Gut health is a big food trend for 2018.
If you’re in a pickle finding your way round the pros and cons of probiotics and prebiotics, this pocket guide will help.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are promoted as having various health benefits. They’re usually found as food supplements or added to yoghurts, and are often described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria.
It’s thought that probiotics can help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when an illness or treatment has disrupted it. If you’re perfectly healthy however, there should be no reason why you should need to rebalance this bacteria.
It’s true that probiotics can be helpful, but there’s little evidence to support many of the marketed health claims.
Probiotics may help reduce bloating and flatulence in some irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers and some, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, may help reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, including stomach cramps and diarrhoea. There is no evidence to support their ability to help treat eczema and a lack of evidence around their ability to boost immune systems. Adverts claiming this ability were ruled unproven by The European Food Safety Authority and can no longer be made.
There’s likely to be quite a difference between pharmaceutical-grade probiotics that show promise in clinical trials and the yoghurts and supplements sold in shops. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests taking them for at least 4 weeks, at a dose recommended by the manufacturer, to see if they help.
Notwithstanding the health debate, probiotic foods like miso (a Japanese dish made of fermented soybeans) and kimchi (a Korean side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables) are delicious and probiotics are to be naturally found in sourdough and Gouda, both easily-accessible foodstuffs in today’s food market.
Prebiotics can be found naturally in alliums such as onions, garlic, leeks and bananas. To benefit meaningfully from these sources, you would have to consume unrealistically large portions, but it’s still a good idea to consume prebiotic foods where you can.
All prebiotics are classed as fibre, but conversely, not all fibre is classed as prebiotic. Fibre is of benefit to our health and eating a fibre-rich diet will help maintain regular toilet habits.
Increase fibre content gradually, to avoid bloating and take note that cooked prebiotics are easier to digest. There’s little evidence to support the claims that prebiotics have the potential to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes or prevent obesity.
Despite claims and counter claims, both probiotics and prebiotics should be consumed as part of a balanced diet. Eat well.