Pre & Probiotics- Promoting Gut Health

AdobeStock_99258772_620Ever heard about the gut microbiome in the news or seen yogurt commercials on TV and wondered why you should care about bacteria?

What is your microbiome?

According to a report from the American Society for Microbiology, the human microbiome contains bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the body, but most commonly we focus on the body’s bacteria.  It’s estimated that the cells of your microbiome outnumber your body’s own cells 3:1.  That means that there are about 100 trillion bacteria cells, averaging about 2.5 pounds, in your body! Having that many bacteria in your body may sound scary, but really those bacteria are crucial to our health.1

Many of the bacteria in our bodies are found in the large intestine, where they play important roles in our digestive processes. For example, there are some compounds in foods that our bodies alone cannot naturally break down and digest so we rely on the good bacteria in our guts to break them down for us.

Additionally, the good bacteria in our guts can help keep any bad bacteria we may encounter in check. Normally the good bacteria outnumber potential pathogens in our digestive tract and keep us from getting sick. However, if the good bacteria die off, as is common when taking antibiotics, the good bacteria can no longer fight off the bad, which can cause illness and intestinal discomfort.

Your gut microbiome can even play a role in weight management. One study examined the gut microbiome of female twins who were either lean or obese. The results showed that the lean participants tended to have more diverse gut microbiomes than the obese participants.2 Based on those results, another experiment found that injecting mice with different types of gut bacteria significantly impacted the mice’s ability to maintain and gain weight.3 This science is still very new and researchers are working to determine exactly how bacteria influence our weight, but it is clear that these tiny creatures are vital to our health.

What are pre and probiotics?

Because of all the good things our gut microbiota does for us, it’s important to keep it healthy! One way to do this is by incorporating both pre and probiotics into the diet.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that your gut microbiota love to feed on and therefore encourage the growth of the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Think of prebiotics as the food that feeds your gut’s bacteria; therefore if you want them to be healthy, you need to be sure to feed your gut microbiome the right foods.

Good sources of prebiotics are:

  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Soybeans
  • Whole-wheat foods, such as whole-wheat bread, quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.

Probiotics, on the other hand, are the good bacteria themselves. Many foods naturally contain these good, live bacteria, so by adding probiotic foods into your diet, you can help increase the colonies of the good guys keeping you healthy.

Good sources of probiotics are:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Aged cheeses
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh

So the next time you go to the grocery store, don’t just pick out foods for yourself—choose foods to feed your gut microbiome as well

Sources:

  1.  http://academy.asm.org/index.php/faq-series/5122-humanmicrobiome
  2. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v457/n7228/abs/nature07540.html
  3. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6150/1241214
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