Over the years, there has been a fair share of health trends that have developed in the field of nutrition, and an up-and-coming trend that health professionals have been paying more attention to is the area of gut health and probiotics. Traditionally, increasing physical activity and following a well-balanced diet have been the recommendations to achieve an overall state of well-being. However, the focus has now shifted to examining gut health as an indicator of overall health. Since the gut performs a variety of functions that aids in the digestive and immunity properties of the body, we can look at gut health to provide information about how our body is functioning.
Bacteria are agents that influence gut health and are classified as “good” or “bad” based on the impact their activity has on the body. The “good” bacteria protect the gut and help metabolize food. Conversely, “bad” bacteria result in gas, discomfort, and bloating. Due to the nature of the typical American diet, which is high in sugar, fat and processed foods, “bad” bacteria tend to flourish and outcompete the “good” bacteria in our guts. This imbalance is what eventually leads to digestive issues. So how can we remedy this imbalance? The simple answer is to incorporate probiotics—either naturally or with supplements.
In foods, probiotics are provided through fermented foods. Fermentation preserves the nutrients and breaks down the food into a more digestible form, which explains why fermented foods have been touted as a rich source of natural probiotics. Consumption of fermented foods has also shown to improve digestive health. Many cultures across the world have taken advantage of this relationship. Examples of globally fermented foods include sauerkraut from Germany, natto from Japan, and kimchi from Korea. Eating fermented dairy products such as Kefir and live-cultured yogurt and fermented tea products like Kombucha can also provide the same digestive health benefits. Live-cultured yogurt is also a great source of probiotics. If you cannot handle the pungent scent and taste of fermented foods, yogurt is the best option.
Another way to incorporate more probiotics into your diet is to take probiotic supplements. Probiotic supplements are often manufactured in pill, powdered, or liquid form. The two most common probiotic strains found in supplements include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. For various reasons, many people do not eat probiotic-rich foods, so supplements are a great way to fulfill our daily requirements. In addition, many doctors recommend them to people who have digestive problems in addition to adding food sources.
With gut health being nutrition’s newest “hot topic,” many people are looking towards probiotics as a source of healthy bacteria to maintain proper gut health. Probiotics contribute to improved digestive health and intestinal function and when consumed regularly, they can effectively help you maintain an overall state of well-being. Whether you choose to consume probiotics naturally, or through supplements, you will still be able to reap the benefits of probiotics either way. Probiotics, along with a daily exercise regime and healthy eating, can help you feel and perform at your best.
Photo Credit: Samantha Gitlin