On Your Health

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Food For Life: Probiotics and Prebiotics

Today's post is from Olga Jameson, who is a registered dietitian for the intestinal rehabilitation and abdominal transplant program at the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute.


Did you know the human body has more bacterial cells than human cells and a large part of these live in the digestive system? This microbe population of bacteria living in our gut is called the microbiota.

Probiotics: The Good Bacteria

The term probiotic literally means "for life." Probiotics are the friendly bacteria and yeasts in your intestine that are good for your health. They especially support healthy digestion.

The concept that gut flora can be modified and harmful microbes replaced with beneficial ones was first introduced more than 100 years ago by a Russian scientist named Elie Metchnikoff. He proposed that bad bacteria generate toxins in the large bowel that cause “intestinal auto-intoxication,” which contributes to the aging process. Recent research shows that he was on the right track! Beneficial bacteria can help:

  • Improve the health of the digestive system
  • Improve absorption of micronutrients
  • Boost the immune system and reduce inflammation
  • Control allergies and asthma
  • Improve mood and decrease depression
  • Control appetite by producing appetite-suppressing proteins after meals
  • Facilitate weight loss
  • Prevent and treat obesity and related metabolic disorders
  • Prevent and fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections
  • Prevent various cancers

Prebiotics: Fiber Fuel for Good Bacteria

The interaction between diet and gut microbiota is mutual -- the food you eat has a major impact on the gut microbial system. Probiotic gut bacteria are vulnerable to environmental and lifestyle factors such as stress, antibiotic use, pollution, chlorinated water, drugs and alcohol, and a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars.

Unfortunately, the modern diet is deficient in foods that nourish friendly gut bacteria. However, prebiotics are certain non-digestible fibers in food that act like fuel for good bacteria by selectively stimulating their growth. Many vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts, beans, lentils and whole grains naturally contain powerful prebiotic fiber that feed our good bacteria.

Synbiotics: Combining Probiotics and Prebiotics

The term synbiotics refers to the synergy created by getting both probiotics and prebiotics to feed the microbiota. Synbiotic components work together to help beneficial bacteria flourish in the intestinal tract and support whole body health.

Optimize Your Gut Health Through the Foods You Eat

I'm a firm believer that a healthy gut defines human health. When you have a meal containing probiotic and prebiotic foods, you have created your own synbiotic!  Here is a recipe to make your own synbiotic smoothie to help your body better absorb nutrients.

Blend together:

  • 1.5 cups plain kefir
  • 2 tablespoons whole flax seeds
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 ounce unsalted mixed nuts
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen (no sugar added) mixed berries
  • ½ cup high pulp orange juice
  • 2 packages of stevia leaf
  • 14 grams whey protein
  • Optional: ice cubes

This mix makes three servings of balanced meal/snacks. You can always add banana, other fruits or even veggies. Kefir can be substituted with yogurt. Make sure that the label says: “Live and active culture.” To soften flax and chia seeds, put them into yogurt/kefir and grind them the night before, then keep the mix in the refrigerator overnight.

A note on the contents:

Kefir is rich in protein and probiotics, and it is 99 percent lactose free. Kefir’s combination of probiotics is more powerful than yogurt’s. Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria that aren’t found in yogurt. Kefir in Turkish means "feeling good after consumption."

Flaxseeds and chia seeds contain prebiotic fiber, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, protein and several essential minerals and antioxidants. The extraordinary water-absorbing capabilities of chia seeds help increase the volume of foods in the digestive tract leading to hunger control and decreased food intake. Strong evidence suggests consuming flaxseeds daily improves glycemic control in obese men and women with prediabetes.

Nuts are nutritional powerhouses. Packed with healthful fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, research shows benefits of nut consumption on cardiovascular disease, body weight and diabetes. Recent studies indicate a handful of nuts daily could protect against death from numerous diseases including cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease.

Berries, fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, antioxidants, a lot of fiber and prebiotics. They contain phenols, a form of antioxidants that offers health benefits including protection from heart disease, cancer and other damaging effects of free radicals in the body.

Stevia leaf is a natural, plant-derived sweetener. Up to 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration, it doesn’t add calories. Stevia is safe in small amounts, but in large amounts may interact with some medications.

Whey protein, derived from cow’s milk, offers fat loss and muscle mass benefits. Combined with a reduced calorie diet, it may promote fat loss while preserving lean muscle mass, can stimulate insulin release and delay the release of food exiting the stomach, which may be advantageous for overweight people and those at risk for type 2 diabetes. Whey protein is safe when consumed in moderation. Keep in mind, too much may not be a good thing.

Balance is always important for health and longevity. If you have questions about your diet, ask a dietitian.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 256 Calories, 15 g Protein, 10 g Fat, 27 g total Carbs, 16 g Sugar, 15 g Dietary fiber, 544 mg Potassium, 55 mg Sodium.

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