Many of us have heard of the term probiotic, but what about prebiotics?
Do you actually know what these terms mean, what the difference is between them and how these two are connected? Well let’s find out!
Probiotics are living microorganisms that help to keep our good bacteria balanced in our digestive system. They have been shown to have many health benefits which include supporting our immune system and digestive function, minimising heartburn, indigestion, constipation, bloating and diarrhoea particularly in medically diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome and in traveller’s diarrhoea. They also help enhance the absorption of nutrients from the foods that we eat.
So where do we get these amazing microorganisms from?!
Foods that are naturally rich in probiotic cultures are generally from fermented sources which include nato, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, cottage cheese, fermented cheeses, buttermilk and yogurt. Important information to consider when purchasing yogurts is to look at the nutritional information on the label because not all yogurts contain probiotic cultures. According to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand yogurt must contain 1 000 000 cfu (colony forming unit) of probiotic cultures per gram to be able to state that they contain probiotics on the label. Yogurts may also use other terms to refer to probiotics such as friendly bacteria or cultures.
Some yogurt brands that are reputable include Jalna and Vaalia. Jalna utilises the traditional pot set method to make yogurt which entails mixing pure milk with probiotic cultures which is then set in a pot to ferment. This method minimises the amount of manufacturing required to process their yogurts. Jalna contains over 300 000 000 cfu per 100g serve of the probiotic stains, La-5® Lactobacillus acidophilus, BB-12® bifidobacterium and L.casei 431®. So as you can see their brand surpasses the minimum requirement of probiotic cultures required in yogurts!
Now let’s look at the brand called Vaalia which utilises the combination of three probiotic strains- acidophilus, bifidus and lactobacillus GG also known as LGG. LGG is one of the most extensively researched probiotic strains on the market and is the only yogurt in Australia to utilise these strains.
A great way to know what is in your yogurt is to make your own!
This way you can be in charge of what ingredients and probiotic strains you use, to ensure that your yogurt is super healthy and free of unwanted sugar, preservatives, additives and artificial ingredients. Another added bonus is that it is more cost effective to make your own yogurt. You can also have control over the amount of time that you allow your yogurt to ferment to allow for the growth of probiotic cultures. It is generally best to leave yogurt ferment for approximately 8-12 hours in a commercial yogurt maker to see the best results.
Probiotics can also be taken in the form of a supplement. Many different strains of probiotics exist but most probiotics are from the genera bifidobacterium, lactobacillus and saccharomyces. However, it is important to note that there are also multi strain probiotic combinations available which exert different health benefits depending on the strains of probiotics incorporated into the formula.
Probiotics in supplemental form contain higher concentrations of probiotic strains than what you would be able to obtain from foods. Therefore it should be noted that it is important to speak to a natural health professional or your doctor about which probiotic strain(s) are suitable for you and to discuss a relevant time period for their use.
Now how do prebiotics fit into all of this?
Prebiotics work with probiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive system. Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that help to stimulate the growth of probiotics such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the small intestine. They are basically like food for probiotics and provide nourishment to allow their survival, growth and multiplication. Prebiotics are able to reach the small intestine because they are non-digestible therefore they are not affected by the digestion process. Prebiotics discourage the growth of bad bacteria so they are essential to our wellbeing, gut flora balance and digestive system.
This demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotic growth is stimulated by the consumption of the soluble dietary fibres inulin and oligofructose. Inulin is common in plants that contain fructan, a fructose molecule andoligofructose, a subgroup of inulin. Many foods are rich in both inulin and oligofructose so let’s take a closer look at the table below which shows the nutritional value of each of these prebiotics in the allocated food group per 100g.
Please note that these values are based on foods being raw.
|Food Item||Inulin (Grams)||Oligofructose (Grams)|
|Wheat Flour, baked||2.4g||2.4g|
Due to recent scientific research outlining the health benefits associated with prebiotics, they are now being added to many foods such cereals, biscuits, breads, table spreads and yogurts.
Prebiotics have shown to help support our immune system, improve the absorption of minerals, in particular calcium and magnesium and reduces both constipation and intestinal inflammation.
If you want to find out about the health of your microbial flora concentrations you may wish to request a complete digestive stool analysis test from your local naturopath, GP or holistic doctor. This non-invasive test will provide information about your intestinal flora concentrations and also demonstrates information about your digestion, absorption, intestinal function and if any pathogenic bacteria, parasites and yeast are present in your digestive system.
So now you know how to maintain and stimulate the growth of your good gut bacteria to keep your digestive system happy!