“Probiotics” have been a health and wellness buzzword for years. Most everyone is familiar with probiotics, even if they don’t know exactly what they do for the body.
More recently, discussion about the importance of prebiotics to the diet has increased. Not everyone is as familiar with prebiotics as they are with probiotics, and even less familiar with what they do, or how they relate to probiotics.
To begin, here’s a brief refresher on probiotics. These are actually living microorganisims: beneficial, helpful yeasts and bacteria that live in the human gut and help to break down and eliminate food waste and to keep the “gut” (a catch-all term for your digestive system) healthy and functioning optimally. Your digestive system includes everything from your mouth (where food first enters the body) to your intestines to your colon and beyond. Basically any and every part of your body that food or food waste passes through is part of this system.
Your gut actually plays host to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms (yeasts and bacteria). There are about 500 identified different species of these microorgansims. In other words, your gut is pretty much its own little ecosystem!
Like any ecosystem, balance is crucial. Different species work together to maintain an optimal atmosphere. Too much of one species can threaten the population or lead to an overgrowth of another species, and vice-versa. Entire ecosystems have been known to collapse due to such imbalances.
So it makes sense that your digestive system needs to maintain the right balance of microorganisms (often referred to as “gut flora”) in order to perform at its best. An imbalance of these microorganisms can cause a variety of problems, some subtle and others more serious, including difficulty losing weight, constipation or loose stools, changes in frequency of bowel movements, stomach/gut pain, lethargia, low energy or general feelings of unwellness. There is even believed to be a link between an imbalanced gut and allergies and acne. So it makes sense that probiotics are a crucial part of overall physical health.
So, what about prebiotics? What are they? Are they as important as probiotics?
What Are Prebiotics?
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not living organisms. Rather, the term refers to elements that, when present, encourage and induce the growth of healthy probiotic organisms. They are to probiotics what soil is to plants in a garden.
In the body (particularly in the gut), prebiotics are typically non-digestible fibers found in some fruits, vegetables and other foods. This is one of the reasons it's important to maintain a diet that's rich in produce. This is also why an imbalanced diet can upset the ecosystem that is your gut.
For the most part, the gut regulates itself as long as you maintain a healthy daily diet. However, aging can wreak havoc on the gut due to changes and fluctuations in hormone levels. An inadequate imbalanced diet can cause chronic gut problems. Additionally, if you ever get sick and need to take antibiotics, which are prescribed to kill the bacteria that caused the illness, unfortunately those antibiotics can also kill off good bacteria too, causing and imbalance.
Should I Be Taking Prebiotics and/or Probiotics?
First, prebiotics, or dietary fiber: Fiber is absolutely crucial to your daily diet. As previously mentioned, fiber can be found in fresh produce. You may not need to take a fiber supplement if you regularly eat the recommended daily intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
The fiber that is found in produce is superior in quality to any fiber supplements in your local drug or health food store. It’s usually easier for your body to utilize optimally when it comes from fruits and vegetables. However, since many people are lacking in produce in their diets to one degree or another, fiber supplements can be useful in offsetting what might otherwise be lacking. Fiber supplements come in a variety of forms, from pills to capsules to powders that you add to liquids and drink.
As for probiotics, professional opinions are mixed and reserved. Some professionals suggest that not enough studies have been completed to offer conclusive evidence of the benefits of taking probiotic supplements. This has a lot to do with the fact that probiotics come in many different forms, some of which are less effective than others. Additionally, probiotic supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is possible that some probiotic supplements may not even work at all, or may be less effective than the manufacturer claims. Finally, it has been found that probiotic organisms are delicate, and some do not survive the process of being encapsulated into a supplement, meaning that a supplement label that claims to contain a certain number of probiotics may actually contain less because the probiotics are no longer living.
One thing professionals do agree on, as do I, when it comes to probiotics is that the best way to get the amount you need is through eating foods where they are naturally present.
Probiotics have received a lot of attention in recent years. They play an important role in nutrition and bodily function. However, much as "probiotics" is a trendy buzzword, it's not a new thing. Probiotics are living microorganisms and they are (and always have been) found in the human intestines or "gut."
There are two main groups of probiotics: yeasts and bacteria. Initially, it might sound strange that yeasts and bacteria not only live and thrive within the human body, but that they are actually beneficial.
Wait… isn’t yeast a fungus? Yeast are indeed part of the fungi kingdom, the same one where you’ll find the yeasts that help bread to rise and beer to ferment. However, the yeast in your gut aren’t the same species as those kinds of yeast. In fact, there are approximately 1500 identified species of yeast, some of which are found in the human “gut” (the part of the digestive system that includes the intestines and colon).
As for bacteria, people often think of those as organisms that make you sick. It is true that certain kinds of bacteria are responsible for various illnesses (some potentially fatal). However, there are also bacteria that are beneficial to the body, such as the kind that populate the gut. It is estimated that there may be trillions of species of bacteria, a majority of which haven’t even been discovered yet. About 500 to 1000 different ones live in the human gut alone.
What Do Probiotics do for the Body?
Probiotic microorganisms are essential in the process of breaking down the food that you eat, moving it through your digestive system, and helping to eliminate any resulting waste. Without those “gut flora,” as they are sometimes referred to, your digestive system wouldn’t function properly.
Essentially, your digestive system is its own little ecosystem. Everything in it depends on everything else, just like in any ecosystem. And, just like other ecosystems, if the organisms in it get out of balance, it can upset the entire system.
For the most part, most of the time, your gut regulates itself, as long as you eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in produce. However, certain circumstances can throw it off-balance. Some medical conditions, like Crohn’s disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, can disrupt the balance of gut flora. Sometimes the simple process of aging can mess with your digestive system.
Another problem that can occur happens when you take antibiotics. Antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial infections, like strep throat. Antibiotics wipe out the bacteria that cause the infection, helping you to get well faster. However, antibiotics don’t discriminate, and they kill off helpful bacteria, too. This can disrupt the balance of probiotics in your gut.
Should I Take A Probiotic Supplement?
Probiotics are available in supplement form, often in capsules or tablets, but also in powder form (to be added to liquids and drunk). Probiotic supplements are currently very trendy, but some professionals say that they haven’t been studied enough yet to determine whether they are beneficial to an already healthy, balanced diet.
However, they can be useful if you happen to suffer from bowel conditions like those already mentioned. They can also help to replenish good bacteria in your gut after a bout of antibiotics. And, of course, it’s easy to to be inconsistent with eating a healthy diet, so probiotic supplements may help to offset this somewhat.
The best way, professionals agree, to ensure adequate intake of probiotics and to maintain a balance of healthy gut flora, is to eat foods that naturally contain probiotics. Foods like yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk product, similar to yogurt) and any foods that are fermented, like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickled vegetables, are rife with probiotics. Because they are contained within the foods themselves, your body will be better able to process and utilize them than if you took probiotics in supplement form.
Additionally, there has been product testing of probiotic supplements that suggests that many supplements don’t contain as many strains or as great of numbers of probiotics as they advertise. The problem is that probiotic organisms are delicate and only thrive in very specific conditions (such as inside your gut). When put into supplement form, it has been discovered that many probiotics simply die in transit from factory to store shelves.
Probiotic supplements probably won’t hurt, and may even be helpful. However, it’s best not to rely on them solely to keep your gut healthy. Rather, strive to regularly incorporate yogurt and other probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet and use probiotic supplements as they are intended (and as their name suggests), as supplementsto an already healthy diet.
Everyone has met at least one person who brags about being able to get by on 4 to 6 hours of sleep every night. Or, maybe YOU are that person. It may be true that some people are better able to tolerate a few late nights than others, but overall, everyone needs a consistent 7 to 8 hours of nightly sleep. If you’re the person who seems to get by with less sleep, 7 hours is probably sufficient. If you know that 7 hours is too little for you, then you’re definitely an 8-hour sleeper.
Sleep (and lack of it) affects all kinds of things, from relationships to health. Here are the eight most important benefits you’ll have by getting the right amount of sleep:
1) You’ll live longer. People who consistently get eight hours of nightly sleep live longer than those who sleep fewer hours each night or whose sleep habits are inconsistent. This is the conclusion of UK and Italian sleep researchers. They analyzed the data from more than a dozen sleep studies that were undertaken over a period of 25 years. What they discovered is that people who get a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep per night were less likely to die prematurely. In fact, those who slept 7 or fewer hours per night were 12 percent likelier to die prematurely.
On the flipside, don’t think that more sleep equals a longer life. The same data revealed that people who slept more than 8 hours each night were 30 percent likelier to die younger!
2) You might ward off more colds, flus and other illnesses. Eight hours of nightly slumber is shown to improve the function of your immune system. This is all because of chemicals in your body called cytokines. They are released by your immune system while you sleep. Cytokines act in a variety of ways with cells in the body, one of which is to reduce inflammation. Since inflammation is associated with certain viral illnesses, they may actually help prevent you from getting sick, or shorten the duration of illnesses like colds and flus. Studies have also shown that it doesn’t matter if you are sleep deprived for only a few nights or for extended periods: your immune system suffers equally for both.
3) Your risk of heart disease decreases. Eight hours of quality sleep reduces the demand on your heart. Too little sleep puts stress on it, which makes it more susceptible to damage and disease.
4) Your risk of type 2 diabetes also decreases. Not only does lack of sleep mess with your blood glucose levels, it also reduces your insulin sensitivity. In other words, you’ll be more likely to have a blood sugar crash, and your usual dose of insulin may not reverse it.
Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1, or juvenile onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is completely preventable by staying active and eating a healthy, balanced diet. It would be foolish to negate the benefits of diet and exercise by not getting enough sleep at night.
5) You’ll benefit from improved memory. Have you ever had days where you couldn’t remember your own phone number? Perhaps you were sleep deprived and didn’t realize those two things were connected. You brain requires consistent full-night’s sleep in order to function optimally. In fact, sleep deprivation has been shown to have the same effect on the brain as being intoxicated with alcohol: it slows down your reaction time and impairs your judgement.
6) You’ll be more productive. Because lack of sleep negatively affects brain function, it makes sense that it affects productivity. Your reaction time, recall, alertness and energy level all affect how productive you are, so if you want to do your best at work or have the energy to keep up with your kids, eight hours of sleep is imperative.
7) It will help you to better manage your weight. While it’s usually not a surprise to people that they perform better on a full night’s sleep, they often don’t realize that sleep and weight management are connected. Sleep-deprivation, in fact, is one of the biggest contributors to obesity. Lack of sleep is a lethal, double-edged sword when it comes to weight management: it causes you to feel hungrier more frequently, which leads to overeating AND it slows down your metabolism. Getting sufficient and consistent sleep is essential to healthy metabolism, fighting cravings and avoiding overeating.
8) It’s good for your mental health. Sleep is linked to mood, and a lack of it contributes to and may even trigger depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks. It is also thought that a lack of sleep can interfere negatively with your ability to socialize and interact with others. Since having a healthy social network is a crucial part of good mental health, it’s not a good idea to jeopardize those important social connections by getting too little sleep.
Sleep is a delicate thing, and sometimes circumstances beyond one’s own control make it impossible to get a full night’s sleep every single night. Chances are that a few sleepless nights aren’t going to lead to permanent damage, and studies suggest that some problems associated with sleep deprivation can be reversed going forward by adopting better sleep habits. However, by making a commitment to better sleep habits, you can greatly improve your life, mood, performance, relationships and health in the long run.
There’s nothing worse than buying, say, a couple of on-the-vine tomatoes or a bunch of green onions, only to have them go bad on you. No one likes wasting money, or food for that matter. So how long do vegetables stay fresh in your fridge? And is there anything you can do to increase their longevity?
The question of how long vegetables stay fresh in the refrigerator is complex. There is no simple answer because there are so many variables when it comes to refrigerating vegetables. For one thing, it depends on the temperature of your fridge (check your owners manual for its optimal temperature range). For another, it also depends on what part of the fridge you store them in. Finally, different foods actually favor different environments and different storage methods.
Poor vitamin K: it doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves. It's like the poor, overlooked middle child of the vitamin family. Seldom talked about, vitamin K plays an important role in your diet. Most people would benefit from a little bit more of it in their diet. These top ten foods with vitamin k will help. But first, more about vitamin K and its role.
What is Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a micronutrient which actually occurs in two forms: K1 and K2. K1 is found only in plant sources. K2 is found largely in animal sources, although, surprisingly, it is also present in fermented foods (even veggies… think sauerkraut) and is one of the reasons the fermented foods movement is gaining momentum.
Everyone knows that eating real food is superior to taking vitamins and dietary supplements. Few health care professionals would argue against the idea of getting all of one’s nutritional needs met by consuming actual food, as close to its original state as possible, as opposed to relying on packaged supplements for health and wellness.
That being established, some foods have more varied and higher concentrations of nutrients. If you are looking to leverage your eating in order to maximize your nutritional intake for the sake of boosting your immunity (basically the dietary equivalent of, “getting the most bang for your buck,” so to speak), these six foods should become staples in your diet:
No doubt you’ve heard the hype about green tea in the last several years. Green tea seems to be everywhere these days, and in everything, including ice cream, cosmetics and soap. Even if you’re more of a coffee person than a tea drinker, you can still get the benefits of green tea from supplements (more on that in a bit).
What is Green Tea, Exactly?
Chances are good that the tea you’ve had the most exposure to growing up in the US is orange pekoe or black tea. While these types are ideal for making good old fashioned sweet tea, they don’t have nearly the nutritional value that you’ll find in green tea.
Everyone remembers being told as a child to “eat your green vegetables. “ Most likely, your greens were on a plate beside a chicken drumstick, pork chop or steak. Your meat would provide you with protein, and your green vegetables would supply you with vitamins A, C and K, folate, plus fiber, iron, calcium, potassium and minerals, things that aren't found in significant quantities in meat. “Protein-rich greens” weren't really in the common vocabulary
Nevertheless, protein-rich greens not only exist, they've been around since the days your Mom told you to eat your green vegetables. However, it has only been in the last few decades that awareness of protein-rich greens and their benefits has become widespread.
This is great news for vegans and vegetarians, but, of course, even carnivores will benefit from adding more protein rich greens to their plates. Plus, they’re lower in fat, cholesterol, calories and other “baddies” often found in various meats.