Probiotics and the Gut

Prebiotics are key to good gut health, but probiotics are equally important. There are some misunderstandings about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Some people even think that they are the same thing. However, this isn’t the case at all. Probiotics are very different from prebiotics, but they are no less vital to good gut health and a strong immune system.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live yeasts and bacteria that offer many health benefits, especially for the digestive system. Usually, we think of bacteria as being bad for you and causing diseases. However, the human body is actually full of different bacteria. While some bacteria are bad, others are good and can help to keep the gut healthy and functioning properly.

They can be found in certain foods such as yogurt as well as in certain supplements. They are often recommended by doctors to aid in the relief of digestive disturbances.

Probiotics work to keep us healthy by:

  • Replacing the good bacteria inside the body that are lost through taking antibiotics.
  • Balancing the bad and good bacteria levels so your body can continue to function in the way that it should.

Many bacterial types are kinds of probiotics. All offer different benefits. However, the majority are covered by two main groups:

  • Lactobacillus – this probiotic is the most common. You find it in fermented foods and yogurt. Different strains help to treat diarrhea and may be helpful for people who are unable to digest the sugar in milk known as lactose.
  • Bifidobacterium – this probiotic can also be found in some types of dairy products. It helps to reduce the symptoms associated with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and some other conditions.

Saccharomyces Boulardii is a yeast that can be found in probiotics. It helps combat digestive problems and diarrhea.

How can Probiotics Improve Immunity?

It’s known that probiotics can boost your immune system, inhibiting harmful gut bacterial growth in your body. Not only that, but some probiotics promote your body’s natural antibody production. They may even boost the immune cells such as T-lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and IgA-producing cells.

Reviews have found that if you take probiotics, you’re less likely to suffer from respiratory infections, and if you do develop, will last for less time. The probiotic known as Lactobacillus Crispatus has also been proven to reduce the chances of developing a urinary tract infection by as much as 50 percent.

How can I include more Probiotics in my Diet?

Although there are a number of different types and classes of probiotics, some common ones include:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces Boulardii

Sometimes, food manufacturers call probiotics “active cultures” or “live cultures”. They are all the same thing. Many fermented foods contain probiotics. This essentially means that the bacteria inside those foods are still alive. Often, the process of producing food destroys any living bacteria in them. When products are left on a store shelf without being refrigerated, they may be unable to contain active and live probiotics.

Some dairy products that are known to contain probiotics include:

  • Kefir (a probiotic milk drink)
  • Aged cheeses like mozzarella, gouda, and cheddar
  • Traditional uncultured buttermilk
  • Yogurts

However, there are some foods that aren’t dairy but still contain probiotics. These include:

  • Non-dairy yogurt
  • Sour, fresh dill pickles
  • Kombucha (a fermented tea)
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natto (made from fermented soybean)
  • Water or brine-cured olives
  • Tempeh

Probiotics and the Gut

Many different probiotic foods are available, and this means that you have plenty of options when it comes to including them in your daily diet. There is sure to be something to suit your individual tastes, whether you prefer sweet or savory foods.

Some ways of adding probiotics to your healthy diet include:

  • Having a breakfast made up of probiotic yogurt along with nuts, flax seeds and berries.
  • Making a stir fry that uses tempeh instead of meat. Make sure to add tempeh right at the end of the cooking process since excessive heat may destroy its active cultures.
  • Adding miso into soup.
  • Drinking beverages that are rich in probiotics like kombucha or kefir as a snack in the mid-morning.
  • Serving sauerkraut alongside your main meal as a side dish.

Remember though that certain foods like yogurt often contain extra sugars, so try to choose ones that contain minimal sugars, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavorings to ensure the best possible health.

Bear in mind too, that there are some misconceptions about probiotics. Just because certain types of food contain probiotics, that doesn’t mean that other similar food types do. As an example, not every yogurt will contain active and live cultures, and those that do will usually be clearly marked.

Also, not every type of fermented food contains live cultures. Some fermented foods that don’t contain probiotics include:

  • Chocolate
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Soya sauce
  • Sourdough bread

That is because these foods have undergone additional processing that causes the live cultures to be made inactive. Processes like filtering, pasteurization, and baking kill the live cultures so they offer no health benefits.

Images courtesy of:
RitaE, Elias, Pixabay

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Probiotics and the Gut

Part 9 of Immune Food Solution Series
Pam Byc
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