Know Your Nutrients: Probiotics

What are probiotics?
The digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria, some are what’s considered as “good” (healthy) bacteria and some as “bad” (harmful) bacteria. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that play many important roles in human health. They are so vital to our health, that there are actually more good bacteria than cells in our entire body! When a healthy balance of probiotics exists in the body, these “good” bacteria can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and yeasts, which helps to maintain a healthy immune system and prevents infections from developing.

What are some of the health benefits of probiotics?
Researchers are constantly finding more benefits to these friendly bacteria in the human body. Here are some of the most common ones that further show the benefits of maintaining a balance of healthy gut bacteria:

Enhances Intestinal Health – helps reduce the incidence and severity of:

  • Antibiotic-induced diarrhea
  • Traveller’s diarrhea – occurs after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with bacteria
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as gas, pain and bloating

Improves Digestion

  • Improves absorption of nutrients
  • Production of digestive enzymes and vitamins
  • Reduction of lactose intolerance (lactobacillus produces lactase enzyme)

Supports the Immune System

  • Increases antibody activity (infection-fighting cells)
  • Inhibits growth of pathogenic “bad” bacteria and yeasts (e.g. E. coli, salmonella, candida albicans, listeria, C. diff.)

If you noticed that you suffer from any of these common health complaints, you may want to consider taking a probiotic supplement (link to newsletter article).

Where can I find probiotics in my diet?
Fermented foods are naturally rich in probiotic bacteria because they go through a process called “lactofermentation”, in which the natural bacteria feed on the sugars and starches found in the foods being fermented. This is a food preservation technique practiced by many cultures for hundreds of years to increase the shelf life and flavour of certain foods. The process of fermentation creates millions of friendly bacteria that can benefit your gut. If you’ve ever tried the fermented foods listed below, you’ll know they have a particular taste or they can be challenging to find in your grocery store, so it can be hard to incorporate these foods in your everyday diet.

  • Yogurt, with “live active cultures” (check the packaging)
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Kefir

Why should I take a probiotic supplement?
Many factors can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the body, reducing their protective effects. This can weaken the immune system, leaving a person more prone to developing colds and other infections. It can also cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, gas and bloating. These factors include:

  • Stress
  • An unbalanced diet and a diet high in sugar and processed foods
  • A diet low in fermented foods
  • Certain medications
  • Antibiotics (consider that antibiotics are the opposite of probiotics!), as they disrupt the balance of intestinal microflora by destroying both bad and good bacteria. This can lead to diarrhea, a common side effect of antibiotic therapy.

How many probiotics do I need each day?
There are no “official” recommendations yet in Canada for how many probiotics you’re supposed to get every day. However, some research suggests getting at least one to ten billion colony forming units (CFU) per day. The number of CFUs refers to the amount of live bacteria in each supplement you are taking – the higher the CFU count, the more probiotic bacteria you are getting in each dose. Talk to your health care professional to determine the right dosage of probiotics for you to take.

Are there any side effects or supplement/medications I should avoid taking with probiotic?
Gas and bloating are common side effects that can occur as your digestive system adjusts to taking a probiotic supplement over a period of a few days. The benefits can usually be seen within one week, such as improved digestion and reduced diarrhea.

In general, probiotics are not recommended for people with immune-compromised conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or those taking immune-suppressants such as chemotherapy. In these situations, you have an increased chance of getting sick from ingesting probiotic bacteria.

Recipe: Banana-Berry Kefir Breakfast Parfait
Kefir is a cultured milk product, and can now be found alongside regular yogurt in the refrigerator section of your local grocery store. Kefir has a more sour taste than yogurt, but makes up for it by providing a more diverse array of probiotics that are beneficial to your digestive health. Try it out in place of regular yogurt in this delicious breakfast parfait.

You’ll need:

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup berries (fresh, or defrosted frozen)
  • ¾ cup kefir
  • 2 tbsp good quality granola
  • ½ tbsp. honey
  • Combine sliced banana and berries in a small bowl.

1. To assemble the parfait
2. Layer ¼ cup kefir on the bottom
3. Then top with half of the banana-berry mixture.
4. Repeat with another layer of kefir and banana-berries.
5. Top with the remaining kefir.
6. Sprinkle granola on top, and drizzle with honey.
7. Serve immediately.

Note: The information provided here is intended solely as a guideline and is not meant to treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease. Always consult a qualified health care practitioner prior to using any natural health product.