Balance your Bugs!

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Microflora in the gut can have a significant impact on your health, body composition, and recovery. Let’s take a quick look at some of the effects:

1) Research shows that obese individuals have different ratios of bacteria in the gut from lean control subjects. These bacteria extract more calories from the ingested food.

2) Favorably altering this good/bad bacteria ratio has shown improved insulin sensitivity and blood sugar response to carbohydrate intake.

3) An imbalance in gut bacteria may lead to an increased appetite, thru secretion of peptides which effect hunger sensations.

4) Studies on probiotics show that improving gut flora can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol will lead to belly fat gain and higher levels of inflammation.

5) Studies also show less anxiety and a better mood from balancing gut bacteria. Remember, many of the neurotransmitters that influence our mood are made in the gut!

6) New research shows that vitamin D may have an important role in gut health and bacteria as well, so this is one more reason to get tested. Correcting any deficiency is important. (You are highly unlikely to get enough vitamin D from the sun in Portland unless you are employed as a roofer or something similar. Most people in the Northwest who work mostly outside do not have enough skin exposed to benefit.)

The gold standard is to get a comprehensive stool analysis done, then correct any problems found. Or, you can simply begin by supplementing with quality probiotics. By no means are all probiotics created equally – many store bought probiotics are either damaged by gastric juices, or else by the time you buy them very little bacteria is left alive. I suggest using pharmaceutical grade versions. We carry several different high quality probiotic products in the retail store at Crossfit Portland.

Adding fermented foods to your diet can also help balance the gut flora. Sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt (if you tolerate dairy), and kombucha are a few examples. Sauerkraut is very easy to make. Here’s a recipe:

Red Caraway Sauerkraut

Fermented foods have long been a part of ancestral diets. Sauerkraut is easy to make, and it improves digestion and nutrient availability. You’ll need a wide mouth canning jar and a smaller bottle that fits inside.

Active time: 8 minutes
Total time: 10 days-2 weeks

• 1/2 head red cabbage
• 3 tsp caraway seeds
• 2 tsp sea salt (non-iodized)

Chop the cabbage thinly, or use a food processor. Place into a large bowl, add the salt and caraway seeds; mix well. Allow to sit for 30 min to 1 hour. Add the cabbage to your canning jar, pushing the cabbage down and packing it tightly. The brine should begin to rise above the cabbage. An empty bottle works well to pack the cabbage. Don’t fill the jar all of the way, leave some space at the top. Fill your bottle with water, then leave it in the canning jar. The weight of the bottle will keep the cabbage from floating to the top during the fermentation process.

Let the jar sit out at room temperature for around 2 weeks. If the brine level drops, add a bit of salted, de-chlorinated water* so that the cabbage remains covered. Once the fermentation is complete, cover and refrigerate the sauerkraut.

*Chlorine in the water will prevent the fermentation process. Use filtered water, or you can leave water to sit out overnight before using.

Nutritional info: 8 servings at 3g carb

If you’d like to make large batches of sauerkraut, the markets on Sauvie Island often have huge ‘kraut cabbages on sale this time of year!


Membrez, M., et al., Gut microbiota modulation with norfloxacin and ampicillin enhances glucose tolerance in mice. Faseb J, 2008.

Ley, R.E., et al., Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature, 2006. 444(7122): p. 1022-3.

Curr Opin Lipidol. 2010 Feb;21(1):76-83.
Gut microbiota as a regulator of energy homeostasis and ectopic fat deposition: mechanisms and implications for metabolic disorders. Musso G, Gambino R, Cassader M.

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