Friendly Bacteria Blunt Anti-Nutrient Action

high-fiber breadThe “good” bacteria strain Bifidobacterium may reduce levels of phytate and phytic acid, compounds which are thought to be behind fiber’s impairment of mineral absorption.

Phytase enzymes produced by strains of bifidobacteria could reduce phytate and phytic acid levels in food.

When compared to high-fiber bread baked traditionally, fermentation of bread with the Bifidobacterium strains led to significantly lower phytic acid levels.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Adding good bacteria, or probiotics, to bread in order to ferment it is a method that’s been used for centuries, and it’s not surprising that this may also make the bread healthier by reducing levels of phytate and phytic acid, which prevent essential minerals in your intestinal tract from being absorbed.

In fact, fermenting grains for bread was thought to have originated in Egypt some 3,500 years ago, as triangular loaves of bread have been found in ancient tombs The Vikings also ate fermented sourdough bread made from a fermented water and flour mixture (along with other fermented foods such as fermented fish).

Why did these ancient cultures ferment their foods, long before the benefits of good bacteria were known to science? Because it not only kept them safe to eat longer (which was essential during long ocean voyages and to survive during the winter months when fresh foods were not available), but it also made the nutrients more available, providing priceless health benefits that ancient cultures intrinsically felt and valued.

I’d still like to point out though, that whole grain bread, and nearly all other grains, rapidly convert to sugar and accelerate aging and chronic illness in most, although certainly not all of us.

For those of you who have carbohydrate nutritional types, which is about one-third of people, and are not overweight and don’t have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, then grains are a possible option for you. In this case, whole-grain, fermented varieties would be among the best out there.

Sally Fallon’s cookbook Nourishing Traditions has an entire section devoted to fermenting grains and making naturally fermented breads, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a healthier way to add grains to your diet.

Fermentation Also Makes Soy Healthy

Just as good bacteria was found to reduce phytate and phytic acid levels in bread, the same also holds true for soy.

Nonfermented soy products, which include tofu and the myriad of soy burgers, soy milk, soy ice cream and other processed soy foods, contain phytic acid, which has anti-nutritive properties. Phytic acid binds with certain nutrients, such as iron, to inhibit their absorption. This is a direct, physical effect that takes place in your digestive system.

They’ve also been found to contain toxins and disruptive plant estrogens that can damage your thyroid.

After a long fermentation process, however, the phytic acid and anti-nutrient levels of the soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties -- such as the creation of natural probiotics -- become available to your digestive system.

It also greatly reduces the levels of dangerous isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen in their chemical structure, and can interfere with the action of your own estrogen production.

So if you want to take advantage of the health benefits of soy, go ahead! Just make sure you’re eating the fermented varieties and avoid all non-fermented soy products.

Healthy options include:

  • Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor. It's loaded with nattokinase, a very powerful blood thinner.

Natto is actually a food I eat often, as it is the highest source of vitamin K2 on the planet, and has a very powerful beneficial bacteria, bacillus subtilis. It can usually be found in any Asian grocery store.

  • Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor.

  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (commonly used in miso soup).

  • Traditionally Made Soy Sauce: traditionally, soy sauce is made by fermenting soybeans, salt and enzymes, however be wary because many varieties on the market are made artificially using a chemical process.

Good Bacteria May Enhance Nutrient Absorption in Your Gut Too

Your gut flora, the microorganisms living in your intestines, continually and dynamically affect your health.

Good bacteria that you take in, either from fermented foods or in supplement form, prevent the growth of less desirable ones by competing for both nutrition and attachment sites in the tissues of your colon. These friendly bacteria also aid digestion and nutrient absorption so that you’re able to get more benefit from the foods you eat.

In fact, without good gut bacteria, your body cannot absorb certain undigested starches, fiber, and sugars. The friendly bacteria in your digestive tract convert these carbohydrates into primary sources of important energy and nutrients.

Further, the list of conditions and diseases thought to be directly or indirectly related to a shortage of friendly gut bacteria is long and growing longer. It includes the following:

  • Infectious diarrhea

  • Intestinal infection caused by the Clostridium difficile bacterium

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's Disease)

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection. which causes ulcers and chronic stomach inflammation

  • Leaky gut (a compromised intestinal wall that allows undigested foods and toxins to pass into the bloodstream, triggering an inappropriate immune system response)

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Post surgical infections

  • Urinary and female genital tract infections

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) and acne

  • Autism

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Bladder cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Tooth decay and gum disease

It is because of these immense benefits, and the fact that many people are lacking in friendly gut bacteria, that a high-quality probiotic is one of the few supplements recommended to all new patients in my clinic.

Proper food choices will help shift the bacteria in your gut in the direction of the good guys, particularly if you avoid eating a lot of sugar and grains and eat plenty of fermented foods (which supply beneficial bacteria naturally).

But, just like your lawn, sometimes you may need to "reseed" areas that have become barren for whatever reason.

Normally, you don’t need to take probiotics forever, but I have found them to be incredibly helpful at certain times, such as when you stray from your healthy diet and consume excess grains or sugar, or if you have to take antibiotics.

If you’d like to concentrate on including more probiotics in your diet, look for traditionally fermented foods like:

  • Natto

  • Miso

  • Kimchee

  • Tempeh

  • Kefir

  • Yogurt

  • Olives

  • Sauerkraut

  • Pickles

It is important to note that traditionally fermented foods are not the equivalent of the same foods in commercially processed form. The best way to ensure you're consuming the real thing is to prepare your own fermented foods at home, and I again highly recommend Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions as a go-to guide on how to do this.