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Probiotics are a type of friendly, or “good” bacteria that live in your digestive tract. They are found in natural items including yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut – and they are more important to your health than you may think!
Did you know that your body is made up of more bacteria that living cells? It’s true! The human body contains approximately 10 times more living bacteria than it does individual cells.(1) These little buggers can be found just about everywhere both inside and outside of the body including in your mouth, skin and digestive system – where most of the living microbial communities reside. It may sound like a creepy crawly and downright disgusting matter, but the fact is that there are trillions of bacteria in and on our bodies that are vital to our overall health.
Researchers suggest that an average healthy adult is home to over 600 different bacterial species in the mouth alone, 180 different species in the skin, and approximately 1,000 species in the digestive system. That’s a lot of bugs! With more and more information coming out every day from scientists, researchers are understanding the bacterial microbiome better than ever before.
The “Good” Bugs and The “Bad” Bugs
Researchers previously estimated that the human microbiome only contained a few hundred microbial species. Bur recently the results of a five-year long effort called the Human Microbiome Project involving hundreds of scientists and dozens of universities, revealed that the human microbiome is actually home to TRILLIONS of bacteria. These bugs include an estimated 100,000 different species and a wide range of bacterial strains, yeasts and wormlike parasites.(2)
While all of these bugs are needed for a healthy body, some types can be considered “bad” bugs, while others can be called “good” bacteria. A few examples of “bad” bacterial strains include: Escherichia coli (E. coli) listeriosis, salmonella. Examples of “good” bacteria include: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus.
The “good” bacteria strains are also known as probiotic bacteria. It is essential to keep probiotic bacteria flourishing in your body so that those “bad” bugs don’t take over the microbiome population. If “bad” bacterial strains take over, many different health problems can result including: constipation, intestinal gas, diarrhea, bad breath, candida infections, anemia, respiratory problems, Vitamin B deficiency, loss of good sleep and more! “Bad” bugs LOVE to eat sugary drinks, high fat foods and artificial ingredients, and they will communicate that to your brain. Scientists have called this the gut-brain connection.(3)
You don’t want those bad bugs making dietary decisions for you, so in order to keep their numbers down, it’s important to feed the “good” bugs in your body. Get to know their favorite menu items below.
Feeding The “Good” Bugs
Scientists have found that the strains of friendly little buggers living in and on your body love to eat foods called “prebiotics” (a classification of certain types of fiber).
Here is a list of the 5 best natural food sources of prebiotics:
Garlic. This flavorful food contains approximately 11% inulin fiber, and 65 % of a naturally occurring prebiotic called fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The “good” bugs love to eat it and studies have shown that consuming garlic may help to prevent specific disease promoting bacterial strains from growing.(4)
Onions. 10% of the total fiber in onions is a prebiotic fiber called inulin and 6% is made up of FOS – known to strengthen “good” bacterial strains.(5)
Dandelion Greens. These fiber-rich greens can be collected from just about anywhere, as they grow like weeds. In fact, most people would consider them just that but if you see dandelions don’t toss them. Add them to your salad! They not only provide about 7% prebiotic fiber (4 grams of fiber per 100-gram serving) but they also help to detoxify the body by cleansing the kidneys and liver.(6)
Chicory Root. This food is easily added to main dishes and lends itself to many flavors. It is one of the most effective prebiotic foods and provides about 76% inulin fiber.(7)
Apples. They aren’t just delicious – apples also keep the doctor away! Eating just one of these tasty fruits provides a short-chain fatty acid that feeds the “good” bacteria and helps kill off the “bad” bugs that can cause health problems.(8) They also contain large amounts of a specific type of prebiotic fiber called pectin.(9)
Probiotics Need to Eat Too!
How you care for the “good” bugs in your body is one of the most important relationships you have. Get to know other prebiotic foods friendly bacteria strains like to eat including: chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, cocoa (dark chocolate… yep!), flaxseed, and seaweed.
Keep these foods on your plate! The “good” bugs and your good health with thank you.
American Society for Microbiology. “Humans Have Ten Times More Bacteria Than Human Cells: How Do Microbial Communities Affect Human Health?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2008.
National Institutes of Health. Human Microbiome Project. Overview.
Emeran A. Mayer, Rob Knight. Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience. J Neurosci. 2014 Nov 12; 34(46): 15490–15496.doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3299-14.2014.
Ning Zhang, Xuesong Huang, Yanhua Zeng. Study on prebiotic effectiveness of neutral garlic fructan in vitro. Food Science and Human Wellness. Volume 2, Issues 3-4. September–December 2013, Pages 119–123.
Kumar VP, Prashanth KV. Structural analyses and immunomodulatory properties of fructo-oligosaccharides from onion (Allium cepa). Carbohydr Polym. 2015 Mar 6;117:115-22. Epub 2014 Sep 28. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2014.09.039.
SELF Nutrition Data. Dandelion Greens, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories.
Barszcz M, Taciak M, Skomiał J. The effects of inulin, dried Jerusalem artichoke tuber and a multispecies probiotic preparation on microbiota ecology and immune status of the large intestine in young pigs. Arch Anim Nutr. 2016 Aug;70(4):278-92. doi: 10.1080/1745039X.2016.1184368.
Zacharias B1, Kerler A, Drochner W. The influence of 5% and 10% dietary apple pectin on parameters of fermentation in faeces and caecal digesta of weaning pigs. Arch Anim Nutr. 2004 Apr;58(2):149-56.
Licht TR, Hansen M, Bergström A. Effects of apples and specific apple components on the cecal environment of conventional rats: role of apple pectin. BMC Microbiol. 2010 Jan 20;10:13. doi: 10.1186/1471-2180-10-13.