We have over a trillion bacteria living in our gut which can help with a variety of health issues. The goal is to promote bacterial diversity to protect against bad bacteria and nourish good bacteria. For that we need some pre and probiotics.
Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”-per World Health Organization (WHO).
Prebiotics are non-digestible food that are going to help better absorb your probiotics. Example: bananas, oats, leeks, onion, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, spinach, oats, chia, and flax meal.
The global market for probiotics is projected to exceed US$63 billion by 2022 according to the Global Industry Analysts, Inc. Being a huge industrial market, it is challenging to know what is truly beneficial for your health. So, let’s review the most popular food items that claim to provide health benefits for your gut.
- Fermented Foods. Contrary to popular beliefs, fermented foods and beverages typically don’t contain live cultures due to heat treatment, filtration or food processing to improve shelf life, hence no true probiotics. These include sourdough bread, fermented meat, sauerkraut, vinegar, etc.
- Plain yogurt, look for live and active cultures on the label and for diary-alternative versions for those with lactose intolerance
- Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables (prebiotics)
- Kefir, a yogurt-like milk drink
- Whole milk
- Sugary beverages (soda and energy drinks)
- Red meat
- Artificial sweeteners
- Added sugars, goal <10% total calories
- Kombucha: is a sweetened tea made with fermented bacteria and yeast that originated in China. Very little research has been done in humans. However, there has been some research in animals and cell cultures showing it may have some antioxidant properties. Just keep in mind that many claims made on the bottles you see in the store are simply FALSE, and there have been numerous cases of serious health problems due to the unregulated nature of the fermentation process, and the general overconsumption of the drink. Bottom line? If you want to try Kombucha, be sure to find a reputable brand and drink in moderation.
- Wheat grass: Extract from nature sprouts of wheat seeds. Claim: benefit rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, obesity among others. However, all the trials were small and several methodological problems arose. No adverse events have been reported, although some forms pose problems of tolerability.
- Aloe vera juice: can aid constipation and remission for patients with ulcerative colitis. Conclusion: results are mixed but promising, more research needed. Oral aloe can cause cramping and diarrhea, which can lead to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration if used for an extended period time.
- Curcumin: is the active ingredient of the famous spice turmeric, known as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These properties of curcumin have been shown in several animal studies, but there have been relatively few studies in people. It’s OK to use turmeric for cooking, but we would need massive amounts to reach the amount need (3 g of curcumin daily) for anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric only contains approximately 2% curcumin by weight, so a tablespoon of turmeric, which weighs 6.8 grams, contains about 0.136-gram curcumin. Conclusion, best to take in capsules.
- Maple syrup extract: has more than 100 bioactive compounds, some of which have anti-inflammatory properties. In one recent study by McGill University in Canada, researchers combined maple syrup extract with antibiotics and could develop a powerful treatment for superbugs and harmful bacteria. However, the tests performed so far been performed in a laboratory setting without live subjects. Early results are promising, but more evidence is needed before we can make any recommendations for human consumption.
Most importantly, before you decide to take any over the counter supplements, check with your healthcare provider to ensure it does not counteract with any of your medications or health conditions.