For decades our society has known the benefits of pre & probiotics on gut health. But in the past few years, the health & wellness field has exploded with pre & probiotic products. Are you wondering what all the buzz is about? Here is some information that I hope will clear things up for you....
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria that live in your gut and provide many beneficial functions, such as preventing growth of harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are specific carbohydrates that feed the probiotics. In general, pre & probiotics help maintain good digestive health.
Are probiotics healthy?
Yes. In many ways, how they specifically help us is unknown. However, it is well understood that a healthy gut microbiome (collection of bacteria in your gut) is imperative to digestive health. Meanwhile, altered gut bacteria can lead to GI issues.
What foods have probiotics?
There are many foods that contain the primary probiotics in focus: lactobacillius and bifidobacterium.
The primary sources include fermented foods such as:
Although you can consume probiotics from these sources, they are not the only component in maintaining gut health. A jar of pickles will not magically give you good gut bacteria (it might actually do really discomforting things to your gut.) There are many foods in excess that can promote growth of harmful bacteria. For example, candida overgrowth is often found from consuming a diet high in refined sugars, allowing yeast overgrowth in the body. That's why balance is best.
How much probiotics should I consume?
We don't know. That's what I think most people need to understand. It's still very hard to measure probiotics in the gut and in food. Although many come in supplemental form, we still don't understand how much of that ends up in the gut, let alone how much is already in the gut that's necessary for gut health.
On top of that, every person is different! Every body has different microbiomes and different needs. That's why the Human Microbiome Project is has been compiling data from all different types of people since 2008--and their research on the human microbiome is only just beginning!
Some people could eat all the refined carbs in the world and have no issues with their microbiome. While others may eat an incredibly healthy diet and have lots of issues with their microbiome. Genetics and many other factors play a huge part in what we need.
Also, probiotics have only shown to be beneficial in average, healthy people. In people with an impaired immune system, probiotic consumption is controversial. You should always consult your doctor about probiotics (or make any major diet change) if you have a chronic illness.
What should I do with this information?
As healthy as probiotics are, if someone is trying to sell you probiotics because it will solve all your problems, take it with a grain of salt. No single food will solve your lifes issues. Everybody (and body) is different. If you want to start consuming probiotics, do so slowly to make sure your body without discomfort.
If you don't consume any probiotic rich food at all, maybe start by adding a probiotic rich food 1-3x/wk in your diet. If this goes well, a probiotic rich food 3-5x/week may be suitable. But honestly, I'm only recommending that because I know some of you need an answer. Again, research isn't there yet, but if you have a healthy diet, no metabolic issues, and your body responds well to probiotic-rich foods a few times per week, it's probably just enough for you!
If you are buying probiotic-rich foods...
Make sure you buy it from a reputable source and read the label. Even if it's safe, I probably wouldn't buy kombucha from someone I don't know. Although fermented foods can produce plenty of good bacteria, if made inappropriately, bad bacteria can grow too. Don't eat anything that looks moldy or smells too funky. There are also many yogurts and pickles out there with no living bacteria. Read the label to see if it does have lactabacillus and bifidobacterium.
Again, no need to go overboard. You don't need a probiotic rich food in every meal, and you probably don't need it every day! Whenever you see promotion for a "healthy" food, always consider that the research on it's "health benefits" are always in terms of it's moderate incorporation into a balanced diet. (And we still don't even know what that means yet in terms of probiotics).
If you'd like to read more about pre & probiotics in way that is both trustworthy and easy to comprehend, check on this page from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
4. Smolin & Grosvenor. Nutrition: Science & Applications. USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.