Creating a Healthy Gut with Probiotics and Prebiotic Foods

Probiotics and prebiotics have continued to be hot health buzzwords over the last couple of years. And why shouldn’t they be? Research is continually emerging, and they both provide numerous health benefits when it comes to gut health. It can be challenging to sift through information on the internet when a vast number of sites are simply trying to sell you a supplement, without providing information on getting pro and prebiotics through their natural source – food!

What are probiotics and prebiotics?

Probiotics are live and active bacteria living in our digestive system. While bacteria historically have received a damaging reputation, it’s essential to realize that not all bacteria is harmful! Scientists have discovered we need bacteria to survive. And when it comes to the gut, we need a lot of it – up to 4 pounds per person!

Our good bacteria is our best friend when it comes to many functions in our gut. They protect us against pathogens, synthesize vitamins, digest foods, and keep our immune system healthy. The bacteria we think of as bad can coexist nicely with the good bacteria. It’s when there is an imbalance, called dysbiosis, in which problems arise. Dysbiosis is associated with irritable bowel disorder, inflammatory skin diseases, autoimmune arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis.

Prebiotics are complex plant-based sugars. They act as food for our probiotics, nourishing, and promoting the growth of probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. Prebiotics work to help protect the digestive system.

Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods

Many foods that are considered probiotics are fermented. But it’s essential to recognize that not all fermented foods are probiotics, and not all probiotics are fermented foods. For instance, bread, beer, wine, and distilled alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation, but the live bacteria are removed by filters or heat. To be considered a probiotic, the bacteria must be alive!

Probiotic foods work to increase the beneficial gut bacteria, which helps with digestion, immune function, and alleviation of gastrointestinal intolerances. Probiotics can are in foods like cultured dairy products such as yogurt kefir, miso, and tempeh. They are also found in fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, olives, pickles, and kimchi. One thing to note is fermented vegetables are only probiotics if they are fermented in salt, not vinegar. Look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label and bubbles in the liquid when you open the jar. Probiotics will typically be in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Most prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber, although only soluble fiber is a prebiotic. Soluble fiber is “soluble” in water and forms a gel-like substance in your digestive tract, which cannot digest without the help of probiotics, which work to break it down.

You can find prebiotics in foods such as onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, leeks, avocado, honey, dandelion greens, and legumes. Some people have a hard time digesting prebiotic foods. If you’re not currently consuming any prebiotics in your diet, it’s best to start in small and allow the gut to adapt. It also can help to cook prebiotics if you continue to have issues.

What about supplements?
It’s always best to get your pro and prebiotics from food versus taking a supplement. They are often sold separately or are combined in the same product and called a symbiotic. The issue with supplements is that researchers still don’t know exactly what makes a good pro or prebiotic supplement. Everyone’s gut bacteria is as unique as a fingerprint. This makes it difficult to know what strains of bacteria are best, the correct dosage, and who is best suited to take a supplement.

The Food and Drug Administration also does not regulate supplements, and there’s no generic equivalence, so one product, even if it contains the same species, cannot be considered the same. It’s been found that supplement ranges of bacteria in each serving range from 100 million to 1.8 trillion! Also, the quality doesn’t go through the rigorous process that the foods we eat go through, so you may not know what you’re getting.

There is always a chance of not getting what is listed on the label as far as microorganisms and other quality issues. While there is still a lack of research on probiotic supplements, they are considered generally safe. Always talk with your doctor before taking any supplements.

What Makes Green Vegetables Green & Why are they Great for Blood & Bone Health?

Ever hear the saying that you should eat a rainbow of vegetables?  That’s because each different color of vegetables contains a different set of vitamins and minerals.  

Let’s take a look at green vegetables…. 

First off….where do they get their green color

You may remember the word chlorophyll from elementary science class when learning about photosynthesis, the process in which plants absorb energy from the sun. 

Leafy green vegetables like lettuce, spinach, collard greens, and broccoli get their spectacular green color from chlorophyll.  The pigment, chlorophyll, is present in all green vegetables. The crazy thing…. when put in acid, the pigment converts from chlorophyll to pheophytin.  When this happens, the green color changes to olive green.  Ever notice how canned green beans have more of an olive-green color than fresh green beans?  This is because the canned green beans turn color because the acids are released but unable to escape. 

On the other end of the spectrum, try cooking a green vegetable like broccoli in water and add a little baking soda.  The water turns more alkaline, the opposite of acidic.  Your broccoli will then have a bright green color.  

What about vitamins?

Leafy green vegetables are a terrific source of many vitamins, but let’s focus on vitamin K.  One of the few vitamins the body can make on its own in the large intestine, vitamin K is imperative to help with blood clotting and bones.  Even though your body can make some vitamin K, you still need to consume vitamin K in the diet for optimal health.  

When babies are born, their stores of vitamin K are inadequate until the bacteria in the gut can produce vitamin K on its own, and the baby can obtain the vitamin from feedings.  It’s so crucial that the United States, shortly after birth in the hospital, newborns typically receive a vitamin K injection.  This is to prevent hemorrhagic disease, a bleeding problem that can occur in a baby during the first few days of life.

Whenever you get a cut, notice how at first it bleeds a lot, and then it slows down.  Part of clotting process is thanks to the help of vitamin K. The blood clot slows and stops the bleeding, so you do not lose too much blood.  

Vitamin D and calcium are frequently touted about when it comes to bone health, but vitamin K is also an essential vitamin when it comes to bones.   Studies have found that vitamin K can not only increase bone mineral density in osteoporotic people but can help reduce fracture rates.    Not consuming enough vitamin K can increase the risk of osteoporosis and decrease bone strength.  

One thing to ALWAYS pay attention to when it comes to Vitamin K is that it does interact with certain medications.  If you’re taking an anticoagulant, such as Warfarin, you need to work with a dietitian or physician on ensuring that you’re consuming the same amount of vitamin K every day.  The physician will typically adjust your vitamin K dosage based on the foods you consume.  

Looking to get more vitamin K in your diet? Focus mostly on leafy greens, but other great sources include soybeans, carrot juice, pumpkin, bluberries, and olive oil.