Probiotics and Prebiotics
The small and large intestine naturally contain bacteria, or “normal flora”. These flora contain more than 400 species of bacteria, which provide many beneficial functions and include specific varieties including Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics are the most important nutritional contributors that can be included in the diet to help to nourish the normal flora to promote health and wellness.
Functions of Normal Flora
- Helps to prevent infection by pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.
- Helps maintain the integrity of the lining of the digestive tract.
- Aids in digestion of food.
- Supports immune function
Probiotics — Supplements and foods containing microorganisms to improve digestive and overall health as “healthy bacteria”, adding to the population of normal flora.
Health Benefits of Probiotic Foods
- Prevent infection by pathogenic bacteria
- Decrease the duration of diarrhea associated with multiple causes.
- Decrease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, and lactose intolerance.
- Keep the GI tract healthy, thus preventing leaky gut syndrome and food allergies.
Especially beneficial for people who have frequently taken antibiotics, because beneficial bacteria in addition to pathogenic bacteria are killed off.
- Yogurt — Contains Lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus thermophilus. Be wary of yogurts with excessive amounts of added sugar (5 grams = 1 teaspoon). Instead use plain yogurt and add your own honey, maple syrup, fruit or jam.
- Sour cream — Cream cultured with Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
- Acidophilus Milk — Milk cultured with Lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Kefir — Similar to yogurt, but kefir is cultured by bacteria and yeast to produce an acidic effervescent yogurt-like drink. Can also be found as dairy-free coconut or water Kefir
- Kombucha — A non-dairy fermented beverage rich in probiotic cultures.
- Sauerkraut — Cabbage fermented with Lactobacilli and other lactic-acid producing bacteria. Most commercial sauerkraut is pasteurized which kills the beneficial bacteria, however sauerkraut still has many other health benefits, including high glutamine content. Glutamine nourishes the cells lining the GI tract.
- Kimchi — Another lactofermented probiotic originating in Korea containing cabbage, onions, peppers, ginger, and varying other vegetables and spices.
- Raw pickled vegetables — Cucumbers, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, beets … many vegetables can be fermented and eaten as a condiment with meals.
Prebiotics — Foods that contain fiber that beneficial bacteria feed on, stimulating their activity and growth, thus improving colony numbers and viability.
Health Benefits of Prebiotics
- Nourishes beneficial bacteria.
- When beneficial bacteria break down fibers in the colon, butyric acid is produced. This is the preferred fuel for the cells of the colon.
- Butyric acid and other organic acids, such as lactic acid are produced by our beneficial bacteria which acidify the environment in the colon. Harmful bacteria often cannot survive this acidic environment.
Yogurt and kefir often have inulin or FOS (fructooligosaccharides) added to them. These are some naturally occurring prebiotic whole foods.
- Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and Nutrition Care Process. 13th St. Louis, MO: Elsevier text; 2012.
- Mateljan G. What are some of the best food sources for probiotics and prebiotics. World’s Healthiest Foods web site. Available at: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=113. Accessed September 15, 2013.
- Newjent J. Prebiotics and probiotics: the dynamic duo. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics web site. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442477443. Accessed September 15, 2013.