Note from Sarah: Jason Seib is back with an excellent and informative post on probiotics.  Read and enjoy!!

Sometimes our primary goal can give us tunnel vision.  For example, in my last post I covered the importance of diet AND exercise because it’s easy to think that one or the other will be enough.  But when we remember that any positive and sustainable change in appearance will happen through improved health and not ridiculous tricks and gimmicks, we are also reminded that there are other pertinent inputs involved in peak health, like sleep, stress, and today’s topic, healthy digestion.  While it is true that poor digestion tends to be corrected by a solid paleo diet, there are few things you need to know.

All the paleo pros agree that it is essential to get through at least 3 or 4 weeks of strict paleo nutrition in the beginning.  A slow build up to this period is fine, but until you have completed this extended time of solid paleo you are still starting.  There are many great reasons for this, but two stand out.  First, you will regain the ability to easily switch back and forth between glucose and fat as an energy source (also called metabolic flexibility), which will allow you to more easily use stored fat for energy.  This is a subject for another post, but let’s just say it is critical to your goals, whatever they may be.  The second benefit of going hard in the beginning is that you will heal your gut, regain healthy digestion and improve your gut flora.

Our intestines are actually home to trillions of microorganisms that help us digest our food, improve and aid our immune systems, and even provide us with some micro-nutrients.  If you find it unnerving that so many other lifeforms make there home in your gut, maybe it will be helpful to know that you cannot survive without them.  They evolved right alongside us with harmonious symbiosis as a result.  Therefore, it is important to protect and nourish our gut flora, a fact that has been often ignored in the neolithic western diet.

Antibiotics and stress are probably the two biggest enemies of healthy gut flora, but offensive foods need to be removed to achieve healthy digestion, which will improve the gut flora environment, as well.  This part is sometimes confusing for some people.  No matter how you try to create a healthy environment in your gut, your efforts will be undone if you continue to eat offenders like grains and legumes, and have copious amounts of psychological stress.  (Since stress is a big problem for gut flora, it also stands to reason that beating yourself senseless in your workouts will be problematic as well, but I’m only speculating because all the studies I have seen have used purely psychological stressors.)  Trying to heal your gut under these conditions is kind of like working really hard to get the PH just right in your fish tank only to put a drop of bleach in it every couple of days.  Good effort, but you probably aren’t getting anywhere.

Once you have stopped hurting yourself to the best of your ability, you should start supplementing  with probiotics.  Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria cultures that can be ingested to repopulate the gut with the right flora.  There are a few supplement companies I trust for just about everything, and probiotics are no exception.  My clients and I have had good results with both Jarrow and Now brands, using them as directed.  Some professionals recommend taking probiotics all the time.  I think they are something that should be returned to often, but if you are not regularly killing your gut flora through stress, unhealthy eating, or antibiotics, you probably don’t need them all the time.  I have clients who seem to do well taking a bottle of probiotics, as directed of course, every couple of months.  Be sure to supplement with probiotics during and after any antibiotic use.  Antibiotics are not choosy about which bacteria they kill, and gut bacteria are no exception.  Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, are  an excellent source of healthy bacteria and should be a regular part of your diet all the time.  It is also important to eat your veggies for their soluble fiber content.  Soluble fiber is food for gut bacteria.

To sum it all up, stop hurting your gut with bad foods and too much stress, throw in some probiotics on a regular basis to help keep your gut flora healthy, eat plenty of vegetables and fermented vegetables, and especially do all these things during and after taking any antibiotics.

Now go forth and be awesome!


  1. says

    Oh yeah!! I LOVE this sauerkraut. You know, I never could figure out why the sauerkraut I bought at the store didn’t taste like the deliciousness I enjoyed in Munich. NOW I know! They don’t “vinegarize” their cabbage… it’s lacto-fermented. So easy to make, but Bubbie’s is fantastic!

  2. says

    Great post! I love eating raw sauerkraut in the morning with my eggs and bacon…it has just become part of my routine and I have noticed a huge improvement in my digestion. I know that it can be good to have a variety of sources from where you get this good bacteria from — so do you have any concerns/comments about kombucha? I know everything in moderation is key, but there just isn’t too much research out there about the product. Wondering if you, first hand or with clients, have had good or bad issues with raw kombucha? I am referring more to the GTs brand you can buy in stores, not so much the homemade stuff.

  3. says

    Bubbies sauerkraut + shredded carrots + a splash of olive oil + salt & pepper = great tasting (and stupid easy to make) side salad. Let it sit in the fridge overnight for extra awesomeness.

    • Shanna says

      Did you ever get an answer to this question? I am wondering the same thing. I think Sarah mentioned it in a podcast once upon a time, but I don’t know how to find that info again.

  4. says

    My mom has been making sauerkraut the old-fashioned way (fermenting in the basement in a big crock) since I was little, and it will always be one of my favorite foods ever. Those who have never had “real” sauerkraut don’t know what they’re missing!

    I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I love, love, love your blog. I’m trying to cut processed foods out of my family’s diet, but it’s so hard, especially when your spouse thinks it’s crazy. I have been starting out slowly, going the “whole foods” route, and it does seem to make me feel better.

    Anyway, I love reading your blog.

    • Stephanie says

      It is SO EASY to make it yourself. I found a recipe and really good detailed instructions on the Balanced Bites website.
      You really only need cabbage, salt and maybe a little filtered water and I used a 32oz mason jar. No fancy crock needed but I think I may upgrade at some point.

  5. says

    Thank you for another informative post! I have a feeling we’re going to have to be looking into probiotics for my son soon. We just began eating Paleo as a family (I’ve been doing mostly Paleo for a month or so now) to aid with his issues with encopresis. He’s been eating Paleo for 3 solid days now and yesterday thanked me outright for fixing his belly issues. Thanks again for all the information! I will certainly be stalking around even more than before now as my whole family attempts to cope with a complete change in diet.

  6. Alexis says

    We love the raw sauerkraut from our local farmer’s market but also love Bubbies dill pickles. Our entire family of 4 also loves kombucha but it is really breaking on the budget in our house so is unfortunately considered a treat unless I find it on sale and stock up. I have been interested in trying to make my own, as well as my own sauerkraut, any chance EP can do a demo on homemade kombucha pretty please? Or, if I missed it, can you please direct me to the proper link?

  7. Carla says

    I love raw sauerkraut! I used to to eat a bit with each meal on a daily basis. This article is lighting a fire under my bum to get back into the habit. :)

  8. says

    Newbie to the Paleo thing here. I’ve read about it for a while but am just now diving in.

    I do a lacto-fermentation with raw milk whey for my fermented goods like kraut. It’s super tasty, easy and pretty darn cheap. The whey really boosts the probiotics. I also make my own kombucha which is also easy and crazy cheap. Eating fermented foods is, I think, a much better way to get your probiotics than via a pill. In other cultures, people have, historically, eaten fermented foods on a regular basis. Think Koreans and kim chi; they eat a small amount bit with most meals. Really improves digestion.

  9. says

    There’s no doubt that gut flora plays a huge part in health. But it doesn’t follow from that that probiotics are helpful. While studies generally are positive there are some things we need to keep in mind.

    First being that benefits are often strain-specific. I’ve seen in mentioned in at least a few studies. One strain may be helpful while other strain does nothing. Of course the problem is that we have no idea what strains are included in most supplements.

    Other problem is that most strains have very limited capacity to colonize the digestive track. So they are just passing visitors, but have no long-term impact on gut flora.

    For these two reasons I believe it’s better to eat a variety of fermented foods. That way you’ll get a wider intake of probiotic strains and are not reliant on supplements.

  10. says

    Wonderful blog! When I was young, I actually hated veggies. I never thought that it will be a great help in our body.But now, I eat some veggies but not all. My friend gave me this PHP maxam product. He said, that it helps to replenish and restore proper immune and gut bacterial functionality beyond the standard probiotic formula. I’ll appreciate your blog one more time! Good job!

  11. Leslie says

    Does anyone have a good recommendation for websites that ship probiotics in a temperature controlled environment? I’ve had mixed results with probiotics (the same brand will work sometimes and not others for me) and I’m wondering if it is not stored correctly when it’s shipped.

  12. says

    I am an ardent proponent for sauerkraut. I make them myself, mainly flavoring them with my favorite herbs and spices (main rosemay, thyme and bay leaf with dash of fenugreek and cinnamon).

    My last batch keeps for nearly 2 years in the fridge and they are good till the last. I add them as relish to sandwiches, pasta and all meat dishes. And they taste awesome.

    An idea here you may want to adopt, making whole tasty relish: sauerkraut, ginger chutney, ferment chinese bean curd, fermented any flavor bamboo shoots. Mix well and use it as a replacement for soy sauce or on hot rice. Ummmmmh!

    I am a freak when it comes to probiotics. Here is my blog for some reading and ideas on the use and application of fermented food or use of probiotics:

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