Pre and Probiotics

This month, we ask Matt about gut health and the latest buzz words: Pre & Probiotics

You may have heard the buzz about probiotics and its billions of good bacteria for years now… What you might not have realised is that a healthy digestive system may actually help you stay lean, as well as enhance your mood and reduce stress.

The gut is a portal for everything you eat and drink. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s actually a lot more complex when you include the 100 trillion microorganisms that live and grow in your intestinal tract, weighing close to 2kgs of body weight.

Scientists are now suggesting the cause of gut problems (and potentially weight gain) could come down to the constant power struggle between good and bad bacteria in the gut. Ageing, stress, infection, certain foods and medications can upset this balance.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live “good bacteria” that help reduce the amount of bad bacteria living in the gut. Put simply, appropriate levels of probiotics can do a lot more good than just assisting in the healthy balance of gut flora.

The benefits of using probiotics range from treating diarrhoea and stomach upset caused by a course of antibiotics, treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to boosting the immune system and supporting neurotransmitters for the brain.

The most common strains of probiotics are lactobacilli (including lactobacillus acidophilus or gasseri) and bifidobacteria.

While probiotics already exist in the gut, they can be found in foods, like yoghurts and fermented milk products, fortified high-fibre cereals and supplements.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are the fuel from specific foods that allow probiotics to thrive and do their job in the gut. They travel through the gut, undigested until they reach the intestine, where they protect the environment for good bacteria in what’s called a “symbiotic effect”.

Prebiotics are found in the form of high-fibre foods including plant-based foods, like legumes, wholegrain breads, cereals and rice, rolled oats, barley, lentils and vegetables and fruits.

It’s not just the dietary fibre in these foods that act as prebiotics. Many of these foods also contain resistant starch, with ½ cup of navy beans containing up to 10 grams - a great source of prebiotics.

How do prebiotics and probiotics relate to a slimmer waist line?

Several studies have shown that consuming non-digestible carbohydrates (fibrous carbs) which contain prebiotics can reduce body fat, suppress appetite and decrease caloric intake.

One study in particular, noted changes to fasting sugar levels and insulin levels when subjects ate high-fibre bread and muffins over a course of 5 weeks.

The effects of prebiotics on people with weight problems are very similar to the effects of probiotics. In a recent study, overweight individuals who were administered with lactobacillus decreased abdominal fat by an average of 4.6%.

Although scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how healthy gut bacteria help you stay in shape, the idea is that an altered composition of gut flora may be trigger obesity and inflammation induced by a diet high in sugar and fat, particularly saturated fat and trans fat.

Researchers have also suggested that the strains of bacteria (such as Bacteroidetes) found predominantly in obese vs leaner individuals are better at absorbing energy from food.

Treating digestive disorders

Probiotics are now being used to treat medical conditions such as ulcerative colitis and IBS or immune disorders like allergies and Type I Diabetes.

Probiotic supplementation has been associated with a reduced diversity of microorganisms in the gut, which in turn reduces gastro symptoms such as an upset stomach and diarrhoea.

In terms of an effective dosage, it really depends on the individual.

It’s best to see a doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) who can assess you and prescribe an appropriate dosage for you. 

Prebiotics and probiotics on your MJ Plan?

If you are following your MJ Plan and eating the nutrient-rich way, you’ll already be consuming foods that enhance the bacterial balance in your digestive tract. To make sure you are maximizing the benefits for metabolic fitness and fat loss, here’s a guide to what to eat.

Prebiotic foods

Vegetables - Eat a wide variety of Vegetable Exchanges. High fibre vegetables like asparagus, artichoke, leeks, beans and raw onion are all good sources of resistant starch. Make sure you Mix and Match your vegetables to get a variety of prebiotics.

Fruit - Some raw or unripe fruits are good sources for resistant starches. Interestingly, 1 medium green banana (equivalent to 1 MJ Fruit Exchange) has a higher content of resistance starch, up to 5g, than a medium ripe banana. As it passes through the gut undigested, you’ll absorb fewer calories.

Dairy - While most Dairy Exchanges are good sources of live probiotics, you won’t find many sources of dairy containing naturally-occurring prebiotics. Different types of prebiotics may be found only if it is fortified in foods, such as yoghurt and milk or fermented milk.

Protein - Good sources of resistant starch occur naturally in beans and lentils, which can be counted as Protein Exchanges.  Two thirds of a cup (1 Protein Exchange) of cooked navy beans contains up to 13g of resistant starch, and ½ cup of lentils contains over 3g of resistant starch. Animal proteins, like meat and fish are not a source of prebiotics or probiotics.

Healthy oils - While commercial oils, such as canola oil and margarine, do not contain prebiotics, avocado and nuts are sources of dietary fibre.

Starch - Always choose wholegrain Starch Exchanges to maximise fibre content. Unprocessed wholegrain cereals, such as oats, rye, wheat, barley and maize not only provide you with resistant starch, but also insoluble dietary fibre – which helps bulk up stools and clear your GI tract.

Cooling some starchy foods after cooking can increase the resistant starch content. Half a cup of cooled pasta (1 Starch Exchange) contains about 1g of resistant

There are also more resistant starch present in potatoes that have cooled after cooking than in hot potatoes. This makes cold potato salad a nice option. 

For Starches, if you are consuming foods which are low GI, wholegrain or vegetables, you are automatically consuming different types of prebiotics.

Probiotic foods

The Dairy MJ Food Group is almost exclusively your source of healthy bacteria. Yoghurt is your go-to Dairy for probiotics with most varieties containing the lactobacillus acidophilus strain of bacteria.

As we don’t yet know which strain of bacteria is the most beneficial, it’s best to mix it up a bit and add a variety of yoghurts. Choose fresh yoghurt, which is less processed or fermented milk drinks, such as ready-to-drink smoothies. Just watch for added sugar.

As probiotics in food have short shelf lives, it’s important to eat it straight away and before the expiry date. Look on the supermarket shelf for the products with longest period until their Use-By date to get the freshest bacteria.

For Exchanges, 100g of regular yoghurt or 200g of reduced-fat yoghurt equal 1 Dairy Exchange.

For those that can not tolerate dairy, there are other sources to turn to. The process of fermentation has been used for centuries, primarily as a way to preserve food without refridgeration but also with valuable nutritional qualities through providing beneficial bacteria to the gut. Caggage, kale and other vegetables can all be made into delicious side dishes which also become a wonderful probiotic source in your diet and the fermentation process can easily be done at home. You can also find goat or coconut kefir, another probiotic source in health food stores.

What about supplements?

You might be wondering… why eat lots of yoghurt for bacteria when you can get billions of these in a single probiotic capsule?

A standard supplement contains 4x more bacteria and a prescribed supplement can contain up to 40x more probiotics than yoghurt or fermented milk.

On MJ, I recommend you get your probiotics from food for fat loss and metabolic fitness. If you have a digestive disorder that may require a prescribed does of probiotics, it’s definitely time to consult your Doctor before taking any probiotic supplements. Then see an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for a full dietary assessment, eating plan and any supplementation, fully customised for your specific condition.

Bottom line on a healthy gut = a slim gut

The bottom line on prebiotics and probiotics are that they could be just the breakthrough you have been looking for to enhance your intestinal health just for general wellbeing, but also for fat loss.

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