Fermented vegetables. Photo by Shannon Stronger.

Fermented vegetables. Photo by Shannon Stonger.

By Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News

In recent years we’ve seen probiotics become the new buzz word in health related media. This word, like many of its predecessors, has become so widely used and abused that it has come to mean very little. We’ve seen it grace cereal boxes, overly sweetened yogurts, and even children’s artificially colored vitamins.

While mainstream media and commercial labeling have diluted its significance, they have not taken away the cold hard facts: probiotics mean “for life” and are generally considered beneficial microorganisms.

This is significant because whether we want to think about it or not, our bodies are actually largely made of up bacteria. One study found that we are comprised of ten times more bacteria than human cells. So it may even be an understatement to say that paying attention to our microbial makeup is critical. In fact there are studies now being done in which fecal transplants are performed on those with serious health issues. Hopefully we are waking up to the importance of the microbial aspect of our health and the term probiotic is just a part of it.

Gut Dysbiosis: Tipping the Balance in Favor of Health

The human microbiome encompasses the whole of the bacterial population on the skin, in the mouth, and in the gut. When the microbial population of the latter is out of balance – that is, the beneficial bacteria of the gut have been killed off and more harmful bacteria have been allowed to proliferate in their absence – we have a situation known as gut dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis can be caused by a host of things, starting with how you are born and what you are exposed to shortly thereafter. Exposure to toxins through pharmaceuticals, the use of glyphosate and other toxic chemicals in the food supply, and the generally contaminated and microbe-lacking standard American diet can all lead to dysbiosis.

Keep in mind that there is a balance of bacteria in the gut. It is not that we wish to kill off bad bacteria – which are generally present in some number even in healthy microbiomes. We want to keep certain bacteria in check with a large population of what we generally think of as beneficial bacteria. Tipping the balance in favor of beneficial microbes is always in our best interest as, in the words of Hippocrates, all disease begins in the gut.

And so it is helpful, no matter what your health concern, to realign your gut in favor of those beneficial bacteria. Thankfully, we have been given food by our Creator to do just that.

Not surprisingly, the two substances that can help us to tip the gut flora towards health – probiotics and prebiotics – are found naturally in traditional whole foods.

Readying the Gut with a Reset Diet

Before we get into the foods that help in the realignment of your gut microbiome, it is helpful to first eliminate all causes of gut damage. Establishing healthy gut flora is much easier to do with a healthy, sealed gut.

There is a protocol gaining ground called the GAPS diet. This is an elimination diet, of sorts, that also addresses dysbiosis and leaky gut. The backbone of the diet, homemade bone broth, works to seal the gut, while the elimination of difficult-to-digest foods gives your gut time to heal.

When an overgrowth of candida or other harmful bacteria is present, some find that eliminating all sugars through a ketogenic-style diet is helpful. This high-fat, moderate protein, and low-carb diet can be combined with the bone broth and other elements of the GAPS diet to reset your gut and ready it for the probiotics and prebiotics we will now address.


Fermented vegetables. Photo by Shannon Stronger.

Fermented vegetables. Photo by Shannon Stronger.

Defining probiotics is actually a bit tricky as many see them as a supplement or a pill. Probiotics are not confined to something you have to purchase and swallow. In fact, some are finding that supplemental probiotics are not nearly as effective as naturally occurring beneficial microbes.

Naturally occurring probiotics can be had by:

  • Eating living and cultured foods.
  • Being in contact with vital and healthy soils.
  • Being around animals, especially those in touch with their natural habitat such as pastured farm animals.

Getting exposure to a wide variety of fermented foods is a good idea. Yogurt contains different microbial strains than kefir, which contains different microbial strains than kombucha, and so on. Even amongst fermented vegetables there are different strains. The microbes in sauerkraut give it that quintessential sauerkraut flavor and differentiate it from pickles or kimchi. So it is helpful to seek out and prepare a wide variety of these foods.

Not surprisingly, there are ways in which you can destroy your beneficial microbes such as antibiotic usage, antibacterial soaps and gels, and the consumption of chemicals like chlorine and fluoride and toxins found in vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs.

There are also ways in which you can help out the bacteria already present in your digestive system. And that is where prebiotics come in.


To understand the needs of human bacteria it is helpful to understand the properties of the fermented foods we have shared in recent weeks. The bacteria that comprise milk kefir grains have similar needs to the bacteria that comprise our guts, so let’s take a closer look at those.

Milk kefir is made by taking the living, microorganism-rich grains and placing them in milk. These grains consume the milk in order to survive and multiply. When the sugar in the milk – lactose – is completely consumed, they no longer have food available to them. So the first thing these grains do is stop reproducing. If they still have not been given more milk to consume and culture, they will die. These kefir grains have been literally starved to death. Feed them regularly, however, and they will not only survive, but thrive because they are a living entity.

This is much the same as our gut bacteria. Our gut contains probiotics which need food. What kind of food do probiotics eat? Prebiotics. It can be said, therefore, that prebiotics are the foods that feed the bacteria in our gut.

Prebiotics are generally constituents of foods that are not easily digested by the body. These come in the form of fibers and starches that can be fermented by those bacteria inhabiting our gut. Interestingly, many of these constituents do not have the effect on blood sugar that we see with other such foods.

A natural diet contains many of these foods already in the form of leaves, roots, stems, and seeds. (Wheat bran is one such food found to have prebiotic qualities.) If your gut is already well-populated with a variety of bacteria, then eating a variety of these foods should ensure a good food supply for your gut microbiome.

A caution about prebiotics is in order, however. If your gut is not well-populated, certain fibers can cause intestinal distress. The idea is that the bacteria will break down the prebiotics for you, making them digestible while feeding your colony of bacteria. If you do not have a significant colony of bacteria or if your colony is not very diverse, eating such foods may cause bloating, gas, etc. This is a good signal that consuming more probiotic foods is in order, and that perhaps diversifying those foods is a good idea as well.

As you can see, probiotics and prebiotics can not only live in harmony, but can be used together to better your microbiome, and give you further information on the state of your gut health. Better still, these foods can be easily and inexpensively prepared in the home kitchen from ingredients grown and raised naturally by you, or farmers mindful of the benefits of naturally raised foods.