Probiotics = bacteria; Prebiotics = food bacteria eat :-)
There has been a huge increase in the number of people supplementing with probiotics to help improve their gastrointestinal health. A supplement is however a supplement and should be taken in addition to a healthy diet.
There is little evidence to confirm the probiotics we are supplementing with actually make it to our gut to be of any use!
So, what are the best foods to consume to keep our gut bacteria in balance? And which foods should we cut back on that have a detrimental effect on our gut bacteria?
Healthy Gut Foods
- Kimchi (fermented cabbage) – but who wants to eat fermented cabbage? You might prefer other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha or tempeh.
- Yogurt – the problem here is that the yogurt is likely to have been heat treated which will kill all the beneficial bacteria. To determine whether the yogurt you buy contains living bacteria check the labels for the words “active yogurt cultures,” “living yogurt cultures,” or “contains active cultures.” Don’t be fooled by the words “made with active cultures.” All yogurts are made with live cultures, but no live cultures survive heat-treatment.You can try Kefir if you’re not keen on yogurt which is basically milk with an added bacterial culture.
- Jerusalem artichoke – if you’re not familiar with these they are tubers full of prebiotic inulin. Asparagus, onions, garlic, chicory root and dandelion greens are also great sources of inulin.
- Green unripe bananas – loaded with the prebiotic starch that will feed the probiotics. Root vegetables, legumes and whole grains are also great sources.
- Whole Oats – again they are packed with a prebiotic fibre called beta-glucan which the probiotics will be feasting on. Barley is also a great source of beta-glucan.
- Apples – packed with pectin which the good bacteria in your bowels will love to feast on. This also helps to reduce the bad bacteria in your gut too (double win!).
- Cacao – yes you heard me right 😊. Cacao is rich in polyphenol flavanols which are not only good for your heart, but also have prebiotic effects. We’re talking great quality chocolate here, a lot like the stuff we sell and use in cookie-mix (minimum 70% cocoa and above), not your Cadburys crack!
- Whole Grains – they haven’t been stripped of their fibre and therefore are beneficial to our gut bacteria.
So, we’ve looked at the foods which are good for our gut, and they’re as you would expect really – plant based (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes) whole-grains with some fermented foods thrown in. But which foods are hurting our good bacteria and helping the bad bacteria to thrive?
- Alcohol – no surprise here, too much alcohol is bad for our health – that’s a well-known fact, and it’s also bad for our gut. Moderation!
- Antibiotics – they are designed to kill the bad bacteria which cause illness or prevent them from multiplying, however they don’t differentiate and destroy the beneficial bacteria too. Studies have shown that after one course of antibiotics although the good bacteria return in 1-4 weeks, their numbers often don’t return to previous levels.
- Artificial sweeteners – stay away from these at all costs. They’re found in numerous drinks particularly those aimed at kids (like fruit shoot), and research in rats has linked these sweeteners with a shift in bacterial microbiome which is very scary considering how many children consume these drinks on a daily basis.
- Food additives – these destroy our gut bacteria and lead to intestinal inflammation which in turn leads to the many symptoms of IBS. Moderate consumption of highly processed foods and meat as that’s where you will find additives used most.
- Smoking – goes without saying, effects every organ in the body and causes numerous health issues. The effects of a vape are yet to be analysed due to it being such a new trend, however inhaling burning oil with a dose of nicotine added is hardly going to help your gut bacteria to thrive now is it?
- Meat heavy diet – research has linked animal products, especially red meat, to an unfavourable microbiome. Similar studies incorporating saturated fats from butter and fatty cuts from meat have shown to increase the bad gut bacteria population. Makes sense as physiologically and biologically we are designed to be herbivores!