Monday, June 14, 2010

One of my favorite things:

No pregnant lady jokes. Yes I am going to talk about pickles, but more specifically I want to talk about fermented foods, and even more specifically: probiotics.
I think everyone hears a lot about probiotics nowadays. But maybe some of us are still wondering what they are and whether we really need them or not. Over the course of a year I have become a big believer in probiotics and now firmly believe everyone should include them in their diet. Here's why:
Probiotics is the term given to the beneficial bacteria which reside in our intestinal tract. It's been estimated that there are more bacteria living in our intestinal tract than there are cells in our entire body. Which is a pretty awesome fact when you think about it. Now these bacteria can be good, bad or neutral for us. What we want is the good bacteria and a balance between all the rest. Essentially, we want to encourage the good ones to proliferate and discourage the bad ones.
There are lots of things in our lives and environments that effect the bacteria living within us. Poor diet, high stress, lack of physical activity, illness, certain medications, and environmental toxins all have a negative impact on our intestinal tract. Making sure we keep our good bacteria healthy and growing can have a positive impact on our lives. Good bacteria can have a positive impact on lowering our cholesterol, lactose intolerance, yeast infections, rotovirus, boosting immunity, food allergies, digestion and cancer prevention, just to name a few things.
My first real experience with probiotics was when I started my then 18 month old daughter on a probiotic regime after she had to take a course of pretty heavy antibiotics for an infection. The antibiotics managed to give her digestive issues and mess with her GI tract. She was obviously suffering from stomach aches and experiencing diarrhea. After only a few days of being on the probiotics, things returned to normal. After reading about the positive impact probiotics have on immune health while researching nutritional support for avoiding colds and flu, I kept her on the probiotics. I don't attribute it all to the probiotics, but she is definitely one of the healthiest toddlers I know. I recently attended a lecture on probiotics and since then have committed to making them a part of my daily routine as well. I highly recommend making them a part of your diet and your children's diets as well.
You may also have heard about prebiotics. Prebiotics are basically the food that probiotics eat. So you want to make sure to get plenty of these in your diet to support your probiotic health. You might question whether to take probiotics while taking antibiotics. Of course you should consult with your doctor, however I would say that taking probiotics while on an antibiotic medication is a good thing. Hopefully you will be able to counteract the damage to your good bacteria by getting plenty into your system. And probiotics will not counteract the effect the antibiotic will have on your bad bacteria, namely the reason you are taking the medication.
Support your good bacteria by eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat foods rich in prebiotics; artichokes, bananas, barley, berries, dairy, garlic, green leafies, leeks, honey, legumes, onions and whole grains. Drink lots of water every day. Exercise! Get enough sleep (7-8 hours/night) and rest when you need to. Try relaxing exercises like yoga, or meditation.
You can take a probiotics supplement (I recommend this) as well as eating foods rich in probiotics. When taking a supplement look for something that has at least 10 billion live or active cultures per dose. For normal use you'll want to take 10 billion per day. If you are using probiotics therapeutically (see a doctor or nutrition professional for advice on this) you'll want to take up to 10 billion three times a day. You also want to make sure the supplement includes more than one strain of bacteria, the more the better. Or alternate the types of strains you are taking.
Fermented foods contain these good bacteria. Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir (which may be more tolerable for people who are lactose intolerant), sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kim chi.
Cucumber Kim Chi
Kim Chi has always scared me, until I tried these and they were awesome!
Make them and you won't be sorry!
15 to 20 small cucumbers
2 tbsp red chili flakes
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp minced fresh garlic
1 tsp vinegar
1 tbsp raw honey
Slice cucumber into bite size pieces. Put them in a large bowl, ass about two flat tbsp of sea salt and toss well. Allow salted cukes to sit overnight at room temperature to create a natural brine. Add 1 tbsp minced garlic, chili flakes, honey, and vinegar. Give everything a good toss. Pack the kim chi away into glass jars and add a couple tbsp of the brine per container. Place tops on jars. Leave closed jars out in room temperature for 24 to 48 hours to give it a chance to ferment. After 24 to 48 hours, transfer jars to fridge. Enjoy!

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