Jo Wood on building up your bacteria intake and probiotics to improve the health of your gut

I have valued the importance of gut health for a long time, dating back to many years ago when my great friend and former head of the Soil Association Patrick Holden advised me to never wash my potatoes too well!

With new research into the role bacteria plays in our body health, it’s time to rethink what it is that makes as healthy. Thanks to advances in genetics, scientists are discovering and understanding the importance of microbial organisms that live invisibly on, in and around us. Today our food industry kills off the majority of those in our food as it’s so heavily processed. A study at Kings College showed that a 10-day diet of junk food causes the loss of 1,300 species of beneficial, natural bacteria in the intestines.

On top of this, soil health has been horrifically degraded by intensive agricultural methods such as pesticides, chemicals and intensive fanning. When thinking of soil it’s hard to imagine that it could be so important to our health but the reality is that a healthy topsoil thrives because of microbial activity so as it is in the soil then it is in our gut, says Patrick, who is now the director of the Sustainable Food Trust.

Author Daphne Lambert says there’s a clear analogy between soil and human digestion. In her book Living Food: Feast of Soil and Soul (£20.29, Unbound) she traces the origins of soil-eating for health.

She suggests that ingestion of soil-based organisms from a vibrant, healthy earth enhances the function of our gastrointestinal tract, but our modern lifestyles have broken the link between healthy soil and humans.

With fewer people working the land and every last trace of soil washed off our vegetables we buy, we miss out on these organisms.

It seems that children are naturally drawn to playing in mud and dirt (my grandchildren certainly are) and as a child I remember creating mud pies and making my brother pretend to eat them — this is all pan of how our immune systems develop.

The good bacteria in soil far outweighs the risks and outnumbers the bad… as long as it’s good healthy soil!

As professor Tim Spector at Kings College explains: “Microbes get bad press, but only a few of the millions of species are harmful and many are crucial to our health.” In Asian culture they take this thought into their homes and clean their homes with fermented solutions of probiotics that feed good bacteria which then eat up bad smells, din and grease caused by the harmful.

So instead of bacteria being the enemy, it really is our oldest and best friend. The challenge is to restore our earth’s soil to a healthy one. This can be done by choosing to buy organic, therefore increasing the demand, and growing your own.

In terms of your own body’s health, it’s good to remember that sugar is fed by had bacteria and when they don’t get it they complain. American research found that microbes may cause as to crave the very nutrients they need to grow by releasing molecules into our system. How clever is that?!

So it’s time to feed those probiotics to our gut. Eat fermented food, drink cider vinegar, slurp on miso soup and munch on sauerkraut. Yummy!

“Instead of bacteria being the enemy, it really is our oldest and best friend. The challenge is to restore our earth’s soil to a healthy one by buying organic”

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