These days it seems like everyone is talking about gut health and how important it is to our everyday lives.
Broadly speaking, the term “gut health” refers to the bacteria that lives in your digestive tract (known as gastrointestinal tract). The bacteria contained within is affected by numerous factors starting from how we were born (c-section or vaginal birth), to the environment we grew up in as well as what we eat.
An imbalance in your gut microbiome (environment) can lead to many health problems. This is why it is generally good practice to maintain a balanced lifestyle because we can control what we eat and how we exercise and these factors play an important role in gut health.
I’d like to qualify that I have no experience or background in medicine and nutrition, and the information provided so far is based on internet research. Nonetheless, this post is focused on one of the many factors contributing to that of gut health, that being what we eat. To further narrow this down, I am looking specifically at Indian recipes/dishes that are traditionally associated with promoting good gut health and have been passed down the generations. Everyone is different, and if you are having gut problems, it is best to consult your doctor or nutritionist for tailored advice.
Whether your preference is kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha or kefir, there’s no doubt that different cultures have been long aware of the positive effects that fermented foods can have on the gut. These items are high in probiotics, which means that they contain live bugs that are beneficial to the gut microbiome (your gut environment, also known as ‘gut fibre’). They most certainly should not be relied on as a sole source of probiotics and will of course depend on your taste preferences diet.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, act as food for the probiotics and nurture and sustain the probiotics in your gut flora. Prebiotics are found in foods that are high in fibre (certain vegetables and legumes). They pass through the gastrointestinal tract without breaking down and stimulate the growth of good bacteria and suppress the growth of its evil counterpart.
Below are some foods/drinks that Indians enjoy not only for their taste, but also for their positive impact on digestion and overall gut health. The best thing is that they contain natural sources of probiotics, and are therefore less expensive and much more delicious when compared to supplements.
Kanji - This is a drink hailing from the north of India, that has the dual effect of aiding digestion and also keeping you cool. Thanks to the addition of vibrantly-coloured vegetables like beetroot and purple carrot, the drink takes on a beautiful magenta hue. Kanji is produced by the yeast found in the skin of the vegetable as well as the naturally occurring bacteria found in the air. Here’s what Anoothi Vishal, food columnist and writer, had to say when comparing kanji with its sweeter and more ‘on trend’ counterpart:
The flavour profiles of kombucha and kanji are of course drastically different. One is mildly sweet, the other zingy, tart, salty and when made well, pungent. I love the complexity of flavours a well fermented kanji brings in every mouthful. But it is an acquired taste—with no redeeming sweetness to ensure all-round appeal.
Curd - This is a summer favourite because it helps to keep your insides cool! Even if you add a bit of curd here and there to your meals, you can up your intake of probiotics. For breakfast, have a side of curd with your muesli or granola. If you’re doing a rice like pilaf or biryani, you can make raita (yoghurt dressing) to go along with it. A popular south Indian dish is curd rice; it is filling, cooling and tasty all at once.
Idli/Dosa - These breads are staples in many homes across southern India (click here to learn about the different breads available across India). They are primarily made from a mixture of fermented rice and lentils and are a popular breakfast item, which means you get to dose up on probiotics first thing in the morning!
- Pickles - In India, many meals are served with a side of pickle for extra flavour (you’d think that wouldn’t be necessary, given how flavour-packed Indian food can be, but no, more is less for us!). The process of fermentation means that they bring a slight tartness to the meal, whilst also being good for your gut! You can try making your own homemade pickle with a little help from our Tomato Kasaundi spice blend.
Now you are well-equipped to try different dishes that are also rich in probiotics for the next time that you head to your local Indian restaurant, or even if you are lucky enough to travel to India!