Bacteria Boom: What are Probiotics and Why are They So Popular?

Over the past couple of years, I noticed that the pastor at my church has had some health issues which made him him sometimes miss meetings, stay home sick from church on Sundays every once in awhile, and generally just not feel very well.

Thinking back, I remembered about two years ago he had a big infection and was hospitalized for several weeks. During that time, he was put on an aggressive course of antibiotics (as most sick people are, whether or not they have a bacterial infection).

I don’t know the details of this original illness, but I do know that he’s been suffering from digestive issues ever since, which have increasingly tormented him and prevented sleep at night, interfering with his work and ministry at church.

One day after hearing he was again missing meetings, I emailed him and told him my suspicion: the course of antibiotics resulting from his illness two years ago had wrecked his gut and had precipitated most (if not all all) of his current issues.

I recommended he try taking some high-quality probiotics.

I shared some articles and research, then gave some recommendations of how to choose a few good ones.

I told him to start slow (because there can be an adjustment period as “bad bacteria” die off and “good bacteria” begin to populate the gut–but nothing worse than the symptoms he was already experiencing).

Two weeks later my pastor approached me and said, “Leah, I’m a new man! I feel so much better! I’m sleeping better and I have energy and I don’t feel sick any more!”

Word began to spread at church, and now I have people approaching me with questions about health all the time. I’m happy to pass along any knowledge and resources I have, because the information is all out there!

What are Probiotics? 

Probiotics are “beneficial” bacteria, and our gut health depends on them. In modern society, we’ve been conditioned to see all bacteria bad, foreign things that will make us sick, but this is simply not true. There are millions of beneficial bacteria that live with humans and animals in a symbiotic relationship: they benefit us, and we benefit them. When there is a balance in our gut microbiome, we experience gut health, which influences our overall health in big ways: from our hormones to our weight to our moods and even our mental health!

Why is Gut Health Important?

We don’t know the full scope of the symbiotic role that beneficial bacteria play, but we are beginning to understand how vital they are to our existence. The gut has even been named the “second brain” for the close relationship our gut health has with brain function and overall mental wellness.

  • It is estimated that human bodies are made up of approximately 90% bacteria by volume. These microbes are everywhere: on our skin, in our sinuses, ears, mouths, in our guts… literally everywhere. These microbes do a good job of helping to regulate our bodies and keep them functioning properly, and in return, we feed them with the food that we eat or byproducts from our bodies, like skin cells and sweat. When we are proactive about our gut health, our bodies thank us in numerous ways.
  • A huge variety of our bacteria live in our digestive systems, or our “guts,” and researchers are discovering that at least 70-80% of our immune system is in our gut. Our gut health has a huge influence on our overall health: both physical and mental.
  • Bacteria do a lot of work in our bodies, including helping to regulate hormones that control fat stores, skin issues, auto-immune response, fertility, available energy, and overall well-being. Gut health is vital to all of these!
  • Balance is key. We refer to bacteria as “good” and “bad” but really we just need a balance of the bacteria in our guts: that’s what gut health really is. The fact is, we all have “bad” bacteria such as E. Coli in our bodies, but if these bacteria don’t overrun our systems or multiply too quickly, they are not a threat. Even “good” bacteria can cause problems if there’s too much of it. Our bodies generally do a good job of regulating the population of bacteria, as long as we ensure we have a good variety of bacteria for our bodies to work with. As long as we have enough “good bacteria,” or probiotics, in our guts, they will fight off the “baddies” and keep our bodies balanced and healthy.

How Can I Get Them?

You may have noticed an array of probiotic supplements in your local health food store (and how expensive they are).

The good news is that you don’t have to buy a lot of expensive supplements to get a good balance of bacteria in your body. In fact, different fermented foods carry a large population of beneficial bacteria, and they are really easy to make, and to eat.

Yogurt is the most popular and widely-known source of probiotics, but not all yogurts are created equal.

Many of the yogurts on the store shelves are full of sugar (which feeds bad bacteria) and a lot of them even have harmful additives like carageenan (which has been found to cause cancer) to keep them refrigerator shelf-stable for weeks at a time.

Store bought yogurts can be a source of probiotics, but you need to know what to look for, and they shouldn’t constitute your only source of probiotics.

  • Look for “live and active cultures” on the container, and check the ingredients for which specific cultures are contained.
  • Find out if the yogurt has been pasteurized. Most yogurt is made with pasteurized milk, but even after it’s been turned into yogurt is then pasteurized again. Pasteurization will kill the beneficial bacteria that were necessary to make the yogurt, so they won’t benefit you.
  • Get organic. Yogurt is made from milk, and if the milk is not organic it will contain antibiotics and hormones that were given to the cows. These substances are detrimental and even toxic to our bodies, and can cause hormonal imbalances and antibiotic resistance in the long run.
  • Get plain and unflavored yogurt. You may not like the taste of plain yogurt, but you can add fresh fruit and honey for flavoring, instead of consuming a lot of extra added sugars.
  • Get whole milk yogurt. Studies have shown that low-fat dairy products do not contribute to weight loss and may actually cause weight gain. The full-fat options allow your body to more efficiently process the beneficial fat-soluble vitamins in the yogurt, and the fat will make you feel full longer, so you’ll eat less overall.
  • Check the ingredients. In addition to checking for live and active cultures, make sure your yogurt doesn’t have any additives like carageenan, sugar, color, or anything else. Ideally, it should just be milk and a culture.

Did you know? 

Yogurt is so easy to make. Yogurt makers are inexpensive and make it easier, but you don’t even need one to make yogurt. My favorite yogurt is clay-batch yogurt, which I make in VitaClay.

VitaClay has a built-in yogurt maker in most models.
VitaClay Personal Yogurt Maker and Slow Cooker

All you have to do is load in milk and a yogurt culture and press “yogurt” and a few hours later you’ll have the best yogurt you’ve ever tasted, and a starter batch to make more!

Kefir is a milk-based probiotic beverage that is also known as “drinkable yogurt.” Kefir often contains different bacteria than yogurt, and sometimes at greater quantities per serving. If you’re buying kefir from the store, apply the same checks as listed above for yogurt. Add kefir to smoothies or drink it plain–it tastes like buttermilk.

Incidentally, my father suffered from terrible seasonal allergies for over 60 years. My mother read about kefir and started making it at home, and he hasn’t had a problem with allergies since!

Homemade Sauerkraut: cheap, easy to make, and loaded with probiotics!

Other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchee, natto and miso contain other probiotics that are beneficial, and they are delicious additions to your diet. Sauerkraut is super easy to make, and two ounces of homemade sauerkraut contains exponentially more beneficial bacteria than a whole bottle of store-bought probiotics, for pennies on the dollar!

Chop up the ingredients for salsa, then just add a little whey and let it sit on the counter for a couple of days–you won’t believe the healthy zing!

Additionally, lots of things can be fermented: I’ve fermented homemade salsa, which was super easy and so delicious! I’ve also seen recipes for fermented carrots, onions, cucumbers (pickles!), and even guacamole! The possibilities are endless! (Wild Fermentation link)

If you don’t want to make these fermented foods at home and would rather buy them, follow the rules listed under yogurt, and make sure they have live and active cultures (which is, after all, the whole point). Also watch for additives such as MSG and citric acid, in addition to those listed for yogurt.

Probiotic Supplements

Overall, I think that many probiotic supplements are a waste of money. As discussed above, the probiotics in just one serving of homemade sauerkraut can contain more good bacteria than an entire bottle of store-bought bacteria! This generally applies to lacto-based bacteria, however, which are the type contained in yogurt and most fermented foods. These bacteria are good, and you should definitely get them. If you absolutely don’t want to ferment anything at home, go ahead and buy them.

I’ve tried almost every gut health probiotic supplement out there, and the one that I have found to be most effective is Amare.

Amare specifically targets not only bodily health but also mental wellness through the gut. They even have one specifically for kids!  It also helps to balance good and bad bacteria for all facets of health and to kill candida: the American parasite. 

They even have a mental wellness quiz you can take to see where you stand and if these products could be a good fit for balancing your gut and improving your mental wellness. Because our bodies are interconnected. Healing one part will benefit all of the other parts as well.

AND! Check out this really great database that can help you determine which probiotic strains may help you the most based on your current symptoms and struggles!

Look for a bottle that lists the type of bacteria included and a guaranteed number of live bacteria per serving (usually listed in the billions CFU). The higher the number, the more bacteria it will contain (and very high numbers will require a slower breaking in period, which you can discuss with the worker at the health food store). These higher-quality probiotics will cost more, but this is a classic case of getting what you pay for, and what we want here is results.

Probioitics I buy

My one exception to the “store-bought probiotics are a waste of money” rule is in the category of soil-based probiotics. Here’s why: the lacto-based probiotics like those found in yogurt, sauerkraut and other ferments are so easy to make and so delicious to eat that there’s no reason to pay expensive store prices for a shelf-stable inferior product.

Soil-based probiotics, however, are different strains that have a different effect in our bodies: they go deeper into the gut and contribute differently to immunity. So we need both, but soil-based are found in soil, as the name implies.

In antiquity, people got a good amount of soil in their diets from digging up veggies and eating them.

These days, I don’t trust the soil as far as I can throw it. It’s been compromised with pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceutical drugs, and all manner of other toxins from our waste water and runoff. Even if I were inclined to eat soil (I’m not), it would probably do much more harm than good.

So when it comes to soil-based probiotics, I will purchase them from a reputable company that can guarantee their purity, quality, and effectiveness–even if they are expensive. I’ve listed below a few soil-based probiotics on which I have done research. I trust them to deliver a safe, effective, quality product.

What About Prebioitics?

Prebiotics are the “food” for beneficial gut bacteria that already live in our guts. And since not all gut bacteria can be supplemented with probiotics, it’s a great idea to get some good prebiotics in your diet as well.

As a matter of fact, you probably already do get some prebiotics, as they are often soluble fiber found in fruit.

There are also symbiotic prebiotic-probiotic supplements that you may find beneficial, especially if you have recently taken antibiotics or had some digestive problems. A great probiotic will also include enzymes and prebiotic strains that assist the good bacteria in the propagation and colonization of your gut, so you actually get real, lasting benefit from them.

Read this article about how different strains may help different health issues.

Resources:

Humans: 10% Human and 90% Bacterial
Our Bodies, Our Health, Our Gut Bacteria  (Cornell)
5 Quick Tips For Healthy Guts And A Healthier Immune System
The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet (Johns Hopkins)
Gut microbes closely linked to proper immune function, other health issues
How to Repair Your Gut After Antibiotics
Why Antibiotics Today Could Threaten Your Life Tomorrow
Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria
Is Carrageenan Safe?
VitaClay– Make Whole Food, Nutritious dishes easily at home: save time, money and effort, while healing your family! 
What is the Gut-Brain Axis?
Is the Gut Really Known as the 2nd Brain?
Gut Health For Children, and How it Can affect Children’s Brains and Cognitive Development

 

 

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Disclosure: Many of the product links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission from any purchase. I only recommend products that I love and this is at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our mission with your clicks! 

Ginger Tea: Your New Best Friend in the Winter (Plus a Hot Toddy Recipe!)

My step-daughter Lexi recently had an issue with her foot: it was swollen, painful and difficult for her to walk. Being in college, that is a big problem. She was forced to use crutches for several weeks, she was in constant pain, and she was at the mercy of whatever her doctors told her.

My husband and step-daughter on a daddy-daughter date in San Francisco.

It was clear her doctors didn’t know what was causing it: she was getting contradictory opinions and diagnoses, and all they could really do was prescribe pain meds.

My husband works out several times a week at the gym, as well as playing softball games twice a week, visiting the batting cages, playing flag football, and coaching sports teams. Needless to say, he often has sore, tight, or stiff muscles.

I’m usually cold. I have to carry a jacket everywhere, and when it starts to get cold in the fall I end up catching a chill and eventually getting a head cold or sinus infection as a result.

What if I told you there is a cheap, easy, and delicious way to relieve all three of the above issues, and many more?

GINGER

Ginger is a rock star in the world of natural healing and “food as medicine.”

  • Ginger is an anti-inflammatory: inflammation causes most of the pain and disease we experience
  • Ginger boosts the immune system: fend off that cold & flu virus going around
  • Ginger warms up the body: ward off chills and stay toasty in the winter!
  • Ginger breaks down toxic build-up in the body
  • Ginger improves cardiovascular health
  • Ginger relieves nausea and improves digestion: even nausea from motion sickness!
  • Ginger lowers cholesterol
  • Ginger works with fiber from your diet to cleanse your digestive tract
  • Ginger balances blood sugar
  • Ginger is a pain reliever: studies have found it even more effective than over-the-counter pain meds when taken every day!
  • Ginger can reduce the risk of cancer
  • Ginger is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal: it helps your body fight infections
  • Ginger can ease nasal discomfort: and serve as an alternative to decongestants and allergy meds
  • Ginger may rev up body fat loss: it ramps up your metabolism by raising your body temperature, encouraging your body to burn fat
Ginger does so many things!

So how can you get it in you? You can cook with it–I love the subtly sweet-hot flavor it adds to dishes. There are ginger candies you can eat as well–they’re a little spicy but pretty good! Or you can drink it as a tea!

Ginger tea is not actually tea, it’s an infusion of ginger in water. Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients for Ginger Tea

  • Fresh ginger root
  • 4-5 cups Pure filtered water

Directions for Ginger Tea

  1. Cut the fresh ginger into slices, using about one inch total
  2. Add the ginger and water to a saucepan and boil for 10-15 minutes
  3. Strain out the ginger and use the “ginger tea” that results

You can also buy ginger tea bags, or other ginger-infused products such as these ginger-honey crystals.

Ginger tea can be enjoyed hot or cold: you can even make a big batch in the summer and refrigerate it for a refreshing beverage with health benefits, or use it to make ginger lemonade!

It’s great sweetened with honey and with lemon, or you can use the “ginger water” in other things: like if you make herbal tea (I love this one) at night, use the ginger water instead of regular water to add ginger’s health benefits without the flavor–you’ll just taste the tea!

You can also use ginger water as the base for soups, stews, or other beverages. It can be used in place of water in a lot of recipes, and be swapped out for water when making rice, quinoa, or oatmeal. You can even use it when you make hot cocoa!

Some people (and kids) don’t love the strong taste of ginger. My friend Jennifer over at Home on the Meyerstead came up with this really great honey-based throat elixir that is great for kids–it’s sweet and sour with a great flavor, but also has the benefits of ginger, along with lemon and honey! It’s delicious–so much better than cough medicine but works just as well–and it’s a great tasting and nutritious ready-made add-in for tea!

When I feel a chill or get a tickle in the back of my throat, I make this delicious hot toddy and it warms me right up:

Ingredients for Healing Hot Toddy

  • 2-3 cups hot ginger water
  • 2 T lemon juice (if using a fresh lemon, throw in the whole lemon slice to get some of the benefits of the rind and zest)
  • 1-2 T raw organic honey (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • A splash of whiskey (about 1 oz)
  • 1-2 oz Elderberry tincture or a spoonful of Elderberry syrup
  • 2 T Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon
  • A sprinkle of real salt (for electrolytes and flavor)

Directions for Healing Hot Toddy

  1. Add all ingredients to hot ginger water
  2. Stir and add to two mugs

I love this hot toddy because it warms my whole body up right away–

perfect if I’ve caught a chill.

It also tastes great! it’s like hot apple cider, thanks to the apple cider vinegar.

It’s the perfect immune-boosting nightcap!

It’s even better to pair up this hot drink with a detox bath at night before you go to bed or when you feel sick.

My step-daugter Lexi said the ginger tea helped relieve pain in her foot as it was healing, too!

Ginger is an age-old remedy that really works as a warming, soothing, anti-inflammatory food, and it’s very inexpensive and easy to use! Grab some ginger next time you’re at the store and get to healing!

 

Read more about how to boost immunity and stay well during the winter:

Caught a chill? Take a Detox Bath! 

Make Your Own Elderberry Tincture: Stay Healthy and Ward off Cold & Flu Season! 

Plus: Watch “5 Top Ingredients to Add to Your Detox Bath

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Disclosure: Many of the product links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission from any purchase. I only recommend products that I love and this is at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our mission with your clicks! 

Healthy Saturday Morning Breakfast Sausage!

Most Saturday mornings my husband and I like to go to breakfast. It’s a lazy, indulgent thing we do that allows us to carve out time at least once a week–we connect and just relax a bit after the hectic week.

My second favorite thing to do is to make a big breakfast for the family and a few friends on Saturday morning. This usually only happens on holidays, but it’s such a warm, fun time I wonder why we don’t take time to do it more often.

The smell of coffee, bacon, pancakes, eggs, sausage….

Mmm… coffee.
Coffee Break! Okay, I’m back.

There’s something about breakfast sausage: a unique flavor, juicy and delicious–sometimes I like it even more than bacon!

Breakfast sausage is one of those things I almost never eat, however. Why? Though it’s everywhere: in the meat section, in the freezer section, on every breakfast diner menu… pork is a meat that can be contaminated with a lot of toxins. Because toxins build up in fatty tissue, and pork is full of fat, I tend to stay away from it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love fat. But only if it’s from a clean source. Strangely, as ubiquitous as pork is, it’s pretty difficult to find pork from a clean source. Even organic bacon is not easy to find, and the stores that do carry it are out of stock half the time.

I’ve been wanting to make breakfast sausage for a long time, but I had some difficulty sourcing organic ground pork. Finally I found some at my health food store, so I stocked up and went on the search for the best breakfast sausage recipe.

With a little tweak here and there (I can’t ever just leave a recipe alone) I think I’ve finally got the perfect breakfast sausage. I’d like to share it with you, just in time for Saturday morning brunch!

 

Ingredients for Saturday Morning Breakfast Sausage

Ready to freeze

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients (you might want to use your hands to get all the spices incorporated)
  2. Pan fry patties ( I love using my cast iron skillet!) and serve along other breakfast food
  3. Form patties on parchment and freeze, then bag if not using all of it
Cook it up in cast iron!

Most sausage recipes don’t call for soy sauce, but I love to add a splash (tamari and shoyu types are great because they are traditionally made, have excellent flavor, and they’re usually gluten free)–that umami flavor just adds an extra punch. It also adds a little bit of moisture to the meat.

These little sausage patties freeze well or will keep in the fridge up to a week.

I’d love to see pictures of your homemade sausage!

Pin them, post them on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram!

What’s your favorite breakfast tradition?

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Disclosure: Many of the product links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission from any purchase. I only recommend products that I love and this is at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our mission with your clicks! 

Who I am

When I was 32 years old

I lost a baby. I remember laying on the stretcher on December 22, getting wheeled to the ambulance in the freezing cold at 3:00 am thinking, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.”

Losing that baby at 23 weeks gestation was the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me.

 After that happened, though, I finally felt like a “real” adult for the first time in my life. As traumatic as it was, I rose out of that experience finally feeling like I had grown up. I was an adult. I was no longer afraid. I wasn’t intimidated by other people, no matter how “powerful” they are. It gave me a perspective on life that I value. It was a leveling field.

Every person has value,

and not only that: every person has the same value. Every person is strong, and every person is weak. Every person has influence, and every person uses it for good and uses it for bad. This maturing process happens at different times in life for everyone, and for some it never comes, but when it does, I suppose it is usually called wisdom.

Fear used to strangle me.

I was afraid of everything: afraid of risk, afraid of danger, afraid of other people. Fear ran my life. Since that pivotal moment in my life, fear no longer controls me. I’ve learned that fear is nothing: it’s just a perception, and it is all in my mind. It’s not real.

If I can go through the death of my child and come out strong, I can do anything. There is no longer anything in this world to fear. Even the most powerful person is just another person. What can they do to me?

”Don‘t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.

In America we’re all about freedom.

So why do we feel stuck in our lives, unable to change anything? Maybe you feel stuck in your job, your income level, your lifestyle. Maybe you were diagnosed with cancer or diabetes and you think it’s a death sentence. Maybe you feel cornered in a marriage that isn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe you feel trapped by your body and want to break free of your weight, or your fatigue, or your pain.

Come with me and break free.

Freedom: where you don’t have to be afraid! Cancer is not a death sentence and you take back control of your health and your destiny. Where you don’t care what anyone thinks; you can work for yourself and make MORE money. Where you are not afraid of anything and . Where you don’t depend on any person, any thing or any company to give you what you need.

Let’s find Freedom.

Health Freedom. Financial Freedom. Coffee Freedom. Freedom Freedom.