The Real Food Guide

Good bacteria, best probiotics, and what they do for you

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Good bacteria, best probioticsIn this germophobic world where marketers boast how many germs their products can kill and antibacterial hand-sanitizer dispensers are available at every mall entrance, it’s easy to see why many people could think that bacteria are something that should be completely eradicated. However, the truth is a healthy colony of ‘good’ bacteria are essential to maintaining optimal health, and you’ll want to nurture your gut with the best probiotics. There are trillions of bacteria, of over 500 different species in your gut that help prevent disease, by keeping the bad bacteria from taking over. Your bacteria are so plentiful that they make up about 1-3% of your total body mass! (So if you weighed 150lbs, that’s 1.5 – 4.5 pounds of microorganisms!) It’s also estimated that the 70-80% of the body’s immune cells are located in the gut, so you can see why keeping these intestinal bugs happy is important to your immune system.

What you eat affects your gut population

The food you eat not only nourishes you, but it nourishes specific bacteria as well. So if you eat a diet that is rich in protein, bacteria that thrive on protein will flourish. If you eat a high-carbohydrate diet, then bacteria that favor carbohydrates will proliferate. Basically, it’s like this: if my milkshakes brings all the boys to the yard, then more milkshakes = more boys in my yard. So in this case, you can think of milkshakes as a type of food and the boys as a type of bacteria. (Okay, so it’s a weak analogy, but let’s just say I had a song in my head).

When gut bacteria go bad

So what makes your gut bacteria population shift from mostly good guys to Breaking Bad (or more formally “dysbiosis”)?

  • A poor diet or an imbalanced diet: e.g. too much sugar/carbohydrates will favor yeast growth. For an extreme example, see what happened to the man who brewed beer in his gut.
  • Poor digestion and/or poor waste elimination: food particles that are undigested or incompletely digested contribute to leaky gut and provide food for the ‘bad’ gut bacteria
  • Using antibiotics: antibiotics tend to work against all bacteria, good or bad
  • Using birth control pills: birth control pills alter the body’s hormone balance, which can then change which types of bacteria thrive
  • Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen etc.: NSAIDs irritate the GI tract and increase gastric acid secretion, diminished biocarbonate and mucus secretion; these are all factors which disrupt the good bacteria growth and favor bad bacteria.
  • Chronic stress: this may be an indirect effect, causing poor diet choices and higher levels of cortisol in the body which disrupt the intestinal environment
  • Chlorinated water: chlorine is used to kill harmful bacteria in many municipal water systems, but excessive chlorine exposure can also harm your beneficial gut bacteria

(Source: Bateson-Koch, Carolee “The Third Overlooked Condition Leading to Allergy: Digestive Difficulties.” In Allergies: disease in disguise. Burnaby, B.C.: Alive Books, 1994. 106.)

You’ll know your gut flora balance is off if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Acne, rashes or other skin issues
  • Joint aches
  • Indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • Asthma
  • Ear aches
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety

What your good bacteria do for you

Love your gut bacteria and they’ll be good to you! Here are just some of the things those little bugs do:

  • Balance the pH of intestine and help control unhealthy bacteria by altering the surrounding pH and making it too acidic for these bad bugs to survive
  • They’re nutrient factories, making:
    • B-vitamins such as biotin, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid, and B12
    • short-chain fatty acids from carbohydrates. These fatty acids help maintain a healthy intestinal barrier
    • butyric acid from fibre, which helps maintain the colon
    • some digestive enzymes
  • Help with bowel function by aiding in the breakdown of food particles, and the absorption of minerals (e.g. calcium, magnesium and iron)
  • Protect against parasites and other bad microorganisms by preventing them from becoming aggressive strains

What you can do to support your good bacteria and get your best probiotics

You’ll want to make sure that your gut has a healthy population of bacteria. So here are some things that you can do:

  • Eat foods that are naturally probiotic – such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, homemade sauerkraut, kimchi and other lacto-fermented foods. (The reason for opting for homemade versions of these foods is that commercially available varieties may have high amounts of added sugar, or they are often pasteurized which kills the beneficial bacteria – which defeats the probiotic purpose. So it’s better to make your own if you can, or make sure to read the labels carefully).
  • Take a probiotic supplement, especially after antibiotic treatment– as a general rule, look for a supplement that needs to be refrigerated (and is shipped in a cooler if ordering online), since you want live bacteria to inoculate your gut. Harvard Women’s Health Watch recommends a maintenance dosage between 1-10 billion colony-forming units (CFU), several days per week, while a therapeutic dose could be as high as 18-20 billion organisms per day (Source:  Allergies: disease in disguise.) to treat antibiotic-related issues. If you’re looking for a good probiotic, HMF Forte  Probiotic capsules was recommended to me by my naturopath.
  • Look for supplements, and other foods that contain these particular strains: Lactobacilis acidophilus, Lactobacilis. bulgaris, Lactobacilis casei, Lactobacilis. bifidus, Lactobacilis. salivarious, Streptococcus lactis, and Streptococcus thermophilus.
  • Eat prebiotic foods – that is, foods that help your good bacteria grow. These are foods that are rich in soluble fiber (e.g. inulin, oligofructose, oligosaccharides and pectin). These foods include fruits and vegetables such as onions, bananas, garlic, apples, greens and more.


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Photo credit: Lactobacillus casei by AJ Cann

This post was shared with Fight Back Friday.

Vivian is the founder of the Real Food Guide and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) who believes that each individual needs to go on their own Real Food Journey to find what works. While she herself eats a diet of real food (aka a paleo diet), some people may find that they can flourish on a vegetarian diet instead. However, universal to optimal health and well-being is good quality, nutrient-dense, Real Food.

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September 25 |

2 thoughts on “Good bacteria, best probiotics, and what they do for you

  1. Lara White says:

    Do you have a newsletter that I can sign up to receive? I love your info

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