If you were to tour my kitchen a couple of years ago, you would have found shelves lined with tubs of protein powder. Quest bars. Multivitamins. Fish oils. NeoCell collagen. Apple cider vinegar. The benefits of these products (and the oh-so-good flavor of a Quest bar!) makes them a staple in my diet. As a vegetarian, I do my best to make sure I’m getting the vitamins and minerals I need to fuel an active lifestyle. Regardless of whether you’re a vegetarian or not, the fast-food, drive-thru, glazed-donut-burger-bun world we live in doesn’t offer a lot of nutrients.
Raid my pantry today and, in addition to all of the above-mentioned products, you’ll find probiotics. Most of the processed, high sugar foods we consume trigger inflammation in the body. Even our digestive system is affected by food, drinks, medication and our environment. Luckily, the GI track, intestines and colon are populated with bacteria that keeps your gut healthy. The bacteria in your gut are called “gut microbiota”. Probiotics are microorganisms that you take that have a health benefit!
Sounds great, right? Everything’s in check, right? Well, maybe not. If you’ve come to accept digestion-related issues as normal, you may want to think twice. The truth is that most of us have digestive issues and, more often than not, these effects can be linked back to gut health. As I mentioned above, bacteria change, grow, and deplete based on a variety of outside factors such as diet, lifestyle and environment. That’s why I, as someone who is very health conscious and aware of my eating habits, use probiotics. Because unless you have a perfect gut and are consuming lots of fermented foods, it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone.
Whether you’re learning about them for the first time or are wondering “what’s so popular about probiotics??” here are some benefits of probiotics and why you should consider including them in your diet.
- Weight Loss. Some data exists regarding the use of some probiotics, in combination with calorie-restricted diet, as potentially supporting a weight loss program. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that overweight women who were put on a calorie-restricted diet and given a probiotic supplement for 12 weeks showed significantly higher weight loss than those given a placebo. However, more research needs to be done in this field.
- Nutrient Absorption. “You are what you eat.” Actually, did you know that most people absorb anywhere between 10 and 90% of the nutrients they consume? Even if you are one of the rare few who fills their plate with fruit and veggies you might not be reaping the benefits of your nutrient-dense diet if your body isn’t absorbing them properly. If you suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort, your intestines will struggle to soak up all of those muscle building, mood boosting, energy igniting nutrients. Probiotics, the “good” gut microorganisms, have been shown to improve digestive health and help improve nutrient absorption.
- Skin Health. Along with digestive issues, an imbalance of bacteria can cause many other side effects such as fatigue, depression and a variety of skin problems. Conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and acne are inflammatory conditions, signaling problems beyond the skin’s surface. When you support the gut, skin condition often improves.
- Immune Health. Along with healthy diet, regular exercise and a solid sleep schedule (7-9 hours/night), our bodies are usually able to fight off colds and infections. From time to time, when we do get sick, the intestines join forces with the immune system to combat invading viruses and bacteria. However, when inflammation is present but not needed (again, due to things like food and our environment), illnesses such as allergies, flu and chronic infections can occur. Probiotics are one way to help support your immune system.
Probiotics are found naturally in the body. They can also be consumed by taking them in supplement form or consuming probiotic foods such as Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and pickles.
Regardless of the source, adding probiotics will increase the quality and quantity of your healthy microbiota. Supplementing with a probiotic can help restore imbalances so that you, and your gut, are a whole lot happier.