In recent times, the word probiotic has been showing up more and more not only in nutrition and medical circles, but also in mainstream media and culture. There has been a large increase in the number of products on the market, and an enormous amount of claims in regard to the health benefits. So just what is a probiotic and are they something that you should be concerned with? It is important to have all of the information in order for you to make an informed decision on your health.

What Are They?

According to the World Health Organization, a probiotic is a live microorganism that confers health benefits on the host. In short, probiotics are bacteria that are friendly to the human body. In order for a microbe to be probiotic and beneficial to human health, they must first survive moving through the digestive tract and be resistant to all of the body’s digestive substances. In contrast to other bacteria that can cause illness and disease, these particular strains of microbes are nonpathogenic when consumed.

Why Do We Need Them?

Although these microbes are small in size, they do pack some serious health benefits. These organisms impact the body in many positive ways, and play a crucial role in the proper function of the G.I. tract and digestion. For individuals that suffer from issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics can help to alleviate symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating.
In addition to digestive health, research is continuing to find evidence that a person’s gut health is directly related to mental health. This means that the trillions of bacteria that are living in our gut could play a roll in anything from agitation to anxiety and depression. The old saying, “we are what we eat”, certainly continues to ring true.

Where Do We Get Them?

We have discussed what probiotics are and why we need them, but where exactly do we find these helpful microorganisms? The good news is that they are available in a variety of foods and can easily be included into a healthful diet. The most common product to include probiotics, and the one you are most likely to have heard of, is yogurt. Not all yogurts are created equal, and it should be mentioned that the best choice would be a plain variety with no added sugar. Some additional sources of probiotics include:
· Tempeh
· Kefir
· Kimchi
· Sauerkraut
· Miso Soup

How Do We Keep Them Alive?

We know that probiotics can have a large impact on the health of an individual in a variety of areas, but how can we ensure that these advantageous microbes continue to flourish in our bodies? To promote the growth and to help sustain the life of these beneficial bacteria, it is important that we continue to feed them the types of food that they like! If you create an environment in your body that is favorable, these microscopic helpers will stay. If they are not receiving the things that they need, they will simply die out.
Probiotic bacteria need something called a prebiotic in order to survive and flourish. This is merely a nondigestible food ingredient that promotes their grown in the digestive tract. The magic word that we are talking about here is fiber. Examples of prebiotic foods include:
· Beans
· Legumes
· Onions
· Asparagus
· Apples
· Bananas

Now What?

The world of nutrition can be confusing and difficult to navigate at times, but it doesn’t have to be. The answer here is simple. You do not need expensive probiotic pills or prebiotic supplements. All you need to do is include some of the probiotic foods in your diet and eat fibrous foods to keep them alive. It is exciting to know that we have so much control over our bodies if we mind what we eat. Get started today on cultivating your new microbial friends!

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