Remember the Activia yogurt commercial with the dancing bellies? Since that commercial series, advertisers have been telling us that eating yogurt will help improve digestion and avoid common of tummy troubles. Why? Yogurt, a fermented food, contains some very healthy and beneficial bacterial strains that will feed the gut’s microbiota, help break down food and improve overall digestion and absorption.
These bacterial strains, commonly referred to as probiotics, strengthen the immune system, fight off harmful and nasty bacteria (think yeast and other toxins), help break down food into its absorbable form and size, promote healthy body weight and even help to maintain mental health. Probiotics taken in supplement form are useful but must be taken regularly and away from other drugs and foods as they only temporarily stay in the gut before being eliminated during bowel movements.
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is a delicate task, one that most North Americans struggle with each day. Our refined diet – the Standard American Diet or SAD diet – is not conducive to maintaining a healthy bacteria balance. Instead, the few healthy probiotics we do get are eaten up and taken over by the masses of bad bacteria that we have helped develop through use of sugars, sweeteners, refined breads and pastas, and other non-foods. One problem with many commercial brands of yogurt is that they are usually filled with artificial sweeteners and sugars, both of which can contribute to further gut malfunction by feeding the bad bacteria, which kills off the good stuff.
What, then, can we do to help those good guys thrive?
Luckily the answer is as easy as fibre. Nondigestible fibre is also known as prebiotics, the substances need to feed the good bacteria, and help it to grow and thrive. Fibre from raw onions, garlic, leeks, lentils, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus and bananas contains complex carbohydrates that are not broken down by digestive enzymes, ensuring that they retain their form as they reach the large intestines.
Researchers have found that a diet rich in fibre can help reduce stress hormone levels and improve memory and cognitive ability. The SAD diet typically includes less than half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fibre, which is 25-35 grams per day. Between 50 and 100 grams per day is actually the most ideal amount of fibre a person should be eating. A direct correlation is found between introduction of processed and artificial ‘foods’ (which contain little to no fibre) and chronic and degenerative diseases – as North Americans’ intake of processed foods increase, so too does cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer and other health problems.
And, keeping your own microbiota healthy will benefit not only you but also your children and grandchildren. There is significant evidence that a deficiency in good bacteria in the digestive tract can actually be passed on to future generations.
Go ahead – get some more fibre! Apples, vegetables, raw oatmeal, and legumes are also great choices. Stay away from popular brands of yogurt that contain added sugar or sweeteners, even artificial ones. Buy plain natural or Greek yogurt and add in your own natural toppings, such as berries, ground flax seed or cinnamon. Or, better yet, learn to make your own yogurt!
Increase your fibre intake slowly, though, to avoid bloating and discomfort.