We are not alone.
On any given day, we’re in the company of 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut. From our mouth to our bottom end, microbiota, a helpful type of bacteria commonly called “gut flora,” populate our digestive tract, synthesizing vitamins B and K, producing energy, training the immune system to respond to pathogens and protecting against certain diseases. Probiotics are a culture of these “good” bacteria, and the term probiotics can be used when referring to foods or supplements that contain them.
In Europe and Japan, the probiotic market is mature, but Americans have begun to realize the important role probiotics play in immunity, anti-microbial activities and digestive and respiratory functions.
In 2012, the U.S. probiotic market grew to 1.3 billion dollars, driven primarily by the nearly 70 million Americans who struggle with some type of digestive disorder and general interest in preventive health.
In today’s modern world, we’re each at risk for gut dysbiosis, or a microbial imbalance where we have more bad than good bacteria in our gut. Stress, illness, antibiotics, a nutrient-poor diet and environmental toxins can wipe out microbiota. But studies have shown that consuming probiotics on a consistent basis will restore gut flora to healthy levels.
The most common sources of probiotics are fermented foods such as culture-containing kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese, miso, sauerkraut and tempeh. But if you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or prefer to take probiotic supplements, there are a few things to look for:
♦ Buy high-quality probiotic supplements from a reputable brand.
♦ Look for a minimum of 8 billion probiotics per dose or serving. I use a product with 20 billion probiotics per dose.
♦ Choose supplements containing Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, two of the most well-known and prolific probiotic strains.
The probiotic content of tablets, capsules and liquid supplements will be absorbed equally, when taken as directed. Buy what’s best for you.
Although eating and supplementing probiotics ensures the gastrointestinal tract is filled with healthy bacteria, prebiotics focus on providing food for the good bacteria and promoting their growth and beneficial activities.
So, what do microbiota like to eat? They prefer carbohydrates that resist digestion in the upper GI tract, such as legumes, cereal, potatoes, fruit, berries and whole wheat.
Most important, I like my clients to become savvy distinguishing between prebiotic substances and foods that contain them. References to almonds and honey as prebiotic are not really accurate. No plant or food can be a prebiotic. Wheat, honey and many other foods contain prebiotics; referring to a food as a prebiotic is no more accurate than calling a food a vitamin.
Clearly, we have a symbiotic relationship with gut bacteria; we need them, and they need us, so it’s very important that we ensure they have a healthy environment in which to work and keep us healthy. Although anyone can suffer from digestive issues, they become more prevalent as we age, making probiotic consumption even more important.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.