Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.
Gut health is the latest craze that’s swept through cyberspace in recent years – and for good reason. While many of the more fanciful claims are yet to be confirmed by science, there’s plenty of research to show that having a healthy gut is integral to your overall health. In fact, an unhealthy gut has been linked to serious conditions like diabetes, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. So, it’s clear your gut deserves a little TLC.
Of particular interest in the world of gut health is probiotics – and you’re sure to have noticed the rise in popularity of probiotic foods, drinks and supplements. So, if you’re wondering if they’re worth it, or if one is better than the other for gut health, here’s your answer.
What are probiotics?
Before we dive in, let’s start with the basics. Put simply, probiotics are the bacteria in your gut. And while ‘bacteria’ sounds like a bad thing, probiotics are actually the good guys. You want these friendly probiotics to outweigh the ‘bad’ bacteria.
Probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods and drinks. Think yoghurt, sourdough bread and sauerkraut. They’re also the star of the raft of trendy foods your Instagram feed encourages you to try, like kombucha, tempeh and kefir.
On the flip side, you can also get probiotic supplements. To reap their benefits, they need to be taken in large quantities (tip: always follow the guidelines on the packet for the recommended dosage). It’s also worth mentioning that there are many different strains of probiotics, and different strains carry different health benefits.
What’s the verdict?
A healthy lifestyle is the first step to good gut health. So, before you even think about adding in expensive supplements or spending up big on fancy new ‘superfoods’, make sure you’ve got the basics down-pat, first. That not only means healthy eating, but also managing stress and getting enough sleep and exercise.
If you can tick all of those boxes, then we can move onto probiotics. As a dietitian, my approach is always real food, first. That’s not to say that supplements are never called for (they do have their place in some circumstances, like after a course of antibiotics, for example) – but for most people, real food is easier, cheaper and more sustainable.
So, why not focus on simple strategies to incorporate more probiotic rich foods? Think wholemeal sourdough bread for breakfast, yoghurt for a snack or fermented veggies served alongside main meals. Miso soup is another winner, as is tempeh in a stir fry. By focusing on real food, you’ll also get the benefit of other nutrients that come from that food, too – like calcium from yoghurt, or fibre from wholemeal bread.