start improving your gut health, naturally:
- Take one high-quality probiotic in capsule form a day, just in case you don’t get any probiotic food or beverages in.
- Make a batch of sauerkraut and you’ll see how easy it is. Adding 1-2 tablespoons to a main meal is easy.
- Buy a roast chicken to add to your salads and preserve the carcass for bone broth, or simply ask your local butcher or farmers market for bones. They cost $2-$3 per bag!
- Purchase a bottle of kefir and/or kombucha and see if you like the taste. When you’re ready to DIY, purchase your starters online.
Start small and choose which is most convenient for you. One to two servings per day is plenty to start. If your health improves, then you are on the right track. If not, gradually add a little more each week. Trial and error is key.
Have fun with it. Focus on what you eat first and incorporate probiotic foods for optimal health, digestion and immunity.
What is your favorite gut health food or beverage? Do you already make your own?
**The caveat here is natural yogurt. If you can tolerate an organic grass-fed full fat yogurt, then it is a good source of probiotics. To control the treatment of the cultures and ensure the quality of the product however, it is always best to make your own.