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  • Sonia Adell Valen

Discovering the world of probiotics and prebiotics

Updated: May 2

In this post and many more to come, I share with you the wonderful world of probiotics and prebiotics hoping to make you a PRO in probiotics and prebiotics.

You don’t have to panic anymore when your child’s doctor recommends a probiotic alongside an antibiotic and you don’t understand the reasoning behind it, or when your sister-in-law insists on giving you a Scoby to make a great Kombucha but you don’t even know why it is so famous. After reading this blog you will be able to make more conscious food choices for your whole family. Ready? Let’s get started!

Probiotics are a source of good microorganisms According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “Selected live microorganisms that administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”- Isn’t it wonderful? Even the name has a great meaning, The word “probiotic” comes from Greek and means “for life”.

And where I could find these probiotics? - Well, let me tell you first a little story that goes back thousands of years ago.

Fermented foods are the best source of probiotics

So, as surprising as it might sound beer was created by chance. Ok, to the story: In the lands between two big rivers called Tigris and Euphrates, lay a civilization: The Sumerians. These people, cultivated their own crops in order to obtain grain for food. They probably kept it in big containers and one day, just like magic, it was converted into beer. For them, It was so divine, that they thought it was made by the Gods. What happened there was fermentation. Cereals contain sugars and wild yeasts that can be found in the air and proceeded to ferment it.

When microorganisms consume sugars from certain foods in a closed container, they produce different products based on the type of fermentation. For example, it can lead to ethanol that can turn into wine or beer, while certain bacteria, produce acetic acid that can lead to vinegar or lactic acid, which can turn into cheese or yogurt. The best thing about a fermentation process is that it produces both a food that can be preserved for longer thanks to the effect of the alcohols and acids and also a cocktail of beneficial living organisms - a probiotic.

And they are widely present in supermarket shelves today in products such as:

  • Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Kombucha

  • Cheese (cottage cheese specialty contains a lot of beneficial microorganisms)

  • Pickles

  • Chocolate with more than 85% of cacao (a good Belgian dark chocolate for example)

  • Miso soup

You need to have good soil before sowing

So, you might be wondering, if probiotics are bacteria, what is a prebiotic? Taking the definition from the World Health Organization, a prebiotic is a “Non-viable food component that confers a health benefit on the host associated with modulation of the microbiota” or in other words, the food that the good microorganisms, or the probiotics, consume.

As my family that comes from the countryside would say: you need to have good soil before sowing. Prebiotics, in that case, are the soil.

Prebiotics are fibers that our body can’t fully digest, ending up in our colon where they are fermented by good bacteria. This fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids, which as we saw in the previous article, are healthy for us. Not all fibers are prebiotics, but certain ones can be consumed by good bacteria allowing them to grow and thrive. Here we have a few of them and where to find them:

  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin: Present in onions, celery, garlic, artichoke, asparagus, rye, ripe banana, and wheat.

  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): In legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, soy, broccoli, onion, beetroot, algae, and infant formula.

  • Resistant starch: It can be obtained from potatoes by cooking them and letting them cool down, but you can also obtain resistant starch directly from beans, brown rice, green bananas, lentils, muesli cereal, oats, peas, al-dente pasta, chickpeas, corn or tapioca. We made sure to add some of them to our Moqqi snacks.

Most of them are naturally incurring in different food, but they can also be artificially created as in the case of infant formula. Breast milk contains galactooligosaccharides and they play an important role in babies' gut health and in reducing intestinal infections. In order to mimic the benefits of breast milk the infant formula companies were able to recreate in the lab these prebiotics.

Symbiotics: the perfect combination of good soil and a good plant

We scientists love to use terms for a lot of things, so we also created a term for the combination of probiotics and prebiotics: symbiotics. Symbiotics are the perfect combination of probiotics and prebiotics and that´s a good term to know in case you come across it. The symbiotics sold at pharmacies normally contain some microorganisms (Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces…) but also prebiotics (like fructooligosaccharides).

We are always in favor of getting everything we need in food, and, as we shared above, there are a lot of different foods that you can add to your shopping list to improve your gut health. However, if you are looking to supplement, it is always better to talk to your doctor and your kid's doctor so they can prescribe what is best for your family.

So, how do we make sure we don’t confuse probiotics with prebiotics? They sound quite the same right? A little trick I tend to use to remember it is thinking that “pro” means promoting life and that’s what the probiotic does because it has microorganisms!

Probiotics and prebiotics have multiple benefits for our bodies

So, I hope by now you got a good understanding of probiotics (beneficial microorganisms), prebiotics (the food they do eat), symbiotics (the combination of both), and which ingredients you should add to your diet to improve your gut health.

The next step is understanding why they are so good for our bodies and how to cook some easy meals that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. We will leave it for our next blog post! Keep an eye on it and stay tuned for what is coming!

Thanks for sticking to me until here! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment. Meanwhile… what are you waiting for to give some probiotic and prebiotic food to your child?

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