Our intestinal or gut flora helps us digest products that we, as humans, cannot digest effectively ourselves. The bacteria in our gut helps us absorb and break down nutrients for our body that will benefit us, and the bacteria also reap the benefits of that too. Basically, we need our bacteria to survive, and they need us!
Often we also hear that there are “good” or “bad” bacteria. This differs from one person to another, as each digestive tract is unique, with varying ratios of different species of bacteria that “live” in our guts. For example, our colon can have from 300 to 1000 different types of bacterial species in it, but around 99% of them come from a smaller range of 30-40 species.
This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live bacteria that we can consume to live in the gut, and have been found to assist with growing more “good” bacteria, that aids in digestion and can prevent symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea or constipation.
There are studies suggesting various probiotic strains that can promote weight loss, prevent IBS symptoms or alleviate issues such as tiredness, acne and weight gain. However, this research is fairly new, meaning that a lot more studies will need to be completed to give us a better understanding of our gut bacteria. We know that our gut microbiome is very precious and crucial for us to look after, but the amount of things it does for us is unknown, and still growing!
Something else to look out for are prebiotics. These are foods that contain dietary fibre that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. They are kind of like a fertiliser for probiotics in the gut. Prebiotics can be found in fibre-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. High prebiotics can be found in underripe (slightly green) bananas, cooked and cooled rice and potatoes, legumes and oats.
Tips for consuming probiotics and prebiotics:
- You can get probiotics from your diet in fermented products such as sauerkraut, Greek yoghurts, kimchi and other pickled vegetables
- If opting to take a tablet form of probiotic, a refrigerated “live” culture may be more effective than one on the shelf
- Eating a varied diet filled with different whole grains, carbohydrates, proteins and fats can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome (different species will live in your gut to break down specific types of food)
- Consuming fruits and vegetables with a high fibre content can assist in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome
- Certain strains or brands of probiotics may be more effective in some individuals, more than others. This is because our microbiome, just like our DNA, is entirely unique to our own bodies. Don’t be disheartened if a friend or family member feels great using one type of probiotic and you don’t; they work differently for everyone!
Before thinking too much about what probiotic to buy, how many to consume, or what to change in your diet, it may be a good idea to speak with your dietitian about the best option for you. There is a lot of emerging evidence on prebiotics and probiotics – so watch this space!