It is said that you are what you eat, and in the case of your gut, this is especially true. The human body is host to a large colony of bacteria, fungi and protozoans collectively called the human microbiome, or a collection of microbes that assist in the proper functioning of our bodies. These bacteria are present in our large intestine or gut, skin , lungs and in passages of the body that are in contact with the external environment.
This good bacteria helps fend off harmful bacteria by producing powerful acids that also aid in digestion. Good bacteria line the walls of our intestines and ensure that harmful bacteria do not enter the bloodstream. The bacteria in our intestines also produce several essential vitamins such as Vitamin B6 and B12, Folic acid and niacin.
Sometimes, due to a weakened immune system, or after a course of antibiotics, the good bacteria in our gut are depleted. This can result in several digestive issues, and it is imperative to replenish the good bacteria as soon as possible. One of the ways of doing this is by consuming Pre and probiotics.
Probiotic champions: replenishing gut bacteria
Probiotic meaning “for life” is a substance that increases the presence of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are often live bacteria or yeast that help improve our gut microbiota. Probiotics can help with a number of conditions such as
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gum disease
Probiotics can be had in the form of food, supplements or creams, and help restore the balance of good bacteria in our body. Live bacterial cultures can be found in certain foods such as Yoghurt and cheese naturally, as well as in certain fermented foods. These foods when consumed on a regular basis maintain proper digestive function.
Probiotics can also be taken in the form of a supplement, in which case a few known bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium are used. In the case of supplements, however, it is important to remember that these bacteria remain active only at an optimal temperature, and hence may need to be refrigerated to remain effective over time.
Different bacterial cultures produce different outcomes, for instance, an equal proportion of cultures Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes is usually found in those within an ideal weight range, where as a disproportionately large number of the former were found in those who were obese. It is therefore important to consider what function the specific cultures perform, when buying probiotic supplements.
Prebiotics: Food for the gut
Prebiotics are foods or supplements that help generate and sustain good bacteria. Unlike probiotics, they don’t contain any bacterial cultures themselves. The fiber found in plant based foods acts as an excellent source of prebiotics because while the body cannot break down and absorb fiber, it serves as food for the gut bacteria, and helps them thrive. Not all forms of fiber are prebiotics. Prebiotics are usually forms of soluble fiber, but can be synthetically synthesised as well.
In addition to promoting gut bacteria, prebiotics also help regulate blood glucose absorption, and increase absorption of Calcium and other minerals. Being a form of fiber, they also help you feel satiated after a meal.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as unpolished rice and wheat are great sources of prebiotics. Around 3 to 5 grams of prebiotics a day can significantly improve your gut health and keep the digestive system functioning well. Consuming too much may cause flatulence and bloating however.
Non dairy probiotics
While Yoghurt and Cheese are well known, widely available natural probiotics, it can be harder to find a non-dairy option for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant. Animal based products might not agree well with some, as it may cause gut inflammation, which would be counterproductive to taking a probiotic. This leaves us with supplements or fermented foods such as pickles, Kimchi, Kombucha and sourdough bread
Adding a variety of prebiotics and probiotics to your daily diet can ensure smooth digestion, good absorption of nutrients and help with building overall immunity. Foods such as Probiotic Upma come fortified with vegan prebiotics and probiotics, ensuring the convenience of good health even when you are on the move. So the next time you pass up that yoghurt or sourdough, remember that what’s good for your gut is also good for you.