Friday, November 1, 2013

Pre- and Pro-Biotics Explained

Over the past year or two you may have become aware of the term probiotic, and possibly, even pre-biotic.  Jamie Lee Curtis swears probiotics changed her life, but what exactly are probiotics, and do you have to eat Activia to get them???
The answer is NO! Dannon was just smart enough to have the foresight to market Activia as containing probiotics. FYI- all real yogurts contain probiotics since the bacteria make the yogurt thick and sour. So, I always think, good for Dannon! They are great at marketing, just like those companies that now advertise their products as “gluten-free”, although the food is naturally gluten-free, like pop-corn! Dannon was able to gain an edge in the yogurt market and pick up some more consumers due to a bright marketing person who was ahead of the probiotic curve. However, eating regular Dannon yogurt, Yoplait, or pretty much any other brand will provide probiotics.

Probiotics are bacteria found in the gut, and all the different types of probiotics together in your intestine make up your gut microflora. These probiotics digest certain foods that the enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract can’t digest, such as certain fibers. These non-digestible carbohydrates (i.e.: fibers) are called “pre-biotics” and are basically the food for probiotics.

Probiotics help enhance the synthesis of certain B vitamins, produce Vitamin K, and aid in the absorption of calcium. Additionally, they help to combat dangerous pathogens, thereby aiding your immune system, and help with proper digestion and bowel flow. Researchers are now linking a person’s microflora with disease risk, obesity, food insensitivities, and more. The probiotics produce short-chained fatty acids that have been suggested to help to reduce the risk of developing G.I disorders, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.

So should you take a probiotic supplement? I say no… for most people. I always recommend you get vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other food molecules from real food rather than popping a pill. Pre-biotics are mostly found in foods high in fiber: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans; but also some other foods such as garlic and onions. Probiotics are found in cultured dairy such as kefir and yogurts, as well as fermented products such as Kombucha (fermented tea- check out Whole Foods!), sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, olives, miso, and soymilk. Studies have shown benefits of taking certain probiotics for people with gastrointestinal problems like IBS- but certain strains of probiotics are more effective than others, so always do your research.

My recommendation:  Instead of popping a probiotic pill, try eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy products, cultured dairy, and add some fermented foods to your diet like tempeh (a vegetarian meat substitute made of fermented soy- tastes meaty and delicious!) and sauerkraut. By eating more healthily you will naturally feel better, by eating more fiber you should become more “regular”, and you will be getting a healthy mix of various strains of pre- and pro-biotics. This combination should work to prevent certain diseases and keep you feeling fantastic. Be sure to drink more water to account for the higher fiber intake! ;-)


Probiotics’ Potential — Research Suggests Beneficial Bacteria May Support Immune Health
By Sharon Palmer, RD. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 13 No. 1 P. 20

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