Probiotics and Prebiotics - What are they and do I need them in my diet?
Probiotics have been getting a lot attention in the news lately, and it seems more and more supplements are hitting the market claiming to give your digestive system the good bacteria it needs for optimum health. I believe that the best option is always the most natural. It makes the most sense to get your probiotics from the foods you eat, rather than from a supplement.
You don't necessarily need probiotics — a type of "good" bacteria — to be healthy. However, these microorganisms may help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria, just as the existing "good" bacteria in your body already do. Everyone's system is different. Some people have more health problems related to yeast overgrowth. Most of these can be improved with additions of prebiotics that feed the good bacteria already residing in your gut.
When probiotics and prebiotics are joined, they form a synbiotic. Lets try not to think about these little buggers running around in there, but hey, without them we would be a mess!
Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered synbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. In addition, probiotics and prebiotics are added to some foods and available as dietary supplements.
There is much more research for sure but there's encouraging evidence that probiotics may help:
Treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics. Antibiotics are really hard on this delicate balance because they kill the good and bad bacteria.
Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
Treat irritable bowel syndrome
Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu
You can see from the issues listed above that your good/bad bacteria balance is a delicate system that affects your overall health for the worse. Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to their diets. If you're considering taking supplements, check with your doctor to be sure that they're right for you.
Here are some of the best foods to consume to help your digestion and provide the intestinal bacteria needed to properly break down food:
1. Kimchi This is one probiotic food that might take a little getting used to because of the spiciness of it. In Korea a meal rarely goes by where some form of kimchi isn’t available as a side dish. It’s a staple of the culture and is often cited as the reason for low rates of digestive disorders. It’s even been credited as the reasons why SARS didn’t become widespread in Korea at the time it was hitting other parts of Asia. You can find kimchi available in some supermarkets, and in any Asian food mart in the refrigerated section. Personally this one was a bit much for me. Try it! You make like it.
2. Sauerkraut Sauerkraut is made up of cabbage which has been fermented with specific bacteria, and is often brought up in talks about probiotic foods. This is a popular side dish in Germany as well as many other European countries, and comes in many different styles. In America you may find it on a hot dog cart and is most often used to top a bratwurst on a bun. But of course it can also be used as an accompaniment to any meal, and provides a sour taste that will get your saliva glands going as well as your digestive juices. Notice how your mouth waters when you smell or taste it? It does the same for your digestive juices. Although this one is good to me, I try not to feed my husband cabbage too often...well you know why!
3. Yogurt Yogurt has been known for a long time as having live and active cultures, and for the help it can bring a sluggish digestive system. These days manufacturers are really pushing it as a digestive aid, and have increased the amount of bacteria in it to amplify the effects in brands like Activia. Personally I think these specialty yogurts are overpriced and don't taste as good. The claims being made on these specialty yogurts were challenged with a lawsuit and there was a settlement made due to false advertising. You don’t have to get fancy, just stick to your basic yogurt and enjoy the benefits it provides. I love yogurt!
4. Dark Chocolate ding ding ding! Favorite! This might be one of the tastiest items on the list, and I bet you were surprised to find out that dark chocolate is a probiotic food. It also contains antioxidants, something that milk chocolate doesn’t provide. When choosing your dark chocolate you can narrow it down by percentages. Opting for a higher percentage means that more of it is actual chocolate. The higher percentages are often used only in cooking, and might not taste as good if you’re using it mostly for a probiotic effect. I vote go for a good tasting dark chocolate!
5. Kefir The fermentation process makes kefir a better probiotic than ordinary milk, and it’s a food source that can be used to help provide probiotic benefits to the body. Notice a recurring theme of these foods. They've been fermented and contain specific types of bacteria, and kefir is no different. Kefir has been studied and researched and is being posited as a complex probiotic. This one is pretty good. It's kind of like a thin liquid tart yogurt.
6. Kombucha This has got to be one of the strangest items on our list of probiotic foods, and is made by growing a colony of bacteria in a jar, and then drinking the tea that is used to make it. The “mother” is used to make “babies” so that one batch of kombucha sets itself up for the next. If you don’t want to take on the risk of making it yourself there are plenty of pre-made kombucha drinks you can buy and enjoy. A little funky but intriguing. Although this one tastes similar to Kefir to me I don't know that I could watch it grow in a jar...leach gastly liquid and then say bottoms up!
7. Bananas Bananas have so many other health properties to them that it often goes unmentioned that they help with digestion by providing digestive bacteria. What’s actually happening is that they’re feeding the bacteria already present, allowing it to thrive and multiply. These are the bacteria located in the colon, so in addition to the fiber that bananas provide, they are also helping to improve the health of your colon, which is a main part of your digestive system and can cause trickle down problems if it isn’t properly maintained. Colon is King! Bananas have made it onto several of our lists, including being a low glycemic food. They also taste great and are one of the most convenient snacks around.
8. Whole Grain Bread Here’s another reason to switch from white bread to a bread made from whole grains. In addition to the added nutrients and protein, you’re getting a bread that provides your digestive system with what it needs to function at its best. When focusing on probiotics it’s good to also limit your intake of foods that can strip away healthy bacteria. There are also certain brands of whole wheat bread that you can buy that have been fortified to be a probiotic. I love these seedy, nutty, really have to chew it breads! Try it as toast with some honey.
9. Pickled Vegetables An ordinary pickle can help in providing good bacteria to your digestive system. The brine that’s used to do the pickling contains bacteria. You can also turn to other pickled vegetables, like beets and other veggies that have gone through the pickling process.
10. Miso Soup This is a Japanese staple and is made from fermented soybeans. You might find this served up with your sushi at a Japanese restaurant, but there are miso soup kits you can buy to make it at home. Since this is delivered in the form of a hot soup it is an excellent choice to have before you start your meal so that your digestive system can be nourished and ready to go for the upcoming meal.
Stay well my friends.