Probiotics are live bacteria that can be eaten to increase the amount of good bacteria in out digestive system. Recently, probiotics in the form of foods and supplements have been a hot topic in research for their ability to help treat and prevent certain diseases.
The average adult has approximately 1000 trillion bacteria in their gut. Under normal circumstances these bacteria do not make us sick but actually can be beneficial for health. Good bacteria are the first line of defense against pathogens (bad bacteria) that enter our digestive system. These good bacteria also help to develop a strong immune system, may improve digestion & tolerance to lactose (milk protein) and help minimize side effects of antibiotics.
A great way to get probiotics is through the foods you eat. Dairy products typically have the highest amounts of probiotics. Look for yogurts and cottage cheese labeled as “live and active cultures” and Kefir, a creamy fermented milk product that can be found in most grocery stores. Foods fermented by bacteria are also have high levels of live probiotics. Examples are kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) which can be used to top pizza, sandwiches and added to soups. Another source is fermented soybean products such as tempeh (soy based meat substitute), miso and natto. Finally, Kombucha is becoming a beverage quickly increasing in popularity due to its high probiotic content.
In addition to getting probiotics from food, it is important to eat prebiotics. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that the human body cannot digest but are used as food by probiotics. Options include asparagus, artichokes, bananas, oatmeal and legumes. Foods high in probiotics and prebiotics also offer additional nutrition benefits and are a great addition to most healthy diets.
Probiotic supplements are generally considered safe as they are bacteria already found in our digestive system. Theoretically there is a risk for individuals who have a weakened or immature immune system such as infants, elderly, or critically ill. Talk to your doctor first to make sure probiotic supplements are okay for you. It is important to note that probiotic supplemenets do not go through thurough testing for safety and efficicay as drugs do.
For scientific information on probiotics:
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