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The idea that bacteria can be beneficial for our body can be difficult for someone to assimilate. Especially in this period, where we are increasingly pushed to take antibiotics, sterilize surfaces and hands with antibacterial gels and lotions, wear masks, etc.
The truth is that there are millions of bacteria in our bodies, even more than our own cells. It is therefore necessary to make a distinction without generalizing, since if it is undeniable that some bacteria can create serious problems for us, some of them that we will call “good” bacteria, in the right place, can instead bring enormous benefits. Inside our intestine there are hundreds species of bacteria that make up our intestinal flora; this is where probiotics and prebiotics come into play!
Probiotics are basically beneficial live microorganisms, while prebiotics are the food for these bacteria. Both are important for our health, and they can combine to have a symbiotic effect to benefit from in many ways.
These microorganisms act as an immune mechanism for the intestinal mucosa. Its function is to prevent pathogens from multiplying and causing alterations.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are complex carbohydrates and mostly fibers, contained in certain foods, which pass through the upper gastrointestinal system without being digested. Arriving intact in the colon, these substances will nourish the beneficial bacteria that live there, promoting their growth, and contributing to the development of the probiotic microflora dedicated to supporting digestion and the immune system.
Before you go out and buy expensive prebiotic supplements, remember that many foods naturally contain them. Foods high in prebiotic fiber include asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, chicory, leeks, garlic, onion, legumes, milk, soy, beetroot from sugar and some cereals.
WHICH FOOD CONTAIN PROBIOTICS?
Fermented foods are a great option, as they contain beneficial bacteria that thrive on naturally occurring sugars or fiber in food. Some algae and dairy products can also be particularly rich in probiotics, such as kefir and certain yogurts.
You may be interested in the article: “Kefir vs. Yogurt: what are the differences”
If you plan to eat fermented foods for their probiotic benefits, make sure they are not pasteurized, as this process kills or degrades the bacteria we are looking for.
Probiotic foods naturally contain beneficial bacteria. Many of these foods can be homemade rather than purchased. In the article “Fermented food with probiotics” we provide a complete list of foods packed with probiotics; while in “Types of probiotics and benefits for our health” we analyze some of the most common kinds of beneficial bacteria.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INTESTINAL BACTERIA
The “good” bacteria in the digestive tract help protect us from harmful bacteria. They also perform a number of other biological functions. From providing important nourishment to the cells that line the digestive tract, to promoting a strong intestinal barrier that helps keep out harmful substances, viruses and bacteria. These gut bacteria are commonly referred to as gut flora.
- help the functions of the immune system
- counteract the symptoms of depression
- they favor the synthesis of fundamental substances
- strengthen the intestinal ecosystem
- counteract the action of any pathogenic organisms
- help to tackle obesity
HOW OUR NUTRITION AFFECT THE INTESTINAL FLORA
The food we eat plays an important role in the balance of good and bad intestinal bacteria. For example, a diet rich in sugars and fats negatively affects intestinal bacteria, while does strengthen harmful bacteria, thus affecting the balance present between them within our body.
Antibiotics also disturb the balance of intestinal bacteria since they attack all types of bacteria in our body without distinction. Probiotics help restore a healthy balance in the intestine by adding “good” bacteria that counteract the proliferation of any harmful bacteria.
Prebiotic and probiotic foods are referred as “functional foods”. They have the ability, backed by solid scientific studies, to determine an improvement in our health.
Our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Wrong food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, excessive use of antibiotics and environmental influences can shift the balance in favor of harmful bacteria.
The advice is obviously to include the consumption of probiotic and prebiotic food in your diet. With a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and dairy products we absorb prebiotics that help us enhancing the effects of probiotics in the body, improving our gastrointestinal and general health.
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