Probiotics have recently hit the headlines, but much of the hype has been over high strength supplements. But do we really need these, or can we achieve our probiotic hits through diet alone?
Prebiotics and probiotics existing in food
Although supplements can be a great way of upping our numbers of good gut bacteria quickly and directly, did you know that both pre and probiotics can also be obtained from our diet?
Prebiotics are foods which act as a source of food or fuel for our good gut bacteria. Generally, they contain special types of fibre which mean they reach the gut partially undigested or without having been previously absorbed; and this is ideal for your bacteria to feast on and grow bigger and stronger!
Conversely, probiotic foods contain a dose of the good bacteria themselves.
What are some of the main food sources of probiotics?
Traditionally, we would have naturally supported the balance of bacteria in our gut just fine, by adopting a healthy, varied diet containing lots of fresh foods. Did you know that if you leave certain foods, such as vegetables or dairy, under the right conditions they’ll naturally cultivate good bacteria? Of course, we need to ensure that bad bacteria don’t also grow and this is why, traditionally, we’ve used natural preservatives such as salt, sugar, citric acid or vinegar to help keep those at bay.
Nowadays, unfortunately, with the introduction of fridges and other means of preserving foods, we’ve lost a bit of this natural fermentation process and, therefore, the proliferation of and our everyday exposure to good gut bacteria.
In addition to this, unfortunately, the introduction of lots of novel food stuffs (think artificial sweeteners, and chemicals and constituents that our ancestors wouldn’t even have recognised), have contributed to further dysbiosis or an imbalance in our good gut bacteria. This is now becoming a more widespread problem and may contribute to a number of issues, including some of the symptoms of IBS, including bloating.
However, all is not lost; luckily, fermented foods are making a bit of a comeback and we’re able to reap the benefits once more – finally!
Prebiotic food sources
Prebiotics tend to be found in plant-based foods which are rich in fibre. Some of the best food sources of prebiotics include:
- Chicory root (this is perhaps less readily available on menus but, interestingly, is the main source of popular inulin supplements)
Probiotic food sources
Probiotic foods are fermented foods, which means that levels of good bacteria have been allowed to proliferate during their preparation. Some examples of popular fermented, probiotic-rich foods include some of the following:
- Yoghurt (go for plain or Greek yoghurt and avoid flavoured varieties)
Is diet the best option for supporting my good bacteria?
Wherever possible, first and foremost, we recommend supporting your health through diet as this was very much the belief of our founder Jan de Vries. However, in some cases, depending on what else is going on in our lives (such as diet or lifestyle influences) we may be in need of a little helping hand to get back on track.
In terms of supporting our good gut bacteria, generally, some of our modern-day habits are questionable and may be to blame for causing some disruption in the first place; as a nation we tend to be eating less fermented foods, more processed foods, more caffeine, more alcohol, dealing with more stress and taking more prescribed meds.
In terms of rectifying this and supporting your gut optimally, you can of course make the effort to add more of the pre and probiotic-rich foods mentioned in the lists above. However, sometimes taking an additional supplement, or even incorporating them into recipes for an added hit, is the preferred approach when it comes to rectifying gut health.
One of my all-time favourite prebiotics is A.Vogel’s Molkosan. Molkosan is super versatile; it’s in liquid form which means you can dilute it in some juice, simply add it to a tall glass of still or sparkling water, add it into fruit smoothies or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, why not try incorporating it into your very own fermented foods? As it’s rich in L+ lactic acid, it makes an excellent fermenting agent.
Finally, if you still feel you need a bigger hit, probiotic supplements may be the way to go. Whilst they often work well in combination with prebiotics, sometimes it’s all about getting some bigger numbers in there. I’d recommend the Optibac range if you suffer from any more pronounced symptoms.