A gut feeling about probiotics and prebiotics

Published on March 4, 2014
food column

The world of nutrition is an ever-changing one. It seems like every day there is a new nutrition hot topic or emerging trend. Probiotics isn’t necessarily a new trend, but it is a topic I get asked about frequently. Here is the scoop!

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that may offer health benefits. They are normally found in our digestive tract where they can inhibit the grown of unfriendly disease-causing bacteria. So, although we have some of these beneficial bacteria already present in our digestive tract, they are now also being added to foods such as yogurt, cheeses, cereals, and juices. Probiotic supplements are also available.

Probiotics have been promoted to help alleviate health conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea from antibiotics or infection, bloating, lactose intolerance, and ulcerative colitis. It is important to remember that not all probiotic bacteria are the same. There are many types of probiotic bacteria, the two most common being Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Within these two types (often called the genus) of bacteria, there are many species and strains. An example would be Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5 – for this particular probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus is the genus, acidophilus is the species and LA-5 is the strain.

Some foods indicated to be probiotics foods list on their label that they contain the Lactobacilli or bifidobacteria bacteria, but may or may not list a specific species or strain. On the packaging of such foods you will usually find a general claim that the product “provides live microorganisms that naturally form part of the gut flora” or something similar. Many of these foods, like yogurt or cheese, may be healthy foods that can give you an extra boost of beneficial bacteria in your gut. If you are looking for a probiotic to help with a specific disease condition, like those indicated above, then you will need to research what species and strains can help alleviate your symptoms. A registered dietitian can help you with this.

When we think about probiotics, many people think about yogurt. Dairy foods such as yogurt are commonly used as a delivery system for probiotic cultures since they provide an environment that is friendly for these beneficial bacteria to thrive. It is often thought that all yogurts contain probiotic cultures. This is a myth. In Canada all yogurts are made with Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacilius bulgaricus but typically contain only about 300,000 live bacteria per serving; this amount is too low to do any good. Some companies add more probiotic bacteria to yogurts to increase probiotic numbers and to increase the chance of these bacteria surviving the ride from your mouth to your intestinal tract. Probiotic-rich foods generally supply one billion to 10 billion bacteria per serving – so for any yogurt or other dairy product you may consider purchasing for their probiotic benefits, be sure to read the packaging to see if the probiotics numbers add up.

Prebiotics are different from probiotics. Prebiotics help support the growth and activity of the beneficial bacteria you already have in your gut, or those you get from a probiotic food or supplement. There are many sources of prebiotics. A few examples are oatmeal, asparagus, chicory root, bananas, garlic and onions.

If you think you may benefit from a probiotic supplement, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian. They can help you choose a supplement that is right for you.

If you are looking for a way to increase the amount of beneficial probiotic bacteria in your body, consider this quick and easy parfait as a snack or meal.

In a tall glass or bowl layer:

– PC 0% M.F. Probiotic Vanilla Greek Yogurt (other flavours are also available)

– PC Blue Menu Multigrain Os Cereal (a source of prebiotic chicory root)

– A selection of fresh or frozen fruit and/or berries

For more recipe ideas visit www.pc.ca.

Anne Marie Armstrong, BscAHN, PDt is a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstores in Nova Scotia. Have a nutrition question? Contact me by calling 1-888-225-5295 ext. 632157 or through email at annemarie.armstrong@loblaw.ca