What to eat is an important part of any discussion about weight loss, nutrition and health. Add probiotics to the mix, and you’ve started a real conversation. In recent years, people have incorporated probiotics into their diets because empirical evidence supports the argument that probiotics provide many health benefits through diversifying the types of bacteria living in your gut.
Probiotics have been linked to heart health, mental health, the immune system and cognition. To get the full picture, it’s important to understand how probiotics fit into your diet.
To reap the benefits of a healthy gut, you should consider increasing the amount of probiotic foods you consume on a daily basis. The go-to option tends to be yogurt, but other fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles and kefir also contain probiotics.
Increasing the amount of probiotics in your diet is a great idea due to the many health benefits, but simply adding probiotic foods to your diet won’t ensure that your overall health, or the health of your gut, will improve. When you eat probiotic foods, there’s no way to measure the amount of probiotics your gut receives, so you can’t be sure that you’re consuming a significant amount of probiotics to make a difference in your gut health. You also can’t be certain whether the types of bacteria you’re consuming are beneficial at all.
To insure that you’re consuming a sufficient amount of beneficial bacteria, you’d have to drastically change your diet. In studies that research the benefits of eating yogurt, participants who see improvement in their gut health generally eat yogurt at least two or three times per day. Eating that much yogurt on a daily basis can be hard to maintain—not to mention the fact that you’d probably get tired of eating yogurt. Typically it’s more common for a person to eat yogurt once a day, or less often. That’s why a daily probiotic supplement can make more sense, in addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Chocolate and Almonds
The health benefits of eating dark chocolate—a flavanol-rich food— include improved cognition, lower blood pressure and decreased appetite. Scientific research indicates that the flavanols in dark chocolate may also help prevent obesity, Type-2 diabetes and colon cancer (due to antioxidant compounds). These numerous health benefits start in your gut with the process of digestion, aided by the good bacteria living there. There is research that shows a link between dark chocolate consumption and heart health. According to Katherine Harmon Courage, a contributing editor at Scientific American, “Microbes in your gut create anti-inflammatory compounds that have been linked to cardiovascular and other benefits.” The chocolate you eat feeds bacteria in your gut, resulting in a fermentation of the flavanols and the production of anti-inflammatory compounds that are absorbed into the bloodstream.
The good news is you have an excuse to eat chocolate, but not just any kind of chocolate. Make sure it’s dark chocolate. In moderation, dark chocolate is the healthier option because of the lower amounts of added sugar and fats in comparison to milk chocolate. The health benefits you get from eating chocolate are from cocoa, so the higher the cocoa content, the better. However, the differences in the composition of gut bacteria differ from person to person, “We can’t be entirely sure each person’s gut will undertake the same fermentation processes,” says Courage. This is another reason a probiotic supplement to your diet can be a good way to promote the diversity of the bacteria in your gut, which in turn should assist the necessary fermentation process.
Almonds are another treat known for their nutritional value; they are less well-known for the value they provide to the good bacteria in your gut. Almonds act as a pre-biotic, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that fuel the microflora in your gut. In a study, a daily intake of almonds increased levels of beneficial bacteria in participants’ guts in six weeks or less, and the benefits lasted two weeks after participants stopped eating the almonds. An added benefit was the reduction of clostridium perfringens, a spore-forming, gram-positive bacterium that contributes to food poisoning.
“In recent years, people have incorporated probiotics into their diets because empirical evidence supports the argument that probiotics provide many health benefits through diversifying the types of bacteria living in your gut.”
Your Diet, Your Health
It’s fascinating to learn how what we eat affects our bodies, in ways we never imagined. It is now more clear than ever that the key is in your gut. A healthy gut helps your body receive the nutrients it needs and reduces the levels of harmful bacteria in your system. Unfortunately, the American lifestyle tends to include a diet full of saturated fats, sugars and processed foods, which can be harmful to our gut and overall health. A focus on healthy eating and probiotics may be the best answer to reducing their harmful effects, and increasing the benefits of the nutrients we consume.
Dr. Lawrence Hoberman is a San Antonio-based, board-certified gastroenterologist whose medical career has spanned four decades. Dr. Hoberman developed a holistic approach to treating gut-related health problems with his multi-strain EndoMune Advanced Probiotic for adults nearly a decade ago, followed by EndoMune Advanced Junior for Kids. In 2013, EndoMune Advanced Junior became the first probiotic certified by the North American organization Parent Tested, Parent Approved. Learn more about Dr. Hoberman and EndoMune by visiting www.endomune.com.