You’ve likely seen information in the media about eating foods like kombucha, kefir, or kimchi. But, what do all of these have in common (other than the fact that they all start with the letter “K”)? These are all sources of probiotics, which are known as bacteria that can provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts.
It might seem kind of gross to think that there are bacteria living inside your digestive tract, but having a variety of these good bacteria is important for your overall health. Having healthy gut bacteria contributes to the breakdown of foods that your body can’t digest such as fibre, they also produce important nutrients for your body, help to alleviate constipation or other digestive issues such as inflammation, and contribute to maintaining a healthy immune system.
Your gut microbiome is impacted by so many factors such as the environment that you live in, stress, sleep, exercise, medications, and diet. The foods that you eat can play an important role in maintaining the diversity of your gut microbiome. There are 2 key elements that come into play when talking gut health: probiotics and prebiotics. As mentioned before, probiotics are good bacteria that can be found in a number of different fermented foods. Whereas, prebiotics act as fertilizer or food to help the good bacteria flourish inside your digestive tract. They can be found naturally in various vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Top Food Sources Of Prebiotics And Probiotics
Yogurt or Kefir
There’s so much more than just calcium to gain from these delicious dairy products.
Both yogurt and kefir are made using fermentation and contain probiotics that can help support a healthy digestive system. Incorporate these into your daily diet by adding them to your morning granola or topping a serving of yogurt or kefir with some fresh fruit.
Keep in mind that sometimes the heat processing can eliminate some of the good bacteria, so when purchasing yogurt or kefir look for products that indicate ‘live bacterial cultures’ or at least 1 billion live or active colony forming units within each product.
Sauerkraut or Kimchi
Sauerkraut and kimchi have two very different taste profiles, but they are both made from fermented cabbage and are great sources of probiotics.
Kimchi is a staple food in the Korean diet and if you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant, you’ve likely seen it served with most things on the menu. It has a spicy, tangy flavour and can be eaten on its own as a side dish or thrown into a noodle and veggie stir-fry.
Sauerkraut is commonly found in the form of shredded white cabbage that’s been fermented resulting in crunchy and tangy delicious-ness. Add sauerkraut to your sandwiches or salads for extra flavour and reap the benefits of healthy digestion!
Tip! Be sure to store these foods in the fridge to preserve and benefit from the probiotics.
Miso or Tempeh
These soy-based products are so versatile to cook with; they can be made into a light snack, part of your side dish at dinner, or the star of the show as your main course.
Miso is made from fermented soybeans and most commonly seen in the form of miso soup. You can also purchase miso paste, which can be added to your dressings or sauces; just keep in mind that it is high in sodium, so moderation is key!
Similarly, tempeh is also made from fermented soybeans and can be a nice plant-based protein alternative to add in your diet. Unlike other protein sources like chicken or beef, tempeh is packed with probiotics and other healthy nutrients like calcium. If you haven’t tried tempeh yet, you might just be missing out on a new favourite! Add it instead of meat in some of your dishes this week to start getting some more healthy probiotics in your diet.
Not only do these two foods add amazing flavour to your dishes, they also contain prebiotic fibre that may be indigestible by your body but serve as the perfect food source for good bacteria within your gut. If you’re not already, try adding garlic and onions to your recipes for a nice boost of flavour and an even nicer boost in health. One easy way to add both of these into your diet is by slicing onions to top your salad and dicing garlic as part of your dressing.
Wheat Bran, Barley, Whole Oats
It probably seems like everyone is telling you to eat whole grains, well we are no different!
Along with other notable benefits, wheat bran, barley, and whole oats are packed with prebiotic fibre that helps to increase the growth of various probiotics in your digestive tract. Incorporate these whole grains as part of your regular diet by eating oatmeal at breakfast, adding barley to your soups, or sprinkling wheat bran on your daily yogurt.
The key to benefiting from probiotics and prebiotics is to think of them as a team, eating a variety of foods or incorporating supplements to make sure you’re getting all sorts of different probiotic strains and prebiotic fibres so that they can work together to create a healthy and diverse bacterial environment.
What About Probiotic Supplements?
The two most common probiotic supplements are made from Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria. You’ll see these listed on the label and each of these can be broken down into many specific strains that can be used for a number of different health benefits.
The amount of probiotic needed ranges anywhere from 100 million to 10+ billion colony forming units per dose depending on the strain that you are taking.
Consuming a balanced diet with probiotic-rich foods such as the ones we talked about above will help promote overall good health.
Choosing the right probiotic supplement for a specific health benefit can be overwhelming, speak with a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting the right product for your needs.
Who Shouldn’t Be Consuming Prebiotics/Probiotics?
For most healthy people, consuming prebiotics and probiotics is not concerning and can contribute to overall good health. However, pre- and probiotics are not for everyone.
For those with a weakened immune system or a major illness, consider speaking to a health professional such as a registered dietitian (RD) or doctor prior to starting with probiotic supplements.
For people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), consuming prebiotics might exacerbate symptoms. So for these individuals, speaking with an RD may help pin point which prebiotics are and are not well tolerated.
Some probiotics are grown using milk or soy protein. If you are allergic to milk or soy, you may want to be cautious about choosing the right product.
Start incorporating more prebiotics and probiotics in your diet today by trying this ‘Healthy Gut Vanilla Chai Smoothie’ – perfect for a quick breakfast on the go!
How We Can Help You To Achieve A Healthier Gut
Don’t know if you’re getting enough probiotics or prebiotics through your diet? Not sure which supplement to take? Talk to a NutriProCan RD to help clear up these confusions and guide you in the right direction.
If you’d like to talk to an RD, request a free 20-min call to discuss how we can help: https://www.nutriprocan.ca/free-consultation/.