In the world of nutritional science, one topic that continues to gain significant attention is probiotics.
These tiny, living microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy gut and their benefits extend to various aspects of our overall well-being.
In this article, we’ll delve into the world of probiotics, exploring what they are, why they’re essential, where to find them, and how to ensure you’re getting the real deal.
What are probiotics?
At their core, probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that, when consumed, contribute to improved gut health. The human body consists of many different microorganisms however the key distinguishing factor with probiotics is that these microorganisms must confer a specific health benefit once consumed in order to be classified as probiotics. Common probiotics that you may have heard of include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, along with others like Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.
Why are probiotics important?
Consuming probiotics introduces healthy bacteria into the gut, creating a competition for space and nutrients with potentially harmful bacteria. Maintaining this balance is crucial, as an overgrowth of bad bacteria can lead to various health issues. Factors such as ageing, antibiotic use, conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, food poisoning, or gut surgery can disrupt this balance. Probiotics help restore equilibrium, positively impacting energy levels, immunity, sleep, weight, mental health, and gut symptoms.
How much do we need?
While the optimal daily intake of probiotics is still under research, incorporating them into your diet regularly is advisable. However, more doesn’t necessarily mean better, as high doses can lead to potential gut issues.
Navigating the probiotic market
With the rising interest in gut health, probiotics have become a staple in various food products, extending beyond the traditional yoghurt section. However, the industry is not tightly regulated. To ensure you’re getting genuine probiotics, look for products that meet the following criteria:
- Live Microorganisms: The product should contain live probiotic strains and specify the strains it contains.
- Adequate Amounts: Look for products which actually specify how much there product contains. This will be written in Colony Forming Units (CFUs) e.g. 1 billion CFUs.
- Health Benefit: The manufacturer should specify the probiotic strain and associated health benefits, supported by efficacy studies. For example “can help strength your immune system”
If a product doesn’t provide this information, it may not truly be a probiotic, and terms like ‘cultured,’ ‘fermented,’ or ‘wild fermented’ might be more accurate.
Fermented foods and probiotics
While many fermented foods are excellent sources of probiotics (e.g., yoghurt, kefir), not all automatically qualify as probiotics. Only those with studied strains demonstrating health benefits can bear the probiotic label. Examples like sourdough bread may not provide the same benefits.
Shelf stable probiotics: do they work?
Shelf-stable probiotics, found in products like kombuchas and supplements, can indeed contain live probiotics. Microbes in these products can enter a dormant state and reactivate when consumed under favourable gut conditions. Opting for reputable brands is essential to ensure the viability of the probiotics.
Probiotic supplements: yes or no?
Probiotic supplements can play a significant role, particularly for those with specific health conditions. While a balanced diet can naturally supply probiotics, research shows that individuals with gut issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or lactose malabsorption, may benefit from supplements. Established brands with a track record of research and testing, such as Inner Health Plus and Blackmores, are generally recommended.
The world of probiotics offers a myriad of benefits for overall health, and incorporating them into your diet can contribute to a thriving gut and a healthier you. As with any nutritional choice, informed decisions and a keen eye on product details will ensure you truly unlock the power of probiotics.
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