When you hear the word ‘bacteria’ you may immediately think about disease and infection but there is a whole world full of bacteria that are really good for you and vital to your digestive system and gut health.
By Elana Botha
The human body is full of beneficial microorganisms known as probiotics that help keep your body healthy and working well, typically these are bacteria but certain types of yeast can also function as probiotics.
The gut microbiome, or the community of microorganisms that live in your gut, has the largest number of bacteria and the greatest number of species compared to any other area of the body. Your gut is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria and it is believed to house 70-80% of your immune system, which emphasises how closely the immune system and gut health are related.
Taking good care of your digestive system and having good gut health have benefits from top-to-toe. The good bacteria in your gut help your body to digest food better and build up a defence against harmful pathogens such as viruses and bad bacteria. It has been estimated that 1-in-3 people are living with digestive difficulties and our modern life is making us more prone to these issues. Studies have shown that our ancestors had 50% more diversity in their gut biomes than the average person today and it is believed that Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped a few dozen species of helpful microorganisms right out of our digestive tracts.
These good bacteria play a vital role in keeping us mentally and physically healthy and also reduce the risk of illness and disease. Symptoms of a poorly functioning gut can include uncomfortable digestion, stomach aches, poor nutrient absorption, poor immunity and sleep, mood fluctuations and general fatigue. One thing that is clear across all studies is that if your diet is not healthy then chances are, your gut won’t be either and experts agree that lifestyle changes can make a significant difference.
SOME GREAT CHILD-FRIENDLY PROBIOTIC-RICH FOODS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR CHILD’S DIET:
Yoghurt: Be sure to look on the label for brands containing ‘live cultures’. If your child doesn’t like
eating yoghurt, try blending it into a smoothie.
Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a tangy taste and a thicker consistency than milk but is not quite as thick as yoghurt. It can be served alone or mixed with fruit for a healthy breakfast smoothie.
Fermented vegetables: Think pickles and sauerkraut!
Tempeh: This is a high-protein meat substitute made from fermented soybeans.
THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS
The most common factors that contribute to poor gut health are stress, poor nutrition and long-term use of antibiotics and antacids.
Antibiotics play a huge role in our gut health because they kill all bacteria in the gut, both the bad and the good, and sometimes species don’t come back.
This is especially true with children who are still in the process of developing their gut microbiome. It is believed that before the age of four or five a child’s microbiome remains flexible making this the perfect time to build a strong and healthy gut. Beyond this age, the microbiome is harder to change as it becomes well-established.
A healthy diet is vital in creating a positive environment for good bacteria and there are many great options available to us as South Africans in our local cuisines that are rich in probiotics. Mpho Tshukudu, a
registered dietician with a special interest in South Africa’s food culture and heritage, explains, “Traditional
foods often carry negative connotations of being ‘poverty foods’, despite their valuable nutrient credentials. The ‘sour’ taste associated with fermented dairy foods such as ‘maas’ and yoghurt is a South African taste preference that works to our benefit.”
Tshukudu also encourages the intake of vegetables, particularly traditional leaves, of which South Africa has over 60 varieties.Morogo leaves, for example, are rich in nutrients and fibre; fruits such as pomegranates, figs, blackberries and baobab offer a source of polyphenols to support gut health and all of these can be used in modernised recipes, like making pesto, salads and smoothies.
“One of the things I do today with my clients is to encourage the inclusion of a wide variety of colours we find in our foods that are beneficial to our health,” she says.
FIBRE IS CRUCIAL
Fibre is an essential component in achieving good gut health. Your child’s diet should contain a variety of fibres as they help the gut in their own unique ways.While we often think of fibre as a singular nutrient there are many different types, for example:
• Resistant starch found in wholegrain cereals, legumes and starchy vegetables like potatoes is not digested as normal by the body. It travels to the large intestine where it feeds good bacteria in the gut and aids in protection against disease.
• Soluble fibre helps the emptying process in the stomach, which aids children to feel fuller for longer. This fibre is found in legumes, oats, barley, vegetables and fruits.
• Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrain bread and cereals and in the skin of fruit and vegetables – this fibre helps to soften bowel content which promotes regular and comfortable bowel movements.
• Prebiotics provide another nourishing food source for healthy bacteria in your gut and are found in foods that are delicious and child friendly. Think bananas, apples and oats plus foods that are easy to sneak into meals like barley, onion or flaxseed.
Good nutrition and good probiotic supplements, like those found in the Rawbiotics range, are the easiest way
to influence the gut microbiome. 100% natural probiotic supplements with no additives or flavourants allow for raw, unaltered goodness straight from nature. Add probiotic supplements into your and your children’s diets by making them a fun part of your daily routine. Rawbiotics shots are perfect to add to smoothies or juice, they do not need to be refrigerated so you can take them with you anywhere you go and they are safe for anyone to take – from newborns to pregnant and breastfeeding women.
From protecting against infection to relieving an upset stomach – when the gut thrives, the rest of the body does too. By making early investments in your family’s gut health, you can not only enhance their immediate health but also lay the foundation for long term wellness – after all, you should always trust your gut instincts.
For more information about the Rawbiotics range, please visit www.rawbiotics.co.za or follow them at @rawbiotics