Are you familiar with the term ‘probiotics’? This is an interesting subject area as people are either totally in the dark on the topic or have good intentions but are misapplied.
For example, with the second category of people they may believe they are addressing the bacteria of their gut by eating yogurt or taking a digestive enzyme. And while these may help with the digestive process and overall health they are not what we mean when we talk about probiotics.
Probiotics include the beneficial bacteria of our gastro-intestinal (GI) tract that help us absorb and digest food. And basically this includes two main types of bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. And besides digestion these bacteria help with our health in terms of our immunity, metabolism and body composition. These helpful bacteria are also great anti-inflammatory agents.
In our GI track we have a ton of bacteria with some estimates putting the number at 10 trillion. Of this composition there are both good and bad forms of bacteria. And in a very general sense you can almost think as though there was a limit on the bacteria for our GI track. When we consume foods and have lifestyle habits that favour the bad forms of bacteria the good bacteria can get pushed out.
And the opposite is also true that as we eat more foods that are probiotic enhancing and change our lifestyle for the better we can swing the balance to one where the healthy bacteria dominate. When we have more probiotics in our gut we are better able to deal with symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, reflux, allergies and nausea.
So which foods will help the good bacteria to flourish? Think of things like yogurt (plain varieties, not the fruit on the bottom), soy, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh and kombucha. Some of these foods may not be immediately recognizable so give them a try and look for recipes to work them into your meal plan. And for the ones you may already know, like pickles and sauerkraut, make sure you choose the fermented varieties.
On the other end of the spectrum you should look to reduce your consumption of certain foods which cause bad bacteria to proliferate. This list includes sugar, preservatives, alcohol, processed foods, high calorie and low fibre foods. The good news is that the list of foods to avoid for more favourable gut bacteria is no different than any other healthy living food list.
Besides a poor diet a few other things that will tip the balance of bacteria in the wrong direction including stress, anti-biotics and sugar alcohols. Stress compromises our immune system and antibiotics wipe out a number of the bacteria in our bodies, good and bad. You will recognize sugar alcohols on food labels which include sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. Typically you will see these in sugar-free foods and sometimes can be identified as foods ending in ‘ol’.
We all know someone that eats healthily and exercises yet still faces some time type of health challenge. This could be a weight loss plateau, a chronic disease or some other adverse health condition. A quick change in our diet and possibly adding a probiotic supplement might be all it takes to reverse the individual’s health and unlock further gains.