Research shows that on average probiotics last 13 to 17 days in the gastrointestinal tract which means that , whilst its a good strategy in the short term to crowd out problematic bacteria, the reality is that diet is the best way to improve your gut flora.
So what do you need to do to feed your gut bacteria right? Different foods have different properties in regards to their ability to feed and nourish your gut bacteria. Generally you need to start by thinking about what foods encourage healthy gut bacteria and these are predominantly fibrous fruits and vegetables. The resistant starch as well as pectins found in these foods provides a good source of food for gut bacteria so you need to make sure that your diet includes sufficient to feed them well. This would mean at least 6 serves of vegetables and 2-3 pieces of fruit daily.
It’s also helpful to know what probiotic strains you may be low in, many people use a Comprehensive Digestive Stool analysis (CDSA) to see if they are low in specific strains.
People who are low in Lactobacilli strains can often benefit from increasing their consumption of spirulina, green tea and almonds which have all been shown to increase the levels of lactobacilli. Increasing bifidobacteria can be assisted by eating raw carrots and brown rice .
Whilst most yoghurts claim that they contain beneficial strains only a couple in Australia have been tested and have verifiable claims. These include Vaalia and Activa. Vaalia yoghurt contains three beneficial strains however because it is given in a food which is useful for the gut bacteria it seems to generate good results at approximately half a cup a day. Most people who are lactose intolerant can cope with up to about 6g of lactose daily which is approximately half a cup.
Many people also turn to fermented foods to improve the health of their gut flora in particular traditional foods like sauerkraut or kim-chi. Sauerkraut has a wide range of health benefits as well as being an excellent way to preserve cabbage for the colder months. These include
- fermentation of vegetables has been shown to reduce pesticide residues which means that even if you can’t afford organic options at least you are reducing your toxic load.
- Cabbage is a great source of indole-3- carbinole which helps you metabolise hormones effectively in particular oestrogen and it also contains some anti-fungal components.
- Fermentation also reduces anti-nutrients and increases the concentration of several key nutrients in particular it has been shown to increase niacin by 175%.
Christine Pope is a nutritionist and homeopath based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Her focus in clinical practice is on improving gut health as it is critical to improving overall health.