Natural yogurt is good for your gut
As well as digesting your food, the gut plays a vital role in your health and happiness.
It also hosts more than 100 trillion bacteria that work very hard. They turn undigested food into hormones, enzymes, chemicals and vitamins that influence our weight, digestion, mood and even how much pain we feel.
They also protect us from foreign invaders and play a huge role in our immune system. Recent research shows there is a two-way relationship between our diet and gut bacteria.
What you eat affects the types of bacteria in your gut so here are 10 foods to help your good bugs flourish.
Natural yogurt is made by fermenting milk using live bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria which are known as the culture.
These bacteria change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid which thickens the milk and gives it its characteristic tangy flavour.
This cultured, fermented milk drink from Eastern Europe is a natural yogurt drink with a tart sour taste and a slight fizz from the fermentation process.
Kefir is a good source of calcium and B vitamins and is rich in probiotic bacteria. It is made by adding kefir grains to a dairy, nut or plant milk and can be made from cow, ewe, goat or buffalo milk.
The grains are small jelly-like beads that contain up to 50 types of live bacteria including different strains of lactobacillus and yeasts which ferment the milk, making kefir one of the most probiotic-rich drinks.
Cheese keeps the gut walls healthy
Made in a similar way to yogurt, bacteria are added to thicken and sour the milk before rennet or lactic acid is added to form curds which are then matured to form cheese.
The bacteria in cheese have been shown to release butyrate, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that keeps the gut walls healthy.
Not all cheeses contain live bacteria, as they can be killed off during the making process but those that pack the biggest probiotic punch include brie, cheddar, cottage cheese, edam, feta, roquefort and stilton.
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Fermented in brine and containing anti-inflammatory olive oil as well as gut-friendly lactobacillus, olives are quite salty but their strong flavour means you are less likely to eat too many.
Miso can be added to soups and stews
This Japanese-style seasoning is made using a fungus called aspergillus oryzae to ferment soya beans with a grain such as brown or white rice or barley.
It has a strong yeasty flavour and can be added to soups and stews, rice, fish and meat dishes towards the end of cooking when the pan has been removed from the heat to protect the probiotics it contains.
Miso is quite high in salt but the strong flavour it contains means you only need to use a small amount. For an instant soup, stir a teaspoon into hot water.
You can usually buy it in health food stores.
Ordinary bread is made using yeast that reacts with gluten to make the dough rise.
Sourdough bread is made by adding yeast and bacteria to wheat or rye flour which make lactic acid that ferments the dough.
The glucose in sourdough bread takes longer to break down so it keeps you fuller for longer. Also, if you are sensitive to gluten you may find sourdough easier to digest than normal bread.
Drinking coffee can prevent cardiovascular disease
Drinking coffee has been shown to boost mood and extend your life by preventing cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, gallstones and certain cancers.
Recent research suggests this could in part be down to the beneficial effect it has on gut bacteria. Studies, including one at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 2016, found that people who drink coffee have a more diverse microbiome, with more good bacteria.
Coffee contains polyphenols, plant chemicals that increase the number of health-boosting bacteria in the gut such as bacteroidetes, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
They also stop the growth of harmful bacteria such as clostridium.
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Green and black tea have a similar amount of polyphenols.
They are both made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant so they start out with the same type of polyphenols, known as flavonoids. But green tea is made by steaming and drying leaves, while black tea is made by letting leaves ferment.
During fermentation the flavonoids change, resulting in different properties to those of green tea.
If you suffer from anaemia, avoid drinking tea with a meal as tannin – a polyphenol – can hamper the absorption of non-haem iron found in plant-based foods such as dark green veg and dried fruit.
While it’s great news for chocoholics that dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols and is a better alternative to milk chocolate, it still contains quite high levels of sugar and fat.
Drinking unsweetened cocoa is the healthiest way to get your chocolate fix as you get the benefit of the polyphenols without the sugar and fat.
Drinking a glass of wine can help people maintain their levels of good bacteria
The odd tipple could also boost your gut health. Dutch researchers have found that drinking a glass of wine can help people maintain their levels of good bacteria.
Resveratrol is the main polyphenol found in wine. It also contains soluble sugars called polysaccharides which are also prebiotic. Red wines are more beneficial than whites.
Research shows red boosts bacteroidetes levels, linked to a healthy weight, as well as bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. The American Gut Project set up at the University of California in 2012 found that people who drank at least one alcoholic drink per week had more diverse microflora than teetotallers.
Extracted from The Happy Gut Guide by Wendy Green, published by Summersdale Publishing (£8.99). To order please call The Express Bookshop on 01872 562310, send a cheque/PO payable to Express Bookshop to Express Bookshop, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ, or order online at expressbookshop.co.uk UK delivery is free.