What are Probiotics and Prebiotics anyway?
Recently there has been a load of talk about probiotics,
But, did you know that the bacteria in your gut is responsible for your health, ranging from maintaining a healthy weight to the prevention of Colon Cancer?
Let’s see how these tiny creatures can affect our wellbeing and what we can do to promote our gut health.
So, what exactly are these bacteria that fill our gut?
You might be surprised to know that there are about 300 to 1000 species of bacteria in our gut.
Out of these 99 percent are anaerobes, that is they do not require oxygen to reproduce and proliferate. So, the gut is an ideal place for these organisms to live in. (1)
These bacteria have various names, like:
Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Peptostreptococcus, Gram positive cocci and rod-shaped bacteria. These might sound Greek to you, and of course, they are….
Surprisingly quite a few of these words have their origins in the Greek language.
So, let’s not worry about what they are called and let’s see how they affect us:
Functions of Bacteria in the Gut:
1) Release of energy
Some of the food that has not been digested by our system and others that cannot be digested are metabolized by some of these bacteria in the gut, leading to release of energy and thus works to our benefit.
2) Breaking down of Fat cells
Some of the bacteria are known for breaking down Lipids (fats) and this is used for energy by the body.
3) Protein metabolism
Another great function of some of these bacteria is to amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into smaller compounds, which can be used up efficiently by the body.
Related article: 3 Steps to getting enough Protein, for maintaining your health
4) Vitamin synthesis
These bacteria also help with the synthesis of Vitamin K and some components of Vitamin B.
5) Weight control
Certain studies have found that weight control can be achieved by modifying the gut bacteria. Though further studies are warranted in this area, gut microbiota shows a potential in maintaining a healthy weight.
6) Reduction of Colon Cancer
Research has found that gut bacteria has an effect in the reduction of toxins in the gut and also increase the production of agents that fight these toxins. One of these agents is Butyrate which is known to lower the risk of cancer.
This takes to our next question,
If this is a good thing, how do we promote this Good Gut Bacteria?
Now, we can do quite a bit to promote the flourishing of these little microorganisms.
Here is where the words Probiotic, Prebiotic and Synbiotics may their way into our conversation.
Let’s check out each one in greater detail:
By definition Probiotics are “A preparation of or a product containing viable,
defined microorganisms in sufficient numbers, which alter the microflora (by implantation or colonization) in a compartment of the host and by that exert beneficial health effects in this host.”
This is the definition that can be found in the “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” (6)
What it is saying is that any food item or product that has living organisms which changes the makeup of microorganisms in a person’s body and which is help full to that person.
So, what exactly are these probiotics?
These live bacteria can be found in products like Yoghurt, dairy products, cheese, kefir, Kimchi, sauerkraut, and now days also available in pill form.
These bacteria do their work when they are alive and can be killed with heat, stomach acids, etc.
To get the benefit from these bacteria they have to be alive when consumed.
Thus, it is nutritionally less effective to consume Yoghurt in cooked form or which has undergone UHT. Same goes for say cheese that is processed.
Fun fact: UHT is a process in which food items are sent through high heat and cold to kill all microorganisms that might be present within.
How to get enough Probiotics?
Most off the shelf Yoghurt is filled with loads of sugar and preservatives. Also, other brands pasteurize of UHT the Yoghurt before packaging it.
So, what do you look for?
Before buying, check the label out for the unsweetened variety, which mentions active cultures. You can always sweeten it to your taste by adding fruits or honey.
Alternatively, you can make it into something savory by adding it to your salad.
If you are dairy intolerant, do not worry, just pick some non-diary variety of Yoghurts like the coconut milk, soy milk or almond milk variety.
Want to know how to make Yoghurt at home,
Download the Free e-book, which also has Prebiotic and Probiotic recipes.
Kefir is very similar to Yoghurt and is made by fermenting grains and goats milk. This is high in calcium, antioxidants and good bacteria.
Again, non-diary varieties are available off the shelf, if you are dairy intolerant.
Ever gone to a Korean restaurant and found a complimentary side dish with kind of pickled cabbage and other veggies, usually found in long strands?
This is Kimchi..
Korean in origin, this dish compromises of fermented vegetables. These vegetables might range from radish, cabbage, carrots, etc.
Kimchi is not only an excellent source for good bacteria but also has a range of vitamins, calcium, and iron.
Similar to Kimchi, this compromises of fermented cabbage. This food item has the benefit of choline, which helps in Brain and nervous system functioning.
Brine pickles are what I am talking about and not Vinegar based. This is because the bacteria is kept alive in the brine. Also, buy varieties that are unpasteurized. These could be pickles gherkins, Olives, or other vegetables. Just stick to the brine based variety.
Get the FREE Recipe booklet for to learn how to make these amazing food items at home and great ways to get loads of Probiotics and Prebiotics in your diet.
This term often causes confusion in people’s minds, as they think that it is misspelled.
Prebiotics can be viewed as the fertile ground where good crops can grow. Now, these crops are the probiotics as we had described earlier.
Prebiotics are mainly certain food items rich in dietary Fiber. These Prebiotics help the gut bacteria flourish and multiply.
They also provide other health benefits to us apart from the promotion of these bacteria. These include but are not limited to:
- Weight loss
- Anti-inflammatory action
- Good bowel activities
Now, where can these Prebiotics be found?
Various food items have Prebiotics available for example skins of bananas, apples, artichokes, onions and garlic. Supplements too are available if your intention is to increase the level of Prebiotics in your system.
1) Raw Garlic:
Garlic apart from chasing away vampires…. just joking :-), has a range of benefits:
It’s one of the great prebiotics known. If this is not palatable, just add them to salads, or mixed some chopped garlic with a small lump of butter on toast, to make some awesome garlic toast.
This can be eaten either raw or cooked. Though the raw variety has more bang for the buck…
Raw onions can be used in salads or just as an accompaniment to certain foods.
Indian cooking, especially curries have a lot of preparations where onions are used as a base for thickening the mixture and giving it an authentic flavor.
Another vegetable that has loads of Prebiotic value. Just do not overcook it.
A good option to use pickled asparagus. Here you would get both prebiotic and probiotic properties in one package.
5) Dandelion Greens:
Just throw in some raw dandelion greens into a salad, to increase this nutrition value and fill up on your load of Prebiotics.
Now, let’s discuss another term – synbiotic?
When we combine both Probiotics and Prebiotics they are called synbiotics. Some food items like certain Yoghurts and Kefir can be considered Synbiotics. You can also Mix Probiotics and Prebiotics to get a combines effect.
I have included a recipe in the Free booklet, for your reference.
Antibiotics and your gut health:
Now, there are substances that we do take to fight diseases that might be harming the gut bacteria whilst they are killing unwanted organisms.
Antibiotics, for example, are meant to kill bacteria and they do them indiscriminately. That is they not only kill the bad guys but also our friendly neighborhood….the good gut bacteria.
Thus, after a round of antibiotics, you might find improper bowel movements, caused by the loss of the bacteria in your gut.
It has been found that probiotics can help prevent antibiotic-induced diarrhea. However, the exact mechanism on how it does that is still under study. (7)
To top up the bacteria after a dose of antibiotics it is a good idea to get a load of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics. However, speak to you doctor on this aspect. (8)
Healthy Gut Bacteria is required for promoting good health.
Many means are available naturally that can ensure that you get your daily dose. Supplements are available as well, especially after undergoing a round of antibiotics.
So, make friends with these tiny creatures and let them help you stay fit.
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