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The diet is the first place to start for many aspects of our health. To look after the gut microbiota, it’s helpful to increase probiotic and prebiotic consumption to boost overall friendly bacteria counts, and to decrease excess fast food, sugar and alcohol consumption which work negatively against the microbial balance.
Common food sources of prebiotics (food to feed the probiotic bacteria) include onions, garlic and bananas. Common fermented foods containing microorganisms include natural bio-yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi. Whether these foods are purchased in a shop or fermented at home, the live cultures they contain will vary from batch to batch depending on the growing conditions. In this way the live cultures content in fermented foods is much less certain compared to a probiotic food supplement, which has been created to contain the strains stated on the packaging. One cannot comfortably compare a fermented food to a high quality probiotic supplement which has been shown in clinical trials to give particular health benefits.
Whilst the microorganism content in fermented foods is subject to the fermentation environment, the number of microorganisms in commercially-available fermented foods is often undetermined, and in many cases is thought to be lower than in probiotic supplements. To match the doses in probiotic supplements high amounts of fermented foods usually need to be consumed1. Live yoghurt is the most popular fermented food in the West, but intolerance to dairy products is on the rise, and many yoghurts and yoghurt drinks containing live cultures are loaded with as much as 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Most importantly, there are certain aspects of health for which specific probiotic strains, not commonly available in our diets, are best researched e.g. S. boulardii for diarrhoea2, B. lactis BB-12® for constipation3, L. rhamnosus Rosell-11 and L. acidophilus Rosell-52 for antibiotic-associated diarrhoea4. In these cases eating fermented food is unlikely to give sufficiently targeted probiotic therapy to see desired outcomes, compared to specifically researched probiotic strains.
Fermented foods as part of a healthy diet, alongside a quality probiotic supplement.
This myth has been busted by Megan Crowch, BSc (Hons) Physiology, Herbal Medicine Diploma (IRH practicing member).