One of the most promising areas of nutrition research these days is the gut microbiome. Scientists are slowly but surely uncovering the connection between the trillions of bacteria hosted by our intestines, and our health, weight loss prospects, and even mental state.
The food and supplement industries are quick to offer solutions with prebiotic and probiotic products that promise to help shape a more helpful gut bacteria population.
Are these products truly beneficial?
As a reminder, probiotics are the friendly bacteria inhabiting our digestive tract. They aid digestion and may confer additional health benefits. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-living, non-digestible carbs that serve as food for probiotics.
Sources include raw chicory root, raw garlic, leeks, onions, and legumes. An experiment recently conducted in the UK split 30 volunteers into 3 groups to test which of the following approaches to bacteria population control was optimal:
- probiotic drink found in supermarkets
- kefir – a traditional fermented drink
- foods rich in prebiotics
Before the experiment began, each volunteer’s gut bacteria population was mapped. For 4 weeks, the volunteers consumed foods and beverages based on their group. At the end of the study, their gut bacteria population was checked again. The people drinking commercial probiotic drinks saw little change in their microbiome population. The folks eating foods rich in prebiotics saw statistically significant change in their gut bacteria. However, kefir seemed to have the most significant positive impact on the gut.
As a follow-up, the bacteria content of homemade fermented foods was compared to that of commercially available options. The homemade foods had a much more diverse population of bacteria than the commercial products did. This is because pasteurization of commercial products kills off friendly bacteria. What can we learn and implement for our gut health?
- Fermented foods, made at home, are the best option
- Eating a variety of foods rich in prebiotics will lead to a wide variety of beneficial gut bacteria populations
- Processed foods that promise you probiotics may not necessarily be that helpful.