Most people are familiar with the word probiotics. After all, gut health has become an interesting topic these days and more people are learning about their benefits. However, navigating the world of probiotics can be a confusing one. Every probiotic is not created equal. Pretty bottles exclaiming that "it is the only probiotic you need", may be stripping your wallet and but not enriching your gut flora.
In this post, I want to focus on the benefits of probiotics (particularly when it comes to probiotic foods), and also discuss the difference between prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
What are prebiotics?
We all know probiotics are good for us but not too many are familiar with prebiotics and their benefits. Prebiotics, not to be confused with probiotics, are food the good bacteria need in order to thrive and proliferate. Interestingly enough, both us and our bacteria greatly benefit from eating prebiotic foods. While there are options for getting prebiotics in pill form, eating them is the ideal way to ensure our gut flora are receiving the best variety.
Prebiotic foods include:
- Chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke and jicama are rich in inulin, a type of fiber that aids in digestion.
- Onions, garlic, chives, leeks and scallions, also known as allium vegetables.
- Dandelion greens
What are probiotics?
Now I'm fairly certain most people know what probiotics are but what is not so well known is that you can get probiotics in other places other than yogurt and pills. There is a wide range of options when it comes to probiotic foods and if you can't eat milk derived products such as yogurt of kefir, there are plenty of alternatives.
I've discussed the importance of probiotic foods throughout many of my posts but to recap why you would want to add probiotic foods to your diet:
Benefits of probiotic foods:
- Improved immune system
- Helps calm leaky gut symptoms
- Reduced allergies
- Improved diarrhea/constipation symptoms
- Improved mental health and focus
- More energy
- Weight loss
Probiotic foods include:
- Sauerkraut - this is one of the best ways to obtain a high amount of probiotics. But not just any. Make sure it is refrigerated if you're going to purchase it, as that's the only way you're going to obtain all the good bacteria. If you're interested in making your own, you can find the recipe here. Dr. Mercola had his home made sauerkraut analyzed and it was found that 4 oz of it provided about as many probiotics as a 100 count bottle.
- Kombucha - you either love or hate kombucha. It's definitely an acquired taste. Aside from being fantastic for gut health, it makes me feel amazing drinking it. Due to its slight alcohol content you can actually feel "happy" after drinking kombucha. "It is shown that KT (kombucha fermented tea) can efficiently act in health prophylaxis and recovery due to four main properties: detoxification, antioxidation, energizing potencies, and promotion of depressed immunity"
- Apple cider vinegar - the key words are: unfiltered, unpasteurized and organic. It has to be all of those in order to reap maximum benefits from ACV. Aside from having been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, it is also excellent for repopulating gut flora. ACV is made from fermented apples and is wonderful at aiding with gas and constipation and also helps to stimulate gastric juices for optimum digestion.
- Beet kvass - Traditionally Kvass, originating in Europe, was made with barley or rye but can also be made with beets. The drink is made by fermenting beets in salt water. The sugars from the beet are broken down by the salt and converted to lactic acid, which preserves the drink. Beet kvass provides digestive enzymes, probiotics and is also a powerful blood cleanser and supports cellular function.
- Water kefir - This is a personal favorite. I make this at home and have a fresh batch every 24-48 hours. Recipe for water kefir can be found here. This is a great alternative to regular kefir, particularly if you have a dairy sensitivity. Similar to kombucha, kefir water is a bubbly fermented drink but it does not contain any of the vinegar taste that some don't particularly like. To me, this is a perfect soda alternative for anyone who is currently a soda drinker. Kefir water is a great source for enriching the microbiome and populating gut bacteria. This study highlights the microbial diversity of water kefir.
While there are other sources such as miso, yogurt and kefir, I prefer the ones listed since they don't contain soy or dairy but feel free to explore what what works for you.
Also, I want to mention that it's important to not go all out if you've never eaten or drank probiotic foods. Eating too much sauerkraut off the bat, may leave you feeling the opposite of good. Start slow, 1/4 tsp-1/2 tsp. Same with fermented drinks, start with a few ounces and build up.
What are postbiotics?
In a nutshell, postbiotics are the waste products left behind from probiotic fermentation. These wastes in essence, may be responsible for modulating and supporting human health. According to Dr. Bertrand, head of the RMIT University's Gut Neuroscience Lab, once bacteria break down, they produce vitamin B and K, but at this point it's impossible to know which strains produce what and how much, so the best thing to do is to eat a varied diet that includes different types of undigestible fiber.
It is fascinating, how the foods we eat, particularly those containing prebiotics, work in conjunction with probiotic foods, which in turn produce the waste which in turn further benefit our body. It's a beautiful symbiotic relationship and we're only scratching the surface in terms of what we know about the microbiome and its effects on our health.
Researchers are currently studying how postbiotics may directly impact the anti-inflammatory and immune responses.
Benefits of postbiotics:
- Used to treat IBS and IBD
- Potential diabetes treatment
- May help with skin problems such as eczema and acne
- May reverse joint inflammation
- May be used in the treatment of SIBO and/or Leaky gut
- short-chain fatty acids, such as acetate, butyrate and propionate. These are produced by fermenting undigested carbohydrates in the intestine. These fatty acids provide a major energy source for the colon and play a role in intestinal growth and differentiation. They impact many metabolic processes.
- lipopolysaccharides, including polysaccharide A and exopolysaccharide
- muramyl dipeptide
- indole, derived from tryptophan
- teichoic acid
- p40 molecule
Researchers looking into how postbiotics could directly impact certain diseases. So I presume in the coming years, we will be finding out some incredible information.
In terms of supplementation as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, not all are created equally. Some probiotic strains are not able to survive the harsh stomach environment in order to reach the right place so I would recommend this one as it is specifically formulated to be able to withstand the acidic environment. However, there are plenty on the market that may be beneficial. What I would recommend is look for refrigerated probiotics and over 10 billion CFUs. If refrigerated is still too expensive, room temperature is fine but be sure it's over 10 billion. Anything less than that is going to be a waste of money.
And finally, don't stress too much about ensuring you're getting all of these foods. As long as your diet is varied and you do make a point of including gut healthy foods, you will be able to obtain all the pre/pro and postbiotics you need in order to live a healthful life.