Critters for breakfast anyone? How about a mid morning snack of bacteria? Enjoying yogurt infused with millions of tiny bacteria is one of the newest food trends to hit the breakfast table.
They’re called pre and pro biotics and are part of the functional food movement. Functional foods are foods or components of food that may provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Consumer interest in attaining improved health through diet is at an all time high. Between rising health care costs, the aging population, and the positive relationship between diet and health, its no wonder we’re demanding food products that go beyond offering basic nutrition.
What’s the difference between the two? Prebiotics are the food that probiotics thrive on; they create a hospitable environment for probiotics to thrive. Taken together the term is coined “synbiotics” and more efficiently enhances the probiotic benefits.
Probiotics are naturally occurring live bacteria added to some foods to help replenish levels of good bacteria in the gut as well as prevent the growth of “unfriendly” bacteria. Over time the level of good bacteria diminish, be it through excess use of antibiotics or years of a diet made up of refined foods and sugar (that pretty much describes the American diet). Specific strains of probiotic bacteria are L. acidophilus, L. casei and B. bifidus. Yogurts and other cultured dairy products are some of the more common probiotic- enhanced foods. But more are beginning to flood the market.
Prebiotics are a specific type of indigestible ingredient in food. The two most common are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide. Because they don’t get digested, they remain in the gut stimulating friendly bacteria. Prebiotics are found naturally in whole grains, bananas, garlic, artichokes, onions, and honey, to name a few.
The health benefits of both appear to be strain specific, both claim to promote intestinal health and increase overall immunity. Some strains may have a positive effects on allergies, colorectal cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. Prebiotics may even help the absorption of certain minerals like calcium and magnesium (specifically with yogurt containing vitamin D) leading to potentially preventing or delaying the onset of osteoporosis.
It’s true that some foods traditionally have these good bacteria, for example, sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, and kefir, but the health benefits come with regularity and quantity. Not all yogurts have the additional good bacteria. Look to the label for verification; it’ll read “live and active cultures.” Look a little closer and you’ll also notice the specific strain.
Pre and pro biotics may be new in the food rotation, but one thing its not is a fad. Let’s face it; isn’t everyone looking for a natural immunity booster or a food that goes beyond its potential?