This post was sponsored by Nestle Health Science.
Here at CDHF, we were into gut health way before it was cool. However, now that the importance of maintaining your digestive health has finally hit the main stream, we’re all suddenly confronted with a whole host of new words and phrases that we might not be familiar with. To make things even more tricky, a lot of these words are surrounded by misinformation. So we thought it would be a good idea to dedicate this article to de-coding the digestive health puzzle by busting gut health buzz words you may have come across but don’t fully understand yet. Now if you already know the difference between prebiotics and probiotics and have a fridge full of kombucha, you can skip this article. If not, buckle up because we’re about to drop some knowledge.
This is a big one. Scientists have discovered that our entire bodies, both inside and out have been invaded! By microbes! These tiny visitors are collectively referred to as your microbiome. But before you run screaming for that bottle of Purell, these little ‘bugs’ are far from bad for you. In fact, they work hard every day to keep you healthy and prevent disease.
The majority of your microbiome sets up house in your digestive tract – specifically your colon. Its constituents have, for the most part, been around for millions of years co-existing with our ancestors here at home and around the globe.
You microbiome is developed before you’re even born, and the more diverse and robust it is, the healthier you will be. This is why we’re starting to realize the negative effects of over sanitizing, or taking too many antibiotics, whether it be for medical reasons or eating meat products raised with antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t play favourites when it comes to killing microbes. They’ll take out the good with the bad. Which is no good.
Knowledge in this area of science is relatively new. There is much to learn but everyone agrees that there are incredible benefits to understanding the microbiome and its influence on us. Stay tuned!
Here’s a huge buzzword you definitely have heard before. But what are probiotics and do you need to be taking one?
Probiotics are generally defined as live microbes (extremely small living things that can only be seen with a microscope) which, when taken in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the person taking them. In plain language, probiotics are “good microbes.” These friendly microbes help us digest food, maintain health and fight disease. By taking a probiotic supplement, you’re increasing diversity in your microbiome and displacing ‘bad’ microbes with good ones.
However, not all probiotics are made equal. Make sure you talk to your doctor before choosing one that’s right for you. If you are generally a healthy person, it’s unlikely that you need to be taking one. One of the most common reasons a probiotics is prescribed is to combat the havoc that an antibiotic may be wreaking on your gut after medicating an illness. A great resource to look at to determine which probiotics are good for which ailments is Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada. They even have a useful app!
Not to be confused by their counterpart, probiotics. But you can’t really have one without the other. Prebiotics are food for the bugs in your gut microbiome. They’re essentially non-digestible food elements that ferment in the gut and feed the good microbes by developing things called ‘fatty chain acids.’ Fatty chain acids help increase your immune system, aid your digestive health and lower cholesterol. Prebiotics can be found in many foods like legumes, fruits, some nuts, seeds and grains.
Here’s a list of dietary prebiotics if you’re interested in ramping up the buffet for your microbes at home:
It might also be beneficial to take a prebiotic supplement if you don’t think you’re getting enough prebiotic fibre through diet alone. One we recommend is Fibre Choice®. Health Canada recommends that women have 25 grams of fibre per day and men have 38 grams of fibre per day, which can seem impossible. So adding a supplement like Fibre Choice®to your diet might be a good idea. As always, make sure you talk to your doctor before introducing any new supplements to your diet.
Soluble fibres attach to food and attract water during the digestive process. This can help slow down digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. This type of fibre can be found in oats, bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. For both diarrhea and constipation, you’ll want to get more of this fibre in your belly!
Insoluble fibres are found in leafy green veggies, wheat bran and grains. Insoluble fibres pass quickly through the digestive system while firming stool. Though this fibre helps to firm the stool, forms a sort of ‘poo glue’ which holds the stool together and helps it to move more easily through the digestive tract. If you suffer from constipation, this is a great fibre choice for you.
Inulin fibers are prebiotic fibres. They’re naturally soluble dietary fibers that invigorate and activate the healthy bacteria living in your gut. Inulin would be beneficial for this alone, however there’s new research coming out that suggest it may also help increase bone strength and moderate blood sugar levels. A great brand to try is Fibre Choice – Each serving of Fibre Choice® is packed with inulin, a naturally-sourced prebiotic fibre found in fruits and vegetables.
‘Live cultures’ or ‘active cultures’ refer to the microbes found in fermented foods (see below). There are many different types of live cultures that all behave a different way in the body. The majority of them are bacterial, however it is also possible to have beneficial active cultures of yeast. Often times, the word ‘probiotics’ and ‘live cultures’ are used interchangeably. Examples of live cultures include microorganisms such as Lactobacillus Bifidus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus. You can see representations of these hard workers all over our site.
We all know you need fermentation to make alcohol! But did you know that fermented foods are actually packed full of probiotics and essential nutrients that are difficult to get from other sources, like vitamin K2? Things like sauerkraut, pickles, miso coup, and kimchi, are great gut boosters that everyone should be adding to their diet.
Komb-whatchya? Crazy word with some gut health benefits! You might have seen different kombucha brands popping up around in your health food stores, and some of these are better for you than others. Kombucha is a fermented tea that that’s packed full of live cultures. Do your research before purchasing a kombucha product. Some of them are packed full off unnecessary sugars to combat the mild taste of vinegar that can appear through a long fermentation process. So read labels and shop responsibly!
Kimchi is a delicious fermented Korean side dish, usually made with cabbage and radishes and is chalk full of live cultures! It’s not only great for you, but it’s a great way to mix up your home cuisine with something tangy and different. You can even make your own kimchi at home if you’re feeling adventurous.
Yogurt’s healthier sister. Kefir has a thinner viscosity than yogurt does, but has about three times the amount of live cultures! You can usually use kefir to substitute yogurt in most dishes, but it’s also great in smoothies, poured over granola, or just as a drink on its own. To make kefir, milk is fermented with 10-20 different active cultures, whereas most yogurts are only made with a few. So give it a try next time you’re out shopping!