By Barbara Broggelwirth RD, CDN
Bacteria in your digestive tract? Sounds gross, right? Not so fast. Large numbers of microorganisms live ON and IN our bodies. In fact, microorganisms in the human body outnumber human cells by 10 to 1, and many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies. It’s all good.
Probiotics keep us in balance: These active cultures help change our intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This functional component may boost immunity and overall health, especially GI health. Evidence supports the use of probiotics for management of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and some strains have even been used to reduce symptoms of allergies and lactose intolerance. However, effects can vary from person to person. (2)
Probiotics can improve brain function: Research to date supports the role of gut bacteria in brain development and function known as the gut-brain axis. Gut microbiota has a direct interaction with the Central Nervous System. (3)
You don’t have to take a pill: Although they are available as dietary supplements, it is not necessary to use special pills, potions, cleanses or other concoctions to incorporate probiotics into your diet. They can be found in every day foods that are naturally fermented (1).
Some naturally fermented foods include:
- Yogurt and Kefir products
- Aged cheeses, which contain live cultures (for example, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli)
- Cultured non-dairy yogurts
You can’t just eat an unhealthy diet and think that probiotics are going to fix it: Ultimately, our bodies need good bacteria promoters called prebiotics, such as plant based fiber rich foods. These are “good” bacteria promoters that work synergistically to “feed” probiotics. In other words, prebiotics are breakfast, lunch and dinner for probiotics. On the menu, that means enjoying strawberries atop yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh.
Bottom Line: Consuming a diet rich in whole plant foods with the addition of probiotic-rich fermented foods is a sure bet to support physical and mental health.
Barbara Broggelwirth is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is currently working with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients. She works with patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.