Let’s have three cheers for lactobacillus!
Whoopsie Gruntfuttock here. I hope you are all keeping well.
This week I’m your war correspondent! Exciting, eh? There is a war going on, in case you didn’t notice, inside us. It’s a millions-of-years-old conflict between clashing clans of bacteria. And it’s all taking place in our guts.
Some bacteria are on our side (Hooray for them!) They help combat the harmful bacteria (Boo to these suckers!) that cause tummy upsets and other stuff we’d rather not have — some of which we’d rather not think about at all actually; thank you very much! Neither side has been declared outright winner since the first time Neanderthal man walked upright. This is a conflict that isn’t going to see an armistice anytime soon.
Good bacteria are called probiotics. Probiotics are living microorganisms that boost health. Probiotic foods include yoghurt, kefir and tempeh. Eating foods rich in probiotics helps the good guys wage war on the bad guys, such as one of the most common bacteria, lactobacillus. Eating foods that get the good bacteria sitting up and licking their lips keep our guts healthier than an army PE instructor.
Boffins trained to count such things (though God knows how) estimate the number of bacteria encamped in our innards at between 40 and 300 trillion. When you encounter such enormous numbers, you realise how stuffed our guts already are. Is it any wonder that we sometimes cannot possibly eat another portion of pudding at the end of a meal?
Many bacteria reside in your gut, and the majority are as harmless as a feather duster. Some do their best to help out by fighting the small number of delinquent bacteria that cause disease. If these bacteria were human, they’d hang around chip shops of an evening, wearing leather jackets, sporting Megadeath t-shirts and intimidating the locals.
Having the right gut bacteria confers health benefits, including weight reduction, improved digestion and enhanced immune function. But given you can’t interview these bacteria individually, how can we check for allegiance. Are they for? Or against us? We can’t tell.
At least we know that a couple of naturally occurring foods actively promote gut health. These are the well-known pickled cabbage dish from Germany known as sauerkraut and the lesser-known Korean dish called Kimchi, which is made with various seasonings, including spring onions, garlic, and ginger.
Like your uncle Freddy after six pints of Old Speckled Hen, sauerkraut and Kimchi look decidedly unpleasant, but every batch is crammed with goodness from the lid to the foot of the jar. It is basically fermented cabbage. Those of us hell-bent on pickling cabbages — perhaps as a hobby or as an element of some mental derangement — are often unaware that the pickling process gives rise to a complex chemical brew, most notably containing lactic acid. Lactic acid is kryptonite to harmful bacteria, which turn tail and head screaming back to their trenches (and sometimes their mothers at the merest whiff of it. A small batch of sauerkraut can be rustled up in three days, though longer fermentation only enhances the flavours.
You can buy a kilogram bucket of Kimchi for £5 over many specialist food shop counters. It’s a staple food in Korea — a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, commonly cabbage and Korean radish, made with seasonings such as spring onions, garlic and ginger.
So, never turn your nose up at gut bacteria. Always treat other life forms — some of whom have been mooching around this planet for millions of years longer than we ever have — with respect. Because, one day they may view us as lunch.
Greatest wishes from the smallest room,