Many manufacturers and nutritional advisors like to advertise the health benefits of probiotic nutrition. In addition to the promises of salvation, there are often also critical contributions that call for caution or advise against it.
In this article, we want to give you some clarity on the subject of probiotic nutrition by comparing all the important aspects of probiotic nutrition with their scientific basis.
the essentials in brief
- Probiotics are special living microorganisms and are found in various foods.
- They form an essential part of the human digestive process in the intestine.
- Their proportion can be influenced by the targeted consumption of certain foods.
Definition: What does probiotic mean?
Probiotics, in the singular probiotic, refer to bacterial cultures from living microorganisms, which are naturally contained in certain foods, so-called functional foods, or added through processing. There are also medical probiotic preparations. Examples of natural probiotics are lactic acid bacteria and yeast. They are created through natural, non-pasteurized fermentation processes, which also increases the shelf life of the products.
Probiotics are not to be confused with prebiotics. The latter are not digestible and promote the growth and activity of bacteria in the large intestine. These include fibers such as oligofructose or inulin. There are also symbiotics, which are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics.
Background: What you should know about a probiotic diet
Before we pass on tips on probiotic nutrition to you, you should acquire some background information. We have compiled and answered frequently asked questions for you in the following paragraphs.
How healthy is a probiotic diet?
Although the precise effect of probiotics has been adequately researched through numerous studies, a conclusive assessment of basic health remains debatable. Many studies demonstrate positive health effects such as reduced susceptibility and severity of respiratory infections, relief from depression, prevention and relief from atopic eczema, and reduced risk of metabolic cardiovascular disease (1,2,3,4,5,6).
However, some studies report that eating too much probiotics can have negative health consequences (7). In the end, it is not possible to say exactly whether promises that are effective in advertising are actually within the range of effectiveness of the advertised products.
So far, only some of the effects of probiotics have been proven.
The decisive factor for the effect is the resistance of the microorganisms to gastric acid. As a result, probiotics such as lactic acid bacteria can accumulate in the small and large intestine after consumption. There they counteract the development and multiplication of harmful intestinal germs by producing antibacterial substances, which is generally regarded as positive (8).
Too many lactic acid bacteria can cause problems in the gut. (Image source: pexels / Any Lane)
However, it is also possible that parts of the already existing, benign intestinal flora are displaced by probiotics or that their growth is inhibited (9). On the other hand, there are short-term probiotics from yoghurt, quark and sour milk products, which are only part of the intestinal flora for a few days or weeks and are then excreted.
Probiotics can lead to complicit actions with the body's own intestinal bacteria.
Outside of medical treatment, the health benefits of consuming probiotic foods as advertised for healthy individuals is scientifically controversial (10).
Basically, the intestinal flora and the metabolism of each person is unique and can react completely differently to changes. In particular, the interaction of probiotics and antibiotics is different for each probiotic and, depending on the individual, can have unpredictable health consequences for their gut flora (11,12).
Which foods are probiotic?
Of course, probiotics are mainly found in lactic acid foods. These include yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and unpasteurized sauerkraut. The most common foods are as follows:
When using yogurt, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, most yoghurts are sweetened. Sugar is proven to be bad for the intestinal flora and counteracts probiotic effects, as waste products that are toxic to the intestinal flora are produced during digestion in the intestine.Advantages
- can be integrated in many ways
- good nutritional distribution
In addition, work in cattle farming is carried out with increasing use of antibiotics. As a result, antibiotics administered to the cattle are also increasingly detectable in end products such as yoghurt. In order not to expose your intestinal flora to this risk, you should use organic yoghurt or vegan alternatives. Soy and coconut yoghurts are also suitable because the same microorganisms are added to them as to conventional yoghurt.
Sauerkraut & Kimchi
With sauerkraut you should make sure that it is not pasteurized and that you do not heat it, as this would kill the valuable lactic acid bacteria. Another vegan alternative is kimchi fermented from Chinese cabbage. Both sauerkraut and kimchi are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.Advantages
- attractively priced
- very filling
- rich in vitamins and minerals
- High in fiber
Not only does kefir contain significant amounts of probiotics, it's also a wonderful source of magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Vitamin B2, B12 and vitamin D are also included. Since kefir, like yoghurt, is made from milk, you should use organic products.Advantages
- good source of protein
With all the products mentioned, make sure that you consume them in moderation, as excessive intake can lead to severe side effects. You should also accept any digestive irritation when you first eat it, as your body may have to get used to the probiotics.
How does a probiotically deficient diet manifest itself?
A lack of probiotics is often caused by malnutrition with too little fiber and too much refined sugar. The result is irregularities and problems with bowel movements, indigestion and diarrhea. Symptoms that initially appear to be independent of organs, such as tiredness and weakness, mood swings and concentration problems, are also possible consequences (7).
Prebiotics promote and strengthen the body's intestinal flora.
However, the intestinal flora or the microbial environment can also be disturbed as a result of illness or treatment. Antibiotics, for example, usually lead to a decrease in good gut bacteria. Various diarrheal diseases caused by viral infections can also have a similarly negative effect on the intestinal flora. However, an increased intake of probiotics is then not advisable (7), as the foreign probiotics can delay or inhibit the formation of the body's own.
If your own intestinal flora is weakened, prebiotics can help. The dietary fibers it contains ensure a sufficient supply of the body's own probiotics, which means that damaged intestinal flora can be repaired.
Do babies also need probiotics or probiotic foods?
Poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle can also affect the immune system and gut flora of newborns. The consequences of this for babies can manifest themselves in the form of irregularities and problems in the metabolism and infections, similar to those in adults.
Probiotics, which have been specially developed for babies, are suitable for regulating the intestinal flora of babies. Lactobacillus fermentum, also known as L. fermentum for short, is often used here. This probiotic is naturally contained in breast milk, but a deficiency can occur despite breastfeeding, as malnutrition and diseases can be transmitted through breast milk.
L. fermentum is considered tolerable and safe from the age of one month and can lead to significant health improvements (13). Another probiotic for babies is L. reuterin, which can help prevent skin allergies and colic.
What are the effects of probiotic food for pregnant women?
Studies indicate that an increased probiotic diet during pregnancy can have a positive effect on the development of the baby. It also reduces the risk of preterm birth and hypertensive disorders such as preeclampsia (14).
The probiotic additives for milk used in the study were Bifidobacterium lactis (Bb12) and Lactobacillus acidophilus ((LA-5) or rhamnosus GG (LGG). Ultimately, however, these are only correlations. A causal relationship has not yet been established.
Probiotic nutrition: The best tips & tricks for a healthy intestinal flora
If you have decided to make your diet richer in probiotics, you will find tips and tricks in the following sections for choosing the right foods for you and integrating them into your diet.
If you want to strengthen your body's intestinal flora, prebiotic plant-based fibers are the best and healthiest method. The most common plant-based prebiotic is the carbohydrate inulin. The following foods can help you strengthen your body’s intestinal flora:
- Chicory: The buds of the chicory plant provide an optimal basis for raw vegetable salad. They contain plenty of inulin, which acts as a prebiotic. The bitter substances also have a positive effect on metabolism and circulation. Chicory is also rich in folic acid, potassium and zinc and contains plenty of vitamins A, B and C.
- Black salsify: They are a well-known remedy for better digestion. They also contain the prebiotic inulin and plenty of fiber. They are also rich in vitamin E, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium.
- Jerusalem artichoke: Related to sunflowers, the roots of the Jerusalem artichoke plant offer you an optimal mix of healthy ingredients. Rich in vitamins A, B1 and B2, they also contain iron, potassium and calcium. Topinambur also contains niacin, a special B vitamin with essential properties for a healthy metabolism. The prebiotic properties are also due to the contained inulin.
With all of these vegetables, to reap their health benefits, they should be consumed raw.
If you want to enrich and strengthen your own intestinal flora with additional probiotics, you can use various foods that contain plenty of lactic acid bacteria, among other things.
sour milk products
Special lactic acid bacterial cultures are added to many dairy products during production, which are designed to survive the stomach acid and stay in the intestine for a few days.
Dairy-based probiotic foods shine above all because of their high protein and calcium content. They can also be integrated into both strong and sweet dishes. (Image Source: pixabay / Myriams Photos)
As long as these products have not been pasteurized, the following foods contain lactic acid bacteria:
|yogurt||In order to benefit from the advantages of yoghurt, it should have a long shelf life, be unsweetened and not reduced in fat.|
|kefir||During the production of kefir, fermentation leads to the formation of alcohol and carbonic acid. However, with kefir from the supermarket, the alcohol is removed.|
|buttermilk||Buttermilk is very popular among athletes because it contains essential amino acids and protein with a low fat content. In addition, the high calcium content promotes bone formation.|
|whey||Similar to buttermilk, whey also contains important amino acids, lots of protein and minerals. However, whey drinks are often sweetened, which limits the health benefits.|
|Cheese||Many different types of cheese contain lactic acid bacteria. These include Gruyère, mozzarella, cheddar and gorgonzola. So there is something for every taste. With cheese, however, the salt content and saturated fatty acids should be taken into account.|
Note that many of these foods are often high in sugar, salt and fat and can lead to increased health impairments.
Plant-based probiotic foods are not only recommended for vegans. Above all, dairy products cannot offer the high vitamin and fiber content.
To benefit from the probiotic properties of plant foods like sauerkraut, they should be consumed raw. (Image source: pixabay / Pavlofox)
If you don't want to resort to dairy products, you can choose from a variety of vegan probiotic foods:
|miso||Traditionally produced, the Japanese spice paste miso contains many probiotic lactic acid bacteria, proteins and fibre. It is made from soy and rice and has an umami taste, making it particularly suitable for hearty dishes.|
|Pickles||Most pickled gherkins that you can buy in the supermarket no longer contain lactic acid bacteria because they are pasteurized.|
|kombucha||Kombucha is made from sweetened herbal or black tea to which kombucha tea or the fungus of the same name is added. You should pay attention to the sugar content of Kombucha drinks.|
|Apple Cider Vinegar||Organic apple cider vinegar naturally contains many healthy probiotics that can have a positive effect on the intestinal flora and the immune system. As a dressing, apple cider vinegar can be wonderfully integrated into the diet.|
|tempeh||Tempeh is particularly popular among athletes. It is made from fermented soy. In addition to the healthy probiotic bacteria, it contains a particularly large amount of protein and minerals.|
|Kimchi and sauerkraut||You should make sure that it is not pasteurized and that you do not heat it, as this would kill the valuable lactic acid bacteria. Both sauerkraut and kimchi are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.|
Note that many of these foods are often very salty and can lead to increased health problems.
The often advertised positive health effects of probiotic nutrition outside of medical necessity have not been scientifically confirmed causally. Nevertheless, probiotic foods are considered harmless and safe. For healthy people, there is no medically relevant and scientifically sound reason to consume more probiotic foods or to use supplements.
Since, due to the modern and Western way of life, dietary fibers and prebiotic substances are often not included in the diet of many people due to the low consumption of plant-based raw food, prebiotic foods should be used instead of probiotic nutrition in order to improve the intestinal flora and strengthen the body's bacterial environment.
Panigrahi P, Parida S, Nanda NC, et al.:
A large number of neonatal sepsis in developing countries could be effectively prevented by using Lactobacillus Plantarum ATCC-202195 synbiotics. Source
Kruis W, Fric P, Pokrotnieks J, et al.:
The probiotic E coli Nissle 1917 shows the same efficiency and safety in the remission phases of ulcerative colitis patients as the gold standard used, mesalazine. These findings support the pathogenic importance of the intestinal flora. Source
Canani Roberto Berni, Cirillo Pia, Terrin Gianluca, et al.:
Not all commercially available probiotics are effective against acute diarrhea in children. Current pediatric treatments should be more evidence-based towards probiotics. Source
Ruszczyński M, Radzikowski A, Szajewska H.:
Giving children Lactobacillus Rhamnosus results in reduced risk of diarrheal diseases. Source
Gao XW, Mubasher M, Fang CY, Reifer C, Miller LE.:
Probiotics can be used effectively prophylactically against diarrheal diseases. Source
Sniffen JC, McFarland LV, Evans CT, Goldstein EJC.:
The exact effectiveness of probiotics is largely determined by their quality and composition. Source
Suez J, Zmora N, Segal E et al.:
Methodologically high-quality studies point to negative consequences of probiotic nutrition, or consequences that contradict the positive results of other studies. This leads to ambiguous and debatable interpretations. Source
Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G et al:
While the effect of probiotics on the host is not necessarily related to their interaction with the host microbiotic milieu, their usefulness is often associated with claims of positive modulation of the microbiotic milieu and normalization of any disturbances in it, either through beneficial effects on themselves itself, or associated with the health of the host. Source
Suez J, Zmora N, Zilberman-Schapira G, et al.:
Soluble by-products of the species Lactobacillus (probiotic bacteria) could result in direct inhibition (provable in ex vivo) of natural human microbial growth. Source
Kristensen NB, Bryrup T, Allin KH, Nielsen T, Hansen TH, Pedersen O.:
The extent to which probiotics modulate the gut microbiota of healthy individuals is highly controversial. Source
EFSA Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed (FEEDAP):
According to the guidelines of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), all (probiotic) bacterial strains/cultures approved for consumption or as a preparation should be tested for their sensitivity to common antibiotics. Source
Systematic review of published scientific clinical trials on administering probiotic interventions to patients for the prevention or treatment of various diseases. Only 21% of the cases recorded positive microbial changes. Source
Gil-Campos M, López MÁ, Rodriguez-Benítez MV, et al.:
Taking a newborn prebiotic enriched with the human milk probiotic L-fermentum CECT5716 is safe and tolerable for infants between 1 to 6 months. In addition, it can prevent gastrointestinal infections. Source
Nordqvist M, Jacobsson B, Brantsæter AL, Myhre R, Nilsson S, Sengpiel V.:
The scientists examined the extent to which probiotic-enriched milk affects the risk of preeclampsia and premature birth. In fact, there was a reduced risk of preeclampsia and a reduced rate of premature births. Source