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Are There Bugs in My Food

A Discussion of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Benefits to Health

Nothing ruins an appetite quite like spotting a bug on your plate, but there might be bugs you don’t see that are actually helping your health. Probiotics and prebiotics are two components of food that have gained much attention for their link to gut health and other potential benefits. Here we’ll discuss the differences between the two, what foods contain them, and how eating these foods may affect your health and well-being.

Probiotics are live microorganisms found in foods like yogurt and kefir (a product similar to drinkable yogurt) that may offer health benefits if you eat enough of them. They’re the “good bugs” that may improve intestinal health, boost the immune system, and help treat irritable bowel syndrome. There is some evidence probiotics may potentially lower risk of cancer and heart disease. Food sources include fermented dairy like yogurt, soy-based products like tempeh (a vegetarian protein made from fermented soybeans) and tofu, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, and even some kinds of dark chocolate! It’s tough to tell the exact amount of probiotics a food contains, but products that list specific strains of bacteria on the label are generally sources.

Prebiotics are not alive, but they may also benefit health. They’re compounds in food that aren’t digested and help out by promoting growth or activity of the healthy bacteria in the intestine. Past research has shown the power of including prebiotic foods in the diet, with potential benefits including increased bone density, healthier weight maintenance, and enhanced defense against foodborne illness. The most common prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, a non-digestible carbohydrate found naturally in bananas, artichokes, nectarines, asparagus, and onions.

Eaten together, probiotics and prebiotics may benefit your gut and overall health through a synergistic relationship. Prebiotics may improve the survival of live probiotics in the GI tract and stimulate bacterial growth and health-promoting activity, improving your overall health and welfare. To get the most from these foods, include them in your diet regularly, and try eating them together. Tasty pairings include bananas and dark chocolate, nectarines and yogurt, and grilled tofu and asparagus. Try our Grilled Skewered Summer Vegetables with Smoked Tofu, offering probiotics from tofu and prebiotics from onions.

Published May 1, 2015

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