We’ve already defined probiotics as live bacteria and yeasts that when consumed confer health benefits on humans, but a couple other definitions are also good to know:
Prebiotics are nondigestible compounds, mostly carbohydrates, that promote the survival and establishment of probiotics in our bodies.
Foods that have prebiotics include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes, among many others.
Synbiotics are the combination of probiotics and prebiotics.
Live, unpasteurized yogurt, kefir, fermented sauerkraut, and kombucha are good examples of synbiotics.
We’ll go into more detail about prebiotics, probiotics, and symbiotics in later blog posts, but for now it’s worth noting that in many studies where they actually have looked at the effect of probiotics alone or probiotics with their prebiotics a greater health affect was often observed with the prebiotics and the probiotics than with only the probiotics. This would support consuming synbiotics like live fermented foods.
So, what food has probiotics? Today you can find probiotics in many, many places. There has been huge growth in the marketing and production of “pure” probiotics or probiotic supplements and you can find pills and little packets of probiotics in the pharmacy or health sections in your supermarkets, but much better still, you can find probiotics in many many fermented products, the list of which is enormous. In a later blog post we’ll go into more detail about fermentation, what it is, and why its so central to a healthy and exciting and sustainable diet, but for this post on probiotics a brief introduction is in order: Humans have been fermenting (using microbes to alter the food) food for millennia. Many many societies throughout human history have developed methods for fermenting everything from milk to pickles to mushrooms to grain to meat to fish to just about any food you can think of. Humans ferment food for many reasons including, and perhaps most importantly, food preservation, but also to make food more nutritious, as well as to make it tastier. As a result, most cultures in the world have evolved with fermented foods. Here in Sweden some of the most common food sources are dairy products like yogurt, kefir, filmjolk, sour cream, and some live cheeses, as well as non dairy products like kombucha, lacto fermented (using bacteria instead of only vinegar) vegetables (ex. Sauerkraut), miso, tempeh, and apple-cider vinager. In addition you can find many newer fermented or probiotic products in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets that are vegetable or fruit based. Generally speaking, any raw (uncooked) fermented product is likely to contain both probiotics and prebiotics, but there is little scientific consensus which ones are best or which ones are best for particular health benefits. Yogurt is, at present by far the most studied, largely due to it’s already widespread consumption, and, perhaps as a result of this, it’s being represented by the largest industry. Research into probiotics has shown that, in addition to them having a number of positive health affects they are A) generally considered safe and B) positive responses to them are often dose dependent (ie. the more pre- and pro-biotics consumed the greater the effect).