Many of us spend time carefully perusing grocery shelves looking for healthier foods, particularly items advertising prebiotics and probiotics.
New research is showing how important these two “biotics” are to our gut health particularly. Yes, you can buy packages of them in the vitamin aisles, but as you know, I deeply believe in getting what we need from real food because of how it interrelates with other micronutrients. Probiotics taken as a supplement do not require FDA approval so quality can be questionable.
Do you know what these probiotics and prebiotics do and why they matter?
To begin with, “pre” means before, “biotic” means bacteria. So prebiotics are the starting food source for good bacteria in our gut. These indigestible fibers feed and help the intestine to synthesize nutrients, protecting us from harmful bacteria and germs and improving immunity.
Prebiotics are a non-digestible fiber found in various produce items, particularly onions, leeks, garlic, dandelion greens, asparagus, bananas, nuts and chicory. We know fiber improves digestive health and bathroom regularity. It increases satiety while also lowering cholesterol. Fiber does this by attaching to cholesterol molecules thus preventing them from entering the blood stream.
The word probiotics comes from a Greek word meaning life. They are live bacteria referred to as “good” bacteria that keep your gut healthy. Naturally occurring probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and kombucha. When probiotics are fed well by eating prebiotics, they multiply to limit bad bacteria.
We are learning how important it is to provide both prebiotics and probiotics. This helps to ensure the correct balance of bacteria, thus helping our bodies function at their peak. These bacteria promote nutrient absorption, protect us from germs, improve our immunity and reduce inflammation, which can cause disease.
Conversely, diets high in sugar and processed foods influence these gut bacteria in a negative way. Sugar and processed foods are a source for the growth of bad bacteria. Eating foods with prebiotics and probiotics helps keep the bad bacteria in check, allowing our microbiomes, and our bodies, to thrive.
All together, this is also referred to as the health of our personal gut biome. Did you realize that we are more bacteria than we are “human”? There are 400 to 1,000 various species of bacteria found in our intestinal tract. Our bodies are walking bacteria and fungi, with 100 trillion bacteria and fungus cells compared with a mere 30 trillion human cells.
Rather than overwhelming my brain with such detail, my logic is that if I can improve my health, decrease chronic inflammation and feel good, I can handle the simple recommendation of less refined grains and sweets and more produce and dairy. Keep it simple!
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.Wendy Rice