These are our five priorities with every meal, in their order of priority.  In the second post of this series, I’ll address our funky, feisty friends:  microorganisms.  The ones our guts like, deep down, at the very pit of their being.  Not the ones they might pretend to like because others think they’re cool.

I digress.

The term “probiotics” pertains to a diverse array of bacteria, and even some yeasts, which help develop, repair, and protect the vital layer of flora which colonizes our intestinal walls.  As I’ve said before, without a healthy layer of flora, the delicate walls of our guts can easily become injured and develop holes, leading to hosts of health problems.

I always had assumed that by consuming probiotics, I was helping to recolonize the flora layer with the bacteria/yeasts which I was consuming.  However, I recently learned that, at least in part, it’s not actually the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria jumpin’ around having a party in my kefir that are filling all those little crevices and cavities surrounding my intestinal villi.  Actually, the probiotics we consume help foster a friendly environment for the growth of the thousands of species of bacteria that already reside in the gut.  They often don’t replace them or recolonize their territories.  Most of the probiotics we consume are passed on down the digestive tract a relatively short period of time after they are consumed, within a week or two.  They go in, do their job, their souls move on to bacteria/yeast heaven, and their bodies go down the … well, you know where they go.  On their journey, though, they produce acidity, attack pathogens, and provide a variety of beneficial materials to foster the procreative activities of the decimated colonies of native friendlies struggling to hold down their forts.  If I understand it correctly, tho, there’s not a whole lot of probiotic procreation happening in our guts, not, at least, in comparison to their orgiastic activities that happen in the foods I’m about to talk about.

Probiotic foods can be found in all the traditional cuisines of the world.  Introducing, or cultivating, beneficial microorganisms in food stuffs is not only good for the gut — it helps food last longer.  In the absence of refrigeration or freezing temperatures, fermentation is one of the best methods of preservation.  And it just so happens that the same microorganisms which best preserve raw, fresh foods (and make them taste delicious!), also happen to be the best ones for our guts.  On the other hand, those bacteria which make food rot are generally not so great for our systems.  One rule I have for all fermentation is that if it smells foul, tastes bad, or has an unusual or unpleasant texture, I don’t eat any more of it.  Now, of course, my perception of these qualities is pretty generous, since I really hate throwing out food.  But a batch of badly pickled cauliflower last fall, and a very unhappy husband, tightened my standards a bit!

I’m going to divide up probiotic foods–foods fermented with live, active cultures–into a few categories, to make things a little simpler.  Sandor Katz has a much more extensive taxonomy of fermentation in his indispensable book on fermentation (which, by the way, was our “gateway” book into nourishing foods, thanks to a Christmas present from my cousins), but a number of them don’t apply to our current diet, so these should suffice for now.

  • Fermented vegetables: These include sauerkraut, kimchi, and various pickles (re: link:  this store is AWESOME).  It can also extend to certain condiments like ketchup, which can be lacto-fermented.  J loves cuke pickles and giardiniera mix–cauliflower, celery, carrots, and peppers–like his stomach is a bottomless pit.  He literally can go through a jar of pickles in a meal.  It’s kind of obscene.  On a different note, sauerkraut juice (the liquid that accumulates during fermentation of sauerkraut) is an important part of the intro stages of the GAPS diet, and supposedly taking small sips of sauerkraut juice can help stimulate stomach acid.  Tho I haven’t had this experience.
  • Fermented dairy: Kefir, yogurt, villi, sour cream, soft (and hard) cheeses made from raw milk (cottage cheese, ricotta, chevre…) (all made with live active cultures — very little yogurt and sour cream at the grocery store is probiotic).  The possibilities for this category are virtually endless, and every culture in which the milking of animals is traditional has its own unique tastes and techniques.  In fact, fermented dairy may have been the key to the rise of European civilization.  It is a really good thing that both J and I tolerate dairy so well, because we’re big fans.
  • Fermented meats: There’s a lot going on in this area in the blogosphere right now, but we’re still taking pretty much baby steps.  The only fermented meat product we’re regularly consuming presently is homemade gravlox with wild Alaskan salmon.  Homemade only, because everything you can buy at the store is made with sugar;  we make ours either with honey or no sweetener at all.  We’re still working on perfecting the technique.  The probiotics come from the raw salmon itself;  you can also innoculate it with homemade whey from strained yogurt or kefir, tho I think we’ve decided not to do this in the future, because it just creates too much liquid in the process.
  • Fermented (non-dairy) drinks: For our present purposes, this category is dominated by kombucha and beet kvass.  Both of these drinks have substantial health benefits, not only via their probiotics, but also in the various nutritional compounds and components–acids, vitamins, minerals–which result from the fermentation process.  According to Fallon and Enig, “… it has extraordinary healing powers.  We’ve had more positive testimonials about beet kvass than about any other beverage in our book Nourishing Traditions.”  Kombucha is also credited with extraordinary healing powers, but is usually marked as “illegal” on GAPS, due to its being made typically with sugar;  the caffeine in the relatively strong tea that kombucha is made from can also be an issue for GAPS.  However, I make kombucha with raw honey (something I’ll have to write a post about later), and green tea, which has much lower caffeine.  I also find that although caffeine affects me dramatically (even with fresh, lightly-brewed white tea), the fermentation process of the kombucha seems to alter the caffeine in such a way that it does not affect me at all.

Kombucha and beet kvass are produced by fermentation processes dominated largely by various bacteria, with only a little, or no, yeast involvement.  Yeast fermentation produces alcohol.  Too much yeast or too much alcohol obviously isn’t good for health and gut flora.  However, I’m not entirely convinced that traditional wild-yeast-brewed libations–meads, ciders, lambics, etc.–aren’t beneficial for gut flora.  But I need to do more research on that.

Also, a note on therapeutic probiotics:  These pills and powders can be very helpful in recolonizing microorganism populations, but in my mind they belong in the category of supplements — which is also a post for another day!

Our Meal Priorities Part 1

Our Meal Priorities Part 3

Our Meal Priorities Part 4

Our Meal Priorities Part 5

This post is part of Grain-free Tuesdays at Hella Delicious.

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18 Responses to Our top 5 meal priorities: part 2, probiotics

  1. Any opinions on prebiotics? (as opposed to probiotics) They supposedly help feed the good bacteria in your gut.

    As for kombucha, I think the yeast plays a pretty major role in the fermentation process. As I understand it, the yeast eat the sugar and produce alcohol. Then the bacteria eat the alcohol and produce acids. So the end product doesn’t have much sugar or alcohol left in it.

    Do you have to do anything different when using honey to make the kombucha? I’d be a little worried using honey because of its antibacterial properties.

    • Megh says:

      I’m still on the fence on prebiotics. According to the GAPS book, the nondigestible components of prebiotics can be exactly the right kind of food to sustain pathogenic bacteria (even tho they can also support beneficial bacteria as well); also, they may be irritating to an already unprotected, inflamed gut lining. But the beneficial bacteria do need something to feed on, so I’m still trying to figure out that whole question for my own thinking. There seems to be a lot of emphasis out there on prebiotics, but I’m skeptical.
      That’s interesting for the kombucha — I hadn’t learned much about the whole process — thanks! The honey seems to work great for the fermentation–I had read all these fears about how the antibacterial properties of honey would kill the kombucha, but then I thought, kombucha has been made for thousands of years, long before refined sugars … they of course would have used honey to make it! I wonder if people don’t have problems with it if they don’t use raw honey, or add the raw honey to the tea before it’s cool enough to keep it raw. The mushrooms seem to love it tho — I just this weekend composted about a 6″ (maybe more)-tall stack of them because they were taking over the jars and bowl!

  2. Jenny says:

    Loved this! It very closely mirrors my family’s meal priorities though I try, try, try to emphasize organ meats, seafoods and roe, too. Shared it on Nourished Kitchen’s Facebook page.

    • Megh says:

      Wow — thank you so much for the link!! You’re awesome! I love your site — it’s definitely the most comprehensive resource on so many topics that I’m interested in. And thanks for the comment on organ meats — I’ll have to reference you on that in the protein post!

  3. I love fermented foods! We try to eat(or drink) a little at every meal but I still haven’t found a recipe for beet kvass that I like. Do you have a good one? I’ve tried the one from Nourishing Traditions.

    • Megh says:

      I’ve used the one in Eat Fat Lose Fat, which I think is the same one as in NT. The first time I tried making it, I HATED it, threw it out — but now having made it lots of times, I realized that the first time I made it, it must not have turned out right. I think that maybe I didn’t chop the beets finely enough the first time. They say it’s important not to shred them, so the sugars don’t start fermenting, but I think it’s also important not to make the pieces too big either! If they’re too big, you don’t get enough sugar in the liquid, to balance the salt. Nevertheless, I think it is an acquired taste. But we both like it now that we’ve gotten into a good practice of making it.

  4. Ying Lee says:

    Kombucha is considering legal for the GAPS diet now, but only on full GAPS. It is posted on the FAQs on the GAPS’ website. I read 4 books regarding the making and the benefits of Kombucha, and they all suggested not using honey, raw or not raw. If one brews the Kombucha correctly, there is very little sugar and caffeine left in the drink. I’m highly sensitive to caffeine, yet I brewed my with regular organic black and green tea, I have no problem drinking it at night and still sleep soundly. The best tea to use for Kombucha is the Ceylon tea, ½ green and ½ black. The flavor is outstanding!

    • Megh says:

      Thanks for the info about GAPS and kombucha — I hadn’t seen that yet, just searched for it on the Yahoo group and it sounded like the consensus was that it was illegal. I haven’t had any problems so far with the honey, I think I found info about using honey at the kombucha site I linked to … can’t remember now! I usually use just green tea, I like the flavor — but maybe sometime I’ll have to get some ceylon tea to try based on your suggestion! And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who doesn’t notice the caffeine — means I’m not deluding myself :)

  5. Susan says:

    Well written, and a pleasure to read. I look forward to reading your post about how you make Kombucha with raw honey.

  6. Erin Hutton says:

    Probiotics are big on my list of things to get plenty of right now! Thanks for the info on all the places I can get them in my diet. I didn’t know my raw cheddar had probiotics!

    • Megh says:

      Yay! Isn’t that great? Bacteria are what make aged cheese so delicious — and a living, changing food. I love cheddar and other aged cheeses — we’re almost back to reintroducing them on our GAPS intro stages and I can’t wait!

  7. [...] to optimize gut-healing efficacy.  If saturated fats provide the energy to get things working, and probiotics provide the personnel (microorganism) management, broths provide construction materials to rebuild [...]

  8. [...] up being a large bulk of the meal, the filler, what comes along to carry the fat (and sometimes probiotics and broth) and make it palatable.  ‘Cuz fat, by itself, is actually not at all yummy.  But [...]

  9. hellaD says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this important information with out grain-free Tuesdays bloghop. Sorry I was away the past couple weeks but sure hope to see you back with some great info this week. Definitely tweeting this article :)

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