What are probiotics and why are they in my food?

Posted in Personal development.

Health trends change and evolve over time. Whether old research gains more attention or some new breakthrough instantly gains a following, there always seems to be new articles talking about the latest health craze. Probiotics is a part of one of those trends – gut health. While probiotics are nothing new (they have been in yoghurts for years and are integral to their production), the importance of gut health has put more attention on probiotics. So, what exactly are probiotics?

Probiotics are microorganisms

Simply put, probiotics are a collection of bacteria and yeast that live in your body, mostly in the gut. Some might find it strange that eating bacteria is good for your health, but good bacteria is necessary. The bacteria and yeast in your gut (called the “gut microbiome” by scientists) are important for the healthy functioning of your body and contribute to your overall gut health.

Probiotics are sometimes added to foods, but many foods already contain them by default. These foods are generally fermented such as pickles, cheese, yoghurt, kombucha, and kimchi.

How does it improve my health?

Gut health has been shown to be important in more parts of the body than just the digestive system. Gut bacteria are important especially for digestion where they break down fibres, digest sugars like lactose, support other cells in your gut, break down and absorb medication, and create vitamins. Furthermore, they take up real estate in your gut making it hard for other, more harmful bacteria to take up residence in your body.

Improper gut health is implicated in diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune problems, and even depression. Antibiotics can kill the good bacteria in our gut. Probiotics can replenish the lost bacteria. It’s important to first consult a doctor if this is your reason for wanting to eat more probiotics.

That being said, the general impression is that probiotics are good for physical and mental health and this has led to more consumer demand, which in turn is leading to probiotics being added to more and more foods.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics, as the name suggests, are things eaten before probiotics. These are foods, some fibres, that are indigestible to humans, but act as food for gut bacteria. The combination of probiotics and prebiotics is called synbiotics due to their synergy. Specifically, prebiotics serve as food only for the good bacteria and cannot be eaten by bad bacteria. Prebiotics can be found in foods such as bananas, onions, wheat, milk, and honey, to name a few.