Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, we’re guessing you’ve heard about the importance of keeping a healthy gut. We now understand that the balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract can influence more than just our toileting habits. In fact, our immune system, our exercise tolerance, our risk of chronic diseases, and even our body weight can be linked back to gut health.
So, the more ‘good bacteria’ we have, the healthier we will be, and (hopefully) the better we will feel!
It’s easy to get started – just include a balance of ‘probiotic’ and ‘prebiotic’ foods in your weekly diet. We’ve listed some examples of each.
Probiotics are live ‘good bacteria’, and are naturally occurring in fermented foods. During fermentation, natural sugars are converted into lactic acid, facilitating the growth of lactobacilli and other probiotics. People who have high levels of lactobacilli usually have fewer Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and a number of chronic diseases.
These four foods are good sources of probiotics.
- Kefir – a fermented milk drink, and one of the richest ‘natural’ sources of ‘good bacteria’. Kefir often includes over 30 probiotic varieties! You can buy kefir in supermarkets these days, as well as health food stores.
- Yoghurt – the ‘original’ probiotic food, and probably the most accessible. All yoghurts contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus probitoics. Some yoghurts will have additional probiotics added, for example, Jalna uses the “ABC” combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus casei.
- Kombucha – like kefir, kombucha (i.e. fermented tea) has risen from obscurity and can now be found in the trendiest cafes and health food stores. However, unlike the two options above, we are yet to find a kombucha product that identifies and/or quantifies the probiotic strains present. So, it’s a bit of a gamble. It certainly can’t hurt – just beware of added sugars.
- Sauerkraut – pickled cabbage, you can usually find it at your local deli, or it’s quite easy to make on your own. Like kombucha, there are only limited studies looking into the varieties if probiotics present in sauerkraut. It is thought that those present differ from the probiotics found in yoghurt and kefir.
Prebiotics are dietary fibers that act as ‘food sources’ for good bacteria, promoting their growth and survival in the gut. Higher consumption of prebiotic foods has been linked to reduced growth of some disease-causing gut bacteria. It has also been linked to overall health improvement, including reduced cholesterol and stable blood sugar.
A word of caution, some foods rich in prebiotics are also sources of dietary FODMAPs. If you have IBS, some of these foods may aggravate, rather than relieve, your digestive symptoms.
These five foods are good sources of prebiotic fibers.
- Asparagus – This humble vegetable is an excellent source of inulin – a prebiotic fibre, and antioxidants. Enjoy them cooked, or raw and thinly sliced in salads. It is not suitable for the Low FODMAP diet
- Garlic – The list of health benefits for this tasty vegetable is a long one. Like asparagus, it is a good source of inulin, and has been shown to increase the growth of bifidobacteria. Also known to have anti-microbial and antioxidant properties. Again, it is not suitable for the Low FODMAP diet.
- Apples – Pectin, a soluble fibre with prebiotic activity, accounts for approximately 50% of an apple’s total fibre content. Pectin increases butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that feeds the beneficial gut bacteria and decreases the population of harmful bacteria. Apples are not suitable for the low FODMAP diet, but oranges (also high in pectins) are a suitable alternative.
- Flaxseeds – The combination of fibres in flaxseeds, including mucilage gums, cellulose and lignin, help to promote gut health by supporting the growth of good bacteria, promoting regular bowel movements, and reducing the amount of dietary fat you digest and absorb. They can also help to lower cholesterol. Suitable for a low FODMAP diet.
- Oats – last but not least, these ‘super grains’ are an excellent source of beta glucan soluble fibre and resistant starch. Both help with promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria, with beta-glucans providing the additional benefit of reducing cholesterol absorption.