Gut health and the microbiome (the bacteria living inside you) are hot topics in the world of nutrition right now.
Normally the idea of bacteria would have us reaching for the anti-bac wipes as we commonly associate it with causing disease. We know now that there are good bacteria essential to our health and wellbeing. Lots of them reside in our guts! Certain factors destroy the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut. This can make us vulnerable to health issues like poor digestion, anxiety and even obesity.
Our gut bacteria have some essential jobs, including:
- Digest food and absorb nutrients
- Maintain our gut lining
- Support immune function
- Protect us from disease and infection
- Produce vitamins B and K
- Produce Serotonin – our happy hormone
- Balance neurotransmitters in the brain
Our diet and lifestyle impact our gut health. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria! Stress can deplete the good bacteria! Antibiotics kill off all bacteria!
However, what you eat can boost your good bacteria and help you improve your health and mood. For those who suffer from anxiety, the health of the bacteria in your gut may not seem like the most logical place to begin. Research shows that there’s a strong link between our gut and our brain. One study found that germ-free mice that were given antibiotics were less anxious once their gut bacteria was restored. Another found that taking probiotics helped reduce anxiety in humans.
So, to keep your gut bacteria flourishing and your anxiety in check here are my top 5 gut-friendly fermented foods. They are packed with naturally occurring probiotics to boost your gut bacteria:
This is a drink made by fermenting dairy or plant/nut milk with kefir ‘grains’. The ‘grains’ provide a live colony of bacteria which feed on the sugar in the milk to create a slightly sour tasting yoghurt drink which is hugely beneficial for our gut bacteria.
A traditional fermented food from Korea. Usually made from vegetables that include cabbage, radish or cucumber and a range of spices and seasonings like chilli, garlic, ginger and salt.
A cabbage dish which is pickled with salt and produces beneficial bacteria via lactic fermentation. Always buy unpasteurized, raw sauerkraut otherwise all the good bacteria will have been killed off in the fermentation process!
It’s a fermented tea drink which originates in China, where it’s referred to as ‘immortal health elixir’. It normally has a slight fizz and a gentle sour taste which is a natural result of the fermentation process.
The paste is made from fermented soya beans which are often served as a soup. You can buy this as a soup in many high-street food outlets or buy the paste to use at home in stir-fries or your own soups.
Add these foods to your daily diet to boost your gut bacteria and help reduce your anxiety. (Please seek professional advice if you have severe or chronic anxiety.)
2. Rettner (2013) ‘5 ways gut bacteria affect your health’ Live Science￼
3. Neufeld (2010) ‘Reduced anxiety-like behaviour and central neurochemical change in germ-free mice’ Neurogastroenterology & Motility ￼
4. Cryan (2011) The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behaviour Neurogastroenterology & Motility