Probiotics: trust your gut for better health
They say variety is the spice of life. It can also be the key to keeping us healthier. What we eat has a direct impact on our health. Eating a wide variety of real foods offers the best chance we have of incorporating all the macro and micro nutrients we need to help us be as healthy as we can be. This should include probiotics and prebiotics, because we are not just eating for ourselves.
In our gut, there are billions of tiny bacteria that help protect us. We need to look after them, eating a variety food they also like, so they can continue to look after us. If we eat too much fast food, ready-meals or junk food, they suffer; and so do we. Yet just a few small changes to what we eat can make a big difference to our health, and theirs.
Taking care of our internal symbiotic relationships
Interactions between organisms can be essential to many ecosystems, providing benefits and a balance that can only be achieved by working together. It turns out one of the most important is the relationship we have with the bacteria in our gut, with huge implications for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Yet bacterial balance and wellbeing is an area too often neglected. Poor nutritional choices, stress, courses of antibiotics, each can have a negative impact on a critical aspect to our health that is both separate to us yet intricately entwined with our wellbeing.
‘Friendly’ Bacteria – the little guys working to keep you healthy
Whether the aim is sustaining or repairing a robust immune system, we are foolish to ignore the importance of ‘friendly’ bacteria to our health. Imbalances between bacteria, parasites and microorganisms, collectively termed the microbiome, have been linked to:
- Stomach troubles, including IBS and bloating
- immune system issues
- low energy and libido
Probiotics (which help supply the ‘friendly’ bacteria’) and prebiotics (which help feed ‘friendly’ bacteria) are the elements in a healthy food regime that will help restore and maintain the balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Real foods that deliver health benefits provide the best support for the little guys. These are foods with minimal processing and refining, maximising nutrition from natural ingredients rather than artificial substances. Genuine ‘food with benefits’, they should include vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, lean protein and unsaturated fats providing essential nutrients to aid with overall health and well-being.
Good probiotic food sources:
- yogurt (ensure the label reads ‘live’ or ‘active culture’)
- sauerkraut (homemade)
- miso soup
- soft cheese
- Kombucha tea and Yakult
Good prebiotic food sources:
Remember, these foods are important because they are prebiotics, feeding the probiotics.
A mind & body story
Multiple studies have shown diets high in refined sugars are bad for the brain, promoting inflammation and oxidative stress. There is also a correlation between high sugar diets and mood disorders, such as depression. We know food, and in particular cooked-food, was critical to human brain development and that the brain requires a constant supply of fuel to function. However, it is increasingly clear – though unfortunately not to our brains – the importance of what we eat in how it can directly affect the structure and function of the brain, including how we feel.
The billions of ‘friendly’ bacteria in our gut also play a role in our mood and brain function by providing a barrier against toxins and ‘bad’ bacteria.
So, from the mind as well as the body perspective it makes sense to cut down on processed foods and consume a wide variety of real food that includes vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Indeed, studies have shown people who consume a Mediterranean diet or a traditional Japanese diet have a 25%-35% lower risk of suffering from depression.
Help to incorporate Probiotics and Prebiotics into your diet
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Soon you will also be able to create real food shopping lists to build new eating habits and receive healthy eating tips to help you along.
Final note: for some reason Americans lag behind Asians and Europeans in including ‘friendly’ bacteria in their daily routine nutrition, but the probiotic market is growing in the United States as healthy lifestyles become more important to avoid illness and expensive health care. Additional aspects of the ‘big health case’ for probiotics and prebiotics is laid out below.
The big health case for probiotics
Probiotics do not stimulate metabolic activity, but provide other benefits, such as delivering ‘friendly’ bacteria to the large intestine. Examples, such as lactobacilli (live micro-organisms), can modify the gut immune response and improve its barrier function helping to protect against infection, inflammation and viruses. Recent studies have also shown probiotics to reduce or help control certain allergies. According to the World Health Organisation, probiotics, when administered in adequate amounts, are good for our health, while researchers at UCLA found brain function improved among healthy women who regularly consumed them. It has also been found by the American Heart Association that probiotics could reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, while encouraging evidence also suggests they may help prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections, treat irritable bowel syndrome and prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu.
The big health case for prebiotics
Studies have shown people who consume prebiotics daily to have fewer issues with anxiety, stress and depression. Preliminary studies also suggest that prebiotics may have a favourable effect on the immune system and provide improved resistance against infection. Prebiotics may also improve calcium and magnesium absorption, and influence blood glucose levels. Their noteworthy effect on our health extends to both technical as well as nutritional benefits, such as enhancing the gastrointestinal functions and immune system.
Prebiotics mainly come from dietary fibre – oligosaccharides, such as found in legumes. They are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as nourishment for probiotics. According to The Journal Food Processing and Technology, prebiotic therapies have found to aid with constipation, suppression of diarrhoea, as well as reducing risk of osteoporosis, insulin resistance, obesity and possibly type 2 diabetes.
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