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Should I be taking a probiotic?

In one of our recent XPT weekly challenges we discussed the use of incorporating a probiotic or prebiotic by including probiotic rich foods in our diet.  But what exactly is a probiotic and should we all be incorporating it into our diet?

We all hear about probiotics from health magazines to cartons of Greek yogurt in the grocery store, yet many of us still aren’t quite sure exactly what it really is. The word “probiotic” means “for life” or “promoting life.” While that sounds good in theory, what is the exact science behind them and what health benefits do probiotics and prebiotics provide to our bodies?

Probiotics are live bacteria that naturally reside in certain foods, from fermented vegetables, such as pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi, to live-cultured yogurt, miso soup and even dark chocolate. In many countries, such as Japan and Mexico, people have been incorporating the use of probiotics into the daily lives for nearly a century, but probiotic effects have only really started getting attention here in the United States in just the last 15 years or so.  

Current probiotic research suggests that live-active cultures of these friendly bacteria can help to prevent and treat a wide variety of ailments. Probiotics are said to maintain the correct balance between the "good" bacteria and the "bad" bacteria in your gut that is necessary for optimal health. Probiotics help move food through the gut and are also useful in replenishing good bacteria in the body after taking an antibiotic when you’re fighting off a bacteria-induced illness.  Also, for those people who suffer from digestive issues, probiotics may be a natural aid in helping to soothe and even prevent uncomfortable stomach occurrences from happening. Some studies suggest that probiotics may be helpful in warding off infection and boosting the immune system, as well as helping to improve women’s health and perhaps even fighting obesity.

Probiotics can be found in supplements and in many yogurts, but if you do decide to add probiotics into your meal planning be careful of how you go about it.  A lot of the yogurts and different drinks that have active live cultures are also packed with sugar, so make sure you’re not packing in extra calories. Instead, choose a kombucha, yogurt or a keifer with natural ingredients and be sure the label says “Contains Live, Active Cultures.”  A plain Greek yogurt with active cultures works well and if you want to sweeten it up, stir in some fresh fruit like delicious fall peaches.

Intestines with Gut Bacteria on Blackboard

What is a prebiotic?  Prebiotics are indigestible fibers living in your large intestine that nourish and grow probiotics in your lower GI tract, improving overall gut health.  Prebiotics can be found in raw foods such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions and asparagus.

While we always try and get our nutrients naturally incorporated into well-balanced, healthy meals, prebiotics and probiotics can also be taken in the form of a supplement. Always check with your doctor before making any supplemental changes to your diet and ask their opinion on probiotics and how they apply specifically to you, particularly those who have digestive issues.

Want an easy & delicious way to add a probiotic into your day?  We give you J Star’s Breakfast Bowl from our recipe library, courtesy of our friend, XPT Advisor Juliet Starrett.  And if you try picking a yogurt that includes probiotics, check out: http://www.xptlife.com/xpt-life/recipes/jstars-breakfast-bowl/

To access our full library of recipes go here.

-Gabby

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