What are probiotic foods?

What are probiotic foods?

Using the fruits and vegetables of the season to make delicious dishes is one of the many delights I have the pleasure of teaching.  Learn how to apply the Eastern wisdom about autumn in your own cooking for optimum health, nourishment and vitality. Fermented vegetables are the perfect food to replenish the good bacteria in your gut and support your immune system. We are made up of 90 percent bacteria. Nine out of every ten cells in our bodies are not human but belong to these microbial species (most of them residents of our gut).   So what exactly are the 500 or so distinct species and countless different strains of those species that make up the kilogram or so of microbes in our gut doing there? What are probiotic foods?

Primal defense ultraFor most of these microbes, their survival depends on our own, and so they do all sorts of things to keep their host – us – alive and well. Perhaps their most important function is to maintain the health of the gut wall, or epithelium. In the course of a lifetime, 60 tons of food pass through the gastrointestinal tract, yikes!!

So why would the body enlist bacteria in all these critical functions, rather than evolve its own systems to do this work? One theory is that because microbes can evolve rapidly they can respond with much greater speed and agility to changes in the environment.

Taken as a whole, the organisms in the gut constitute the largest and one of the human body’s most important organs of defence. The digestive system actually produces more neurotransmitters than the brain does. Many clients we see for health counselling can reduce then avoid their anti-depressants simply by supporting their digestive system. Mental health problems can be helped greatly by changing the gut flora. Research has shown that there is a real connection between the digestive tract and the nervous system. 

Gut Health & Mental Health

In years gone by mental health was simply labelled as psychiatric disorders, it is now known that there is often an organic cause for mental illness and distress. Depressive symptoms can be caused by eating foods that trigger an inflammatory response.  In many cases, mental health can be treated as an auto-immune disease and can be helped greatly by the foods we eat.

Though we’ve tended to think of bacteria as agents of destruction, they are invaluable creators as well. Gut bugs manufacture essential vitamins (including vitamin K as well as several B vitamins) and a great many other compounds scientists are only just beginning to recognize.

Overly-processed foods typical of Western diets don’t contain enough fibre to sustain our gut bacteria – unlike probiotic foods such as pickled vegetables, miso and other fermented food.  The lack of fibre in our diet is, in effect, starving our gut and its microbial residents. We have changed the human diet in such a way that it no longer feeds the whole superorganism, as it were, only our human selves. We’re eating for one, when we need to be eating for a few trillion.  

It makes sense therefore that the more healthy bacteria you eat, the more you crowd out the bad guys, and it’s so simple to make some fermented dishes in your own kitchen.  The case for eating live-culture foods seems strong, perhaps strongest for fermented vegetables.  In addition to bringing large numbers of probiotic guests to your gut, the vegetables themselves also supply plenty of prebiotics – nourishment for the bacteria already there = (fibre)

You can choose from an array of beautifully coloured vegetables to ferment but cabbage, carrots and cucumber are the ones I use most.  

<<Check out this Easy Fermenter Wide Mouth Lid Kit: Simplified Fermenting In Jars Not Crock Pots!>> 

The salt and water solution (known as brine) is used to protect against the growth of microorganisms that would lead to rotting, and promote the growth of the good bacteria ‘lactobacilli.’  It’s important to use the correct ratio of salt to water otherwise the fermentation process won’t happen (filtered water please), A good rule of thumb is 4 cups of water for 2 tablespoons of sea salt.

As you will know, Lacto-fermented vegetables are cultured vegetables. You’ve probably heard of sauerkraut, kim chi, and sour dill pickles.  These are all forms of lacto-fermentation.  Making your own lacto-fermented vegetables is so easy that once you start you’ll be hooked!   Sour, Salty and crunchy these pickles are delicious added to beans and grain dishes, salads, and we have a serving or two daily from the many different pickles I make.

Traditionally lacto-fermentation was used to preserve the harvest and store vegetables for the winter. If you have a garden full of cabbage, cauliflower, beetroots, carrots, and green beans and don’t know how to store them all, consider making a few batches of lacto-fermented vegetables. These can be stored in your refrigerator for months.

If you are dealing with multiple allergies, chances are your gut is out of balance and is in need of a daily dose of beneficial microorganisms. These crispy, sour, salty vegetables are highly addicting and an easy, economical way to maintain a healthy gut. These vegetables are also important to include daily for good health.


Miso Broth

This basic miso soup should be a daily staple of your diet. It encompasses the use of sea vegetables to mineralize the blood, and a variety of fresh vegetables. The balance of these ingredients creates a strengthening energy, vital to life.

Miso is a fermented soybean paste used to flavour various dishes, but most widely as a stock to season soups. Miso’s natural fermentation process creates a combination of enzymes that strengthen and nourish the intestinal tract. As a result, the blood that nourishes the balance of the body is much stronger. The quality of our blood creates the people we are and the health we possess. Miso has been used for centuries in the Orient as a remedy for cancer, weak digestion, low libido, several types of intestinal infections, high cholesterol, and so much more, and is one of the world’s most medicinal foods.

2 dried shitake mushrooms
1 x 5 inch piece wakame
2 finely diced spring onions
4 rounded tsp miso paste
Freshly grated ginger juice
Diced spring onion for garnish
Slice Lemon (optional)

Soak the wakame and shitakes mushrooms in two cups of water for 20 minutes.   Remove from the water and cut both into small dice, removing the stems from the shitakes as they can be bitter tasting.  Place in a soup pot and add another 4 or 5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then cook on low simmer for 5 minutes. Add the spring onions and cook 10 minutes.  Place the miso paste into a small mesh strainer and lower into the broth, using a spoon stir until the paste is dissolved.  Serve as is or add some cooked noodles.  Garnish with finely diced spring onions and a slice of lemon.

Tip; do not boil the miso – it has so many living microorganisms living inside which is a wonderful digestive tonic.  

Autumn Roasted Vegetables

Autumn and winter vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, leeks, beets and squash greatly benefit from slow roasting, which concentrates their earthy sweetness. Bake these vegetables in the oven with your choice of herbs.

Use assorted vegetables, such as pumpkin, butternut squash, shallots, onions, garlic,
parsnips, beets, carrots, or rutabaga
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh herbs, such as thyme or sage, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 190C/350F.  Peel and seed vegetables as necessary or, if small and tender enough, simply trim and scrub well.

Coarsely cut into pieces of approximately equal size, then arrange in a large baking pan, brush with oil, and scatter herbs on top. Season to taste with salt and pepper if desired. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until golden on the edges and tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Eating steamed greens daily – seasoned with some freshly grated ginger juice and sesame seeds make a powerful dish to keep the lungs strong.  Now that you know what probiotic foods are, let ME know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried them! 

In good health…!

©2017 Marlene Watson-Tara. All rights reserved.









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13 thoughts on “What are probiotic foods?”

  • Thank you, Amy, for sharing this Marlene’s article!

    The importance of our gut health to overall well-being was so greatly explained.

    I would love to read another detailed article about how to make probiotic foods. I have always wanted to make them but I am afraid it is too complicated.

  • I love this article, I had no idea that 9/10 cells in our body are microbial species. That is awesome. Just when I think we have ourselves all figured out, I learn something new.

    I like the saying, “you are what you eat” and I have written an article on my blog about serotonin and how it affects our mood. One of the biggest life changes for me was my diet and that completely changed my mood and attitude.

    I occasionally take a pre biotic mushroom powder when I start to get sick, and it helps prevent that (mostly, there is also a metaphysical issue there too).
    Awesome article, I will continue to add probiotic foods to my diet, such as miso and fermented foods/drinks such as kombucha.

    • Hi Christopher…!  Prebiotic mushroom powder…!  sounds amazing… also add miso to soups for a boost of probiotics as well. Would love to see your article! Thanks for writing!

  • Wow! This is a really great article about probiotics. Growing up, we were given this probiotic drink called Yakult. I was never aware what that is for, I thought it was just a kind of milk. But now that I’m more health conscious, I value the importance of Probiotics and what it can do to our gut health. The connection between the gut health and the nervous system is very interesting. Thanks for providing these info.

    • Thanks for writing! yes there is definitely a correlation between gut health and our mental health/nervous system. Fascinating, yes?

  • Very interesting and informative article. I learned a lot that I didn’t know before.

    Yes, I agree the western culture of eating is lacking fiber. Do fiber supplements help address this lacking?

    And I’m wondering if over time will the bacteria evolve and survive on the western culture’s diet?

    Thanks for a great read.

    • Thanks for your interesting comments, Robert! I wonder, as well, if bacteria will evolve — and i think it has already started to do so, with disease like Ebola and other viruses out there. Interesting to think that the bacteria would thrive on the western culture’s diet, but somehow I don’t think the bacteria wants to eat junk food!  Yes, supplements help with fiber — but as long as they are natural — of course it is always best to get fiber from vegetables, and fruit. /a.

  • When my daughter was a baby she was throwing up a lot. The doctor recommended giving her probiotics to strengthen her gut. She no longer throws up like that, I don’t know if the probiotics helped but I felt at the time that they did. Since then I am more in tune with her needs and I try to give her food that will strengthen it. Thanks for the recipes- they look great!

  • Hi Amy I found your article to be quite interesting. The relationship between mental health and food is something I was not aware of. We don’t go out to eat much so I am always looking for new ways to cook things. Steaming vegetables is one thing I do on almost a daily basis. I finally boiling takes away a lot of their great flavour where steaming seems to enhance the flavour. I often add flax seeds to salads and vegetables but I may change that up with your suggestion of sesame seeds.

    It is kind of amazing to think that in our lifetime 60 tons of food will pass through our gastrointestinal tract.

    • Hi Maureen — you can also grind the flax seeds in a small coffee grinder before you add them to the salads. Eating them whole doesn’t have any nutritional benefits because they aren’t digested. Thanks for writing!

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