Gut Health: The Good Bugs

Not all bacteria are bad! Probiotics are living compounds that recently burst onto the fad food scene in America. Though only being popularized in the past few years, foods that contain probiotics have been around for centuries. Along with their precursors, prebiotics, these foods have multiple health benefits, such as boosting immunity and improving overall gut health. With the help of prebiotics, foods containing probiotics help to create a balance of “good” bacteria in the gut. Can foods like yogurt or kimchi really lead to a healthier life? Research suggests this just may be so.

Similar to the “good” bacteria that are naturally found in human intestines, probiotics help to create balance with the other living compounds in the gut. Many diseases have been linked to an imbalance of gut flora, including chronic bowel inflammation and colon cancer. When probiotics use prebiotics as a fuel source, useful chemicals are produced that create an environment difficult for “bad” bacteria to survive in. This diminishes the chance of illness-causing bacteria to enter our systems, thus limiting the chance of infection or poor nutrient absorption.

Both pre- and pro- biotics are found in many foods, including both animal- and plant- based sources. Fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses are the best sources for probiotics, though are not the only option. Non-dairy foods also containing these beneficial compounds include kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and soy beverages. Additionally, consider choosing bananas, onions and garlic, as they are the most common sources of prebiotics. Probiotics most commonly found in a consumer’s kitchen include: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These are the two major fermenting bacteria in yogurts and kefirs. There is no need to remember these lengthy names, for many food products containing pre- or pro- biotics often advertise such information on the package.

Trying to fight off bad bugs in order to stay active this summer? Incorporating pre- and pro-biotics into your daily meals and snacks is a good first step to becoming a healthier you!

References

1. Alonso VR, Guarner F. Linking the gut microbiota to human health. Br J Nutr. 2013; 109:S21-S26.

2. Saad N, Delattre C, Urdaci M, Schmitter JM, Bressollier P. An overview of the last advances in probiotics and prebiotics field. Food Sci Tech. 2013; 1–16.

3. Newgent J. Prebiotics and probiotics: the dynamic duo. Eat Right web site. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-the-dynamic-duo. Published February 3, 2014. Accessed February 15, 2015.

4. Getz L. A healthful dose of bacteria — yogurt is the best probiotic source, but clients do have other options. Today’s Dietitian. 2011;13(10):46.

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