Today I will continue my discussion on healthy diets while simultaneously concentrating on Probiotics and Prebiotics. First let me explain what each term signifies by definition. The term probiotics, which are gaining a lot of media attention, is synonymous for "good" bacteria that live within your gut (tube from mouth to rectum, including stomach and intestines). These "good" bacteria help with proper food digestion and immune system function. An ideal bacterial ratio is approximately 85% "good" bacteria to 15% "bad" bacteria. When this ratio is offset and "bad" bacteria percentage climbs higher that 15% this causes a state of dysbiosis. Dysbiosis has been linked to numerous health issues such as yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and numerous auto-immune disorders. Unlike their media popular equivalents, prebiotics on the other hand are not as frequently discussed but are just as important. Prebiotics are indigestible foods that we consume that help nourish and maintain healthy bacteria within our gut. Think of prebiotics as a "house" which helps shelter and allow probiotics to flourish within our guts. Without these prebiotics our "good" bacteria is gone within hours of being consumed. Now that we have the basics down let's discuss why these probiotics and prebiotics are important from an evolutionary aspect.
As we look back to the hunter gatherer lifestyle which we humans have evolved from we see certain foods that were very important in our diets but have since been cut out due to new technological advances. Most obvious are fermented foods. These foods were fermented as a way to preserve before refrigeration existed. During this fermentation process healthy bacteria would multiply and flourish. Those individuals that consumed these foods would then have these good bacteria in their gut and maintain healthy bacterial ratios. Our bodies evolved to rely on these essential bacteria. Some examples of these foods that are still very popular in different cultures around the world are yogurt***, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, pickled vegetables, miso (fermented soy paste) , natto (fermented soy bean), tempeh, lassi (indian yogurt drink) korean kimchi (pickled cabbage), and aged cheeses such as gouda, emmental, edam, and cheddar.
I put an asterisk next to yogurt because many people think they can just go and buy a container of Dannon or Yoplait yogurt and it will suffice. This is not the case. Most if not all commercial yogurts contain the sugar equivalent of a can of coke and have absolutely no active probiotic strands present within them. Sugar and refined carbohydrates nourish "bad" bacteria and can lead to dysbiosis. So when I say yogurt I mean home fermented yogurt. The only widely sold brand that meets an acceptable probiotic criteria is the Organic Stoneyfield brand. This brand carries numerous active cultures as well as can be found in almost every supermarket store in America. An added bonus is the fact that the sugar content is less than half the amount of it's competitors.
I strongly recommend that each person takes at least one serving of probiotics a day. Whether that is through supplementation or some form of fermented food. What I would like to point out is that these two options are not created the equally. Fermented foods contain trillions of probiotics per serving. Even the best supplements out in the market only contain about 5 billion. This means that you could essentially eat an entire probiotics supplement container and the amount of probiotics which it contains would equal one serving of fermented food.
I personally get my probiotics through home brewed kombucha. Here is an attached link of how to do it yourself and make your own kombucha. There are also similar sites available upon search for homemade kefir, and pickled vegetables.
These probiotics play such a vital role in our bodies health and wellness. There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria in our body at all times which is about ten times the amount of cells your entire body is composed of. Keeping these bacteria in balance (good vs. bad) is absolutely crucial for proper digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, proper development and expression of you immune system, and protection against "bad" bacterial over-growths that could possibly cause disease. Probiotics have been shown to have anti-inflammatory potential as well.
Prebiotics on the other hand, as I mentioned above, should be thought of as the house for these probiotics. These indigestible foods help nourish and grow probiotics within the gut. Prebiotics have also been linked to increased calcium absorption according to some studies. These prebiotics are composed of soluble fiber, not to be confused with insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber are indigestible foods to both the human body and bacteria within the gut. Essentially insoluble fiber just speeds up your time sitting on the toilet. Prebiotics (soluble fiber, commonly oligosaccharides and inulin) allow for growth of healthy bacteria within the gut and are absolutely critical to consume. These indigestible foods take up home in the large intestine and allow probiotics to remain present up to a week after consumption. Almost all probiotics will be naturally flushed out of your body within about 1-2 days without a good base content of prebiotics in your gut.
Some examples of foods which contain prebiotics are artichokes, garlic, leeks, bananas, honey, onions and chicory . Soy beans and products made from soybeans are also a great source of prebiotics. Prebiotics can also be supplemented but in many cases these supplements cause a great deal of gas. This is why I again recommend consuming it naturally within your diet.
Approximately 80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system. This makes a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain a strong and healthy immune system. Again a healthy immune system is vital as this is your number one defense system against all disease. Avoiding consumption of highly processed and refined foods will help maintain a healthy gut. These foods tend to feed "bad" bacteria and offset the optimal bacteria ratio. A good rule of thumb is the less ingredients the better. Often time we eat foods that are advertised as "health foods" just to find out we paid more money for no nutritional benefit and food engineering.
Collins MD, Gibson GR. "Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics: approaches for modulating the microbial ecology of the gut." Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;69(5):1052S-1057S.
Lamoureux L, Roy D, Gauthier SF. "Production of oligosaccharides in yogurt containing bifidobacteria and yogurt cultures." J Dairy Sci. 2002 May;85(5):1058-69.
Parvez, S. et al, Probiotics and Their Fermented Foods and Beneficial for Health, Journal of Applied Microbiology 2006:100: 1171-1185