The words prebiotics or probiotics are becoming commonly heard…at the pharmacy, at the doctor’s office, at the gym, but even at Kitchen Lab. Do you know what they are, how to use them, and for what reason do we have to – if we have to- consume them? So, since I heard so many different people talking about them, I decided to do my own research and as a matter of fact, I came across some articles that surprised me. Specifically, probiotics became a “food trend” in 2016 and as it seems, it is still a matter that keeps growing more and more over the years.
Since it seems that they help in digestion, boost the immune system and gut flora, and that they help in weight loss, I thought of finding out if any of these is true or not. Are they that beneficial to our health?
Let’s start with what probiotics are:
Based on the definition of the World Health Organization, they are living microorganisms or “good” bacteria, that when they are consumed in the proper quantity/concentration, they improve the health of the person that consumes them. They also seem to improve the gut’s health as they boost gut flora and they help in the absorption of nutrients that we get from food. In addition, they help us cope with inflammation that has to do with gut bacteria whose multiplication may lead to several diseases. It has been found that there is a correlation between probiotics and fighting obesity, but further research needs to be conducted in order to see how and which exact bacteria strains can help in weight loss.
What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
The truth is that they complete each other’s function. Prebiotics are fiber or complex proteins that resist the digestion process when going through the small intestine. They are found in many foods like vegetables and fruits, and practically probiotics are fed with the prebiotics. When there is a generally balanced diet – low in sugars and saturated or trans fats – and some sort of physical activity, then gut flora is reinforced with good bacteria and some specific strains which contribute to the digestive system's proper function. To put it simply, the combination of probiotics and prebiotics improves the gut flora, which eventually boosts the immune system.
Do you know where you can find them?
Good sources of probiotics are: yogurt (choose the ones which contain live cultures), kefir, pickles, red wine, beer, and some soft cheeses. Remember that foods which are made with a fermentation process, usually contain probiotics.
They can be found in the form of supplements too, but you’ll have to ask your doctor, pharmacist, or some health professional whether you have to use them or not.
Good sources of prebiotics: Legumes, garlic, apples, onions, oats, asparagus, banana, wheat, barley and whole-wheat products, linseed, and cocoa. These foods will make you feel full for longer and they will improve the digestion process and gut health.
I am now thinking it’s not by accident that Greek yogurt has become so famous all over the world, and that so many people prefer it. Apart from the fact that it is a good source of protein, calcium, and becomes the perfect snack, it is also a very good source of probiotics – especially if you prefer the fermented one! Besides, that’s why so many doctors and scientists suggest that we should include it in our diet.
We still have a lot to learn about them, as research is still being conducted and it is something that concerns nutrition scientists a lot. Simply #staytuned as I will definitely find out more about these “good” bacteria.
This article was written in collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Sports Nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr.