Probiotics are all the rage these days. Walk into any grocery store, and you will find shelves brimming with probiotic-rich foods. Today they are not only popular amongst the uber health-conscious, but also anyone looking to jump-start their digestive system. And let’s face it, every trip around the sun sure takes its toll on your ability to digest food. For that reason (and many more), we have probiotics, the holy grail of a healthy digestive system, and Akesi Wellness is helping to make them delicious.
Probiotics are, in a nutshell, beneficial bugs (we’ll get more into that later). Bugs is a bit of a dirty word, but it shouldn’t be. Good bugs exist and are essential for a healthy digestive system. Loaded with good bugs (like we’re talking in the billions here), probiotics are your answer to digesting food, killing disease-causing germs, and making vitamins (to sum it up, they optimize your body). They also improve your gut-brain interaction, all together boosting your physical and mental health.
Probiotics exist naturally in foods like yogurt, kimchi and kombucha, but also come in supplement form for those who can’t get down with the taste of the booch. But because probiotics are living things, cultures are hugely sensitive and hard to keep alive. A great deal of skill, science, experience and patience is involved when working with probiotics. In fact, the process of making fermented drinks isn’t that straight forward and can go wrong very fast. So we leave it to the experts, like Akesi.
Dr. Elizabeth Biggs and Victoria McKellar founded Akesi Wellness in Singapore in 2017. Following the births of their children, they wanted to make dietary and lifestyle changes for the health of their family and turned to gut health to help with overall wellness. The result is a line of bio-fermented tonics and probiotic+ powders that will nurture your microbial gut health. Their innovative product line up includes Bio-Fermented Turmeric with Ginger and Black Pepper Tonic, Papaya Leaf with Pomegranate Tonic, and the delicious Berry Spritzer (find product info as well as a hugely engaging blog with recipes on their website here). But we wanted to ask our own burning questions, and Victoria gave us a lesson in probiotics… thus leaving us experts (almost).
Before we go any further, here’s the skinny on probiotics:
What are probiotics? WHO defines probiotics as live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits to the host.
What are prebiotics? Prebiotics are essentially the food for probiotics – they are a special type of dietary fibre that feed the beneficial bugs in your gut.
What is a microbe? Short for microorganism, the gut microbiota is a group of microbes that live in the digestive tract (some may still refer to this as the gut flora). The microbiota weighs just over 1kg and is comprised of trillions of organisms. Microbes have the ability to absorb, digest and metabolize the food content we cannot, as well as release absorbable nutrients, metabolites, and waste products.
What is fermentation? Fermentation is a process where carbohydrate materials of a substance are broken down either in the presence or absence of oxygen. The end product is determined by controlling the types of microbes present and the environmental conditions. The end product is more nutritious than the start product because it increases the bioavailability of nutrients.
What are fermented probiotic-rich foods? The top probiotic-rich foods are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, pickles, tempeh, kimchi and kombucha.
GITNB: Bugs are typically something people thought they shouldn’t have in their bodies. In English, what’s the difference between good and bad bacteria?
Akesi Wellness: You could say that we are more bug than human — our microbiome (which consists of not just bacteria but also viruses, protozoa and fungi living in and on us) outnumbers our human cells 10:1. Despite being taught that ‘bugs are bad’, the majority are in fact beneficial, and if you look after these microbes, they’ll look after you.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own personal journey into the world of probiotics? Was there some a-ha moment that led you down this path
For me, it was when my daughter was born prematurely and developed a gut-related illness called necrotising enterocolitis. Her doctor treated her with life-saving antibiotics, but we also saw improvements by introducing probiotics. Today, she is the healthiest of my three children despite her rocky start, she has eaten a plant-centric diet rich in nutrients and prebiotic fibre, which I believe has helped keep inflammation away by strengthening her gut ecosystem. By focussing on maintaining a healthy gut, it’s hugely impacted her entire wellness journey.
What creates the need for probiotics? What are people doing to create this imbalance inside them to begin with?
Modern times have created the need for probiotics. We tend to live urban and sedentary lifestyles, fuelling our bodies with refined and processed foods that are high in sugar. To top it off, we have antibiotics readily available, which in some cases are life-saving but in many cases unnecessary. A five-day course of antibiotics can wipe out a third of your gut bugs – the good and the bad.
Our beneficial gut bugs live on fibre, which means we need to consume regular amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal, every day. Most people don’t get anywhere near the recommended daily dose of fibre, which means their good gut bugs are starving and therefore dying. Then the ‘bad gut bugs’ take over.
What are some of the absolute worst things for gut health that people might not suspect?
Sugar, refined and processed food, and the overuse of antibiotics (as medication but also by way of antibiotics in the food chain). Also, not getting outside in nature enough. And of course, alcohol.
Do both probiotics derived from fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt and probiotics supplements affect people in the same way? Are there pros and cons to each?
Few people enjoy fermented food (particularly children), so a probiotic supplement is often easier to take. Some fermented foods, like commercial yogurt, Yakult, and kombucha, have added sugar, which is counter-productive (remember the sugar feeds the bad bugs). A home ferment is amazing and can be consumed as much as you can tolerate. There are so many strains you are trying to replace and restore so if you can boost your gut health from many diverse sources, do so.
You talk a lot about staying away from sugar, and that it’s bad for your gut. Are we talking about all sugars or just refined? What about natural sweeteners like honey, agave, maple syrup or coconut sugar?
All sugar is bad for the gut but mostly refined sugar. Natural sugars at least provide some other nutritional benefit, for example, manuka honey is well documented for containing loads of medicinal benefits.
I have yogurt for breakfast, kombucha for lunch, and sauerkraut for dinner. Do I still need to take probiotics supplements? Is there such a thing as too many probiotics?
Your digestion will let you know if you have had too much, like if you have too frequent bowel movements, or gas and bloating.
Probiotics get a lot of credit for keeping the flora of your gut and digestive tract healthy, amongst other things. That said, do probiotics only treat specific conditions or are they meant for everyone to include into their diet?
Probiotics can be used to help maintain healthy bowel movements, boost your immune system and support your digestion. Probiotics have also been linked to treating and assisting in multiple illnesses from digestion issues to skin to psychological disorders.
Since there is a long list of food that contains probiotics, and then there are supplements too, what lead you to create a new product (the bio-fermented Akesi range)? How does it differ from other probiotics?
Food is medicine, but given the modern lifestyle, you also need to boost your diet where you can. Our Akesi Bio-Fermented range is 100% natural and contains eight carefully selected strains which we inoculate and ferment in a papaya-leaf and papaya-fruit base for three weeks. This creates a superior fermented liquid packed with highly absorbable nutrients as well as probiotics. We have three different flavours, which also work in their own unique way. You have the Turmeric with Ginger and Black Pepper, which is our spicy anti-inflammatory tonic. Then you have Papaya Leaf with Pomegranate, which is a neutral taste and rich in phytonutrients. And finally our Berry Spritzer, which is the family favourite because it’s naturally sweet and packed with antioxidants. The three tonics are absolutely delicious mixed into a cup of still or sparkling water.
Aside from taking probiotics, what are some of your personal and perhaps unexpected day-to-day tips for keeping your gut healthy?
I like to start my day with a shot containing one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar combined with a tablespoon of our Akesi Bio-Fermented Turmeric with Ginger and Black Pepper Tonic before going for a walk or run in nature. I replace one cup of tea with a cup of bone broth, and I make sure my family and I have vegetables (fibre!) with every meal.
Did you know that your gut is like your second brain? What you eat effects your gut health and it can change from meal to meal. Find out more about probiotics and why your gut health is so important with the co-founders of Akesi Wellness. #LittleGreenStpes #LiveMoreConsciously
Posted by Green Is The New Black on Sunday, 5 May 2019
Trying new things can be intimating sometimes. For people who are looking for an easy and adaptable gateway into healthier eating and probiotics, what are some #LittleGreenSteps that you can think the average person can easily employ?
Try to reduce your sugar intake for three weeks — if you or your family like to drink juice or soda, try replacing with a serve of our Berry Spritzer instead. Not only are you removing the sugar but you are introducing beneficial probiotics plus giving your body an antioxidant boost whilst still having something yummy.