You may be surprised to learn that our digestive systems are full of bacteria and other microorganisms. In fact, microorganisms in our bodies outnumber our own cells 10 to 1. When these microorganisms provide health benefits to us, they are called Probiotics. Probiotics in our digestive system have several functions, such as helping to digest food, destroying harmful microorganisms, and vitamin production. The environmental balance between healthy probiotics and other microorganisms in the digestive tract is referred to as the Gut Microbiota. Having a healthy Gut Microbiota is an important factor to overall health and well-being.
Common strains of probiotic bacteria are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, but there are many others. You will probably recognize these names from the labels of popular yogurt brands. Probiotics can help improve the breakdown of carbohydrate foods for energy and also play a role in the production of Vitamin K and some B vitamins. Additionally, some research has shown that probiotics can even improve dental health.
The most popular benefit of probiotics is improved digestive regularity and decreased gas and bloating. Probiotics have also been shown to be helpful with digestive problems such as diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Another lesser known fact is that our digestive tract actually plays a very large role in our immune system. Because probiotics can help destroy harmful microorganisms, they help maintain our immune system.
More research is being done with probiotics every day, so more benefits may be discovered with time.
There is another factor to maintaining a healthy Gut Microbiota, called Prebiotics. Prebiotics are, in short, food for probiotics—also known as fiber. This means that consuming foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps support your Gut Microbiota. Some studies have even shown that a poor diet can negatively impact your Gut Microbiota by causing an imbalance between Probiotic bacteria and harmful bacteria.
So, how can we improve our gut health?
Eating a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a good start to maintain healthy Gut Microbiota. Not only will this provide the Prebiotic fiber that Probiotics need to flourish, you will also increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are beneficial to your health.
It is also important to include foods that contain Probiotics in your diet. There are many different products on the market that offer different ways to include Probiotics in your diet. Yogurt is perhaps the most popular and easiest product to add to your diet. Most yogurts contain at least one Probiotic strain and can also provide essential calcium to your diet. Choose a low-fat or fat free variety for the best health benefits. Other ideas for incorporating Probiotics into your diet include Kefir or yogurt drinks, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, and fermented drinks such as Kombucha. Be sure to read the label to be sure the product contains Probiotics as live, active cultures.
Try having some low-fat Greek yogurt with berries and flaxseed meal for breakfast or as a snack that includes Probiotics and Prebiotic fiber together.