A little pre-warning about this blog it’s a little bit technical but full of important, relevant info so if you are a little sleep deprived and just want the practical suggestions – skip the technical jargon and go to the end 🙂
The World Health Organisation defines a probiotic as any living microorganism that has a health benefit when ingested. The word “probiotic” is actually a compound of two Greek words: “pro,” to signify promotion of and “biotic,” which means life.
Each of us has more than 1,000 different types of bacteria that live in our digestive tracts, helping us to break down food and absorb nutrients. These “good bacteria” are used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions, but particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics form a bioreactor, which facilitates digestion, provides nutrients, and helps form the immune system. Some important nutrients made by this bioreactor include several B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids. In addition, when probiotics are abundant in your body, it’s harder for bacteria that cause illness to get a foothold – as the good bacteria “crowds out” the bad bacteria.
Digestive disorders can happen when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes disturbed. This can happen after an infection or after taking antibiotics. When we take antibiotics – medicine that is designed to kill destructive bacteria, the drugs can also kill the healthy intestinal flora that helps us digest.
So what are some common probiotics and where are they found? (Do not worry I cannot pronounce their names either).
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus can be found in many yogurts and soft cheeses. It’s role is to helps convert lactose and other sugars into lactic acid, which may be particularly helpful for those who are lactose intolerant.
- Streptococcus thermophilus has nothing to do with strep throat, which is caused by a completely different bug. These friendly bacteria are also used to make yogurts and cheeses, and they even assist Lactobacillus bulgaricus by making nutrients that assist with growth.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei both convert lactose into lactic acid – also helping the lactose intolerant. Research has indicated that L. Acidophilus may also be helpful at reducing cholesterol levels.
- Bifidobacteria is a family of bacteria that has been studied for its ability to prevent and treat various gastrointestinal disorders, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. In addition to making lactic acid, it also makes some important short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed and metabolised by the body.
So know you know the pros of probiotics. Here are some practical suggestions for increasing them in your diet:
- Yoghurt – Plain, unsweetened is best and you can look for ones that have added probiotics. For non-diary options, yoghurts made from rice, soy and coconut milk are available which also contain added probiotics. If in doubt look for “live and active cultures on a label” and you won’t go wrong.
- Miso Soup – Miso is one the main-stays of traditional Japanese medicine. Made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley, adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup.
- Kimchi – is a fermented cabbage, typically served with Korean dishes and can be very spicy – I have eaten this at Korean restaurants (and loved it) thought I will not claim to have used this at home before… though I may just give it a go for you!
- Pickles – believe it or not the green pickle is a great source of probiotics!
- Tempeh – Made from soy protein, it is a great meat substitute that’s full of probiotics and vitamin B12.
- Supplementation – I am a firm advocate that you can get all you need from food however, if you have digestive challenges and/or are looking to boost your immunity over winter I think supplementing probiotics is valuable. We supplement our son’s diet with probiotics during winter, one for the immunity and two to help replace any good bacteria if he has a bout of antibiotics. Last year he had recurring ear infections and broncolitis during winter (was a nightmare actually) and was on antibiotics for about four months straight so extra probiotics were invaluable. As per the photo I use a powdered form and just mix it up in his yoghurt which he typically has post-dinner to get the most probiotics into him.
In summary…for a busy working mum the way I ensure my family has good probiotics is through the regularly intake of yoghurt and I supplement through winter, busy/stressful times and times of illnesses.